ENGLISH 444/544:  AMERICAN LITERATURE 1945 TO THE PRESENT                    SPRING 2010

Instructor:  Jake Jakaitis

Meeting Time:  1:00-1:50 MWF

Office:  RO A-209

Classroom:  Root Hall A-110

Office Hours:  2:00-4:00 M & W; 4:00-5:00 Tu;
& by appointment

E-mail Address:  jake.jakaitis@indstate.edu

Office Telephone:  812-237-3269

Home Page: isu.indstate.edu/jakaitis


English 444/544:  American Literature from 1945 to the Present examines American fiction, drama, and poetry from World War II to the present, emphasizing fiction and especially narrative form in the era following modernism.  While the course is essentially a reading intensive survey, we necessarily must abandon the notion of "coverage" that governs traditional survey courses, for we cannot, confronted by a body of work too recent to have been sufficiently winnowed by formal canonization processes, "cover" all of the authors and movements responding to literary modernism in so short a semester.  Instead, we will attempt an admittedly reductive literary and cultural history, examining the initial postwar resistance to literary modernism through works by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Grace Paley, and the Beats; formal dramatic experimentation through Edward Albee and Amiri Baraka [LeRoi Jones] and the metafictional "break" with modernism through short fiction by John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Robert Coover; postmodern fiction through longer works by Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, and David Foster Wallace to call into question the idea of "postmodern" fiction;  and Raymond Carver's minimalist fiction and Don DeLillo's work as reactions to postmodern experimentation.

In addition to the primary works by these authors, we will cover criticism, theoretical essays, interviews with authors, and biographies to establish cultural, historical and personal contexts for examining the literature.  Our motive, however, will not be to read the author's lives through their works but instead, to read culture and a developing literary tradition through these varied texts.  Perhaps we can take our cue from Thomas Bernhard, the prominent Austrian writer whose recent biography by Gitta Honegger opens with the following comment:

I hate books and articles that begin with a date of birth.  Altogether, I hate books and articles that adopt a biographical and chronological approach; that strikes me as the most tasteless and at the same time most unintellectual procedure.  [NYRB, 11 January 2007:  46)

While our syllabus is roughly chronologically ordered, and while our readings include biographical statements and interviews, Bernhard's statement and his biographer's emphasis on biography and literature as means for exploring cultural history might impact the way that we respond to our readings, the manner in which we experience them and the uses to which we put them.  That same relatively recent issue of the New York Review of Books includes an article promoting a new edition of Eric Auerbach's seminal 1961 work on Dante:  Dante:  Poet of the Secular World.  In the review article, a preliminary version of the new edition's introduction, Michael Dirga comments on Auerbach's method in his best known work, Mimesis:  The Representation of Reality in Western Literature:

Building on the stylistic quirks, lacunae, and emphases in his carefully chosen authors, Auerbach gradually discloses their underlying suppositions about what art should do and how people and events can be represented in language at a specific moment in history.  For example, by examining a dinner scene from Stendhal's The Red and the Black, then comparing it with similar short passages in Balzac and Flaubert, Auerbach reveals the foundations of nineteenth century realism.  (54)

It is no accident, in my view, that these two review articles, expressing these emphases, appear in the same recent issue of NYRB.  They evidence what many of us have probably seen in recent criticism and scholarship:  a critical turn away from theoretical abstraction, from the dominance of theory in literary scholarship of recent decades, and a return to more conventional close reading, but a return influenced by cultural studies, by the desire to create through literary and cultural analysis understandings of cultural history and to lay bare, in Raymond Williams' terms, the "structure of feeling" of a given era.

This is the approach that I'd like us to take in this course.  Our inquiries should not be an attempt to collect knowledge about each of the major figures in the period, but an inquiry into the period itself, an intellectual engagement with the structure of feeling of postwar America and the decades that followed through our engagement with American literature from 1945 to the present.


Albee, Edward.  American Dream and Zoo Story.  Penguin.  0-452-27889-9
Auster, Paul.  New York Trilogy.  Penguin.  0-14-013155-8
Bellow, Saul.  Seize the Day.  Penguin.  0-14-243761-1
DeLillo, Don.  The Names.  Vintage.  0-394-71564-0
Ginsberg, Allen.  Howl and Other Poems.  City Lights.  0-87286-017-5
Kerouac, Jack.  On the Road.  Penguin.  0-14-243725-5
Miller, Arthur.  Death of a Salesman:  Text and Criticism.  Penguin.  0-14-024773
Pynchon, Thomas.  The Crying of Lot 49.  Harper & Row.  0-06-091307-x
Wallace, David Foster.  Girl with the Curious Hair.  Norton.  0-393-31396-4
Williams, Tennessee.  Glass Menagerie.  Norton.  0-8112-1404-4
Professor's Pack [Available at Goetz Printing, 16 South 9th Street.  Telephone:  232-6504].  NOT AVAILABLE UNTIL JANUARY 11.


Attendance and Participation [10%]:  Attendance and participation are crucial to success in an upper division course in the English major.  While an occasional absence is sometimes necessary, missed work because of an excused absence must be completed either through conversation with me in conference or through submission of a brief response paper demonstrating knowledge of the assigned readings.  For each class session, please prepare a series of discussion questions.  These questions should reflect your sincere engagement with the assigned material while referencing specific passages that evidence points of interest to you or that identify thematic concerns, historical or cultural material, or imagery requiring discussion or explication.  These questions function both to demonstrate your engagement with the material and to provoke discussion.  In the unlikely event that discussion lags during our meetings, I will ask individuals to present and discuss their prepared questions.  

Oral Presentation/Report [15%]:  Each student will prepare one fifteen-minute oral presentation.  This presentation should address a single work, group of poems by a single poet, or an issue relevant to our address to a particular author's work.  The presentation may involve work preliminary to the development of one of the assigned papers.  While the presentation is not intended to result from extensive research, strong reports will likely involve additional reading.  Take the time to carefully organize your oral presentation.  Those that exceed the fifteen-minute limit will be stopped and those significantly short of fifteen minutes will not score well.  Strong oral presentations will

1) Present a close reading of a particular work or a key passage in a longer work.

2) Identify thematic concerns formal issues, or tropes relevant to the author and work being discussed.

3) Somehow connect the work to biographical, historical, or cultural contexts; this might require minimal research.

4) Involve the class in meaningful discussion of the assigned works [Handouts are permitted and might be useful].

A Presentation Report [3 typed, double-spaced pages] will be submitted in the class meeting following the presentation.  This report should summarize the presentation's key points and purpose and provide a thoughtful self-evaluation of the results of the presentation.  Issues to consider:  What was your purpose?  To what extent did you achieve that purpose?  What worked best?  How could you have improved the presentation?  How would you evaluate the students' response?  Did they respond and participate? Why or why not?  The emphasis should be on what you could have done to improve the report and generate stronger participation.

Short Essay [25%]:  A five page paper (1500 word minimum) will be due in the 10th week of classes--no later than Friday, March 19.  You may, of course, submit your paper any time before March 19.  If you develop an interest in a particular text or author early in the course, discuss your idea for a paper with me and complete and submit the work early.  This is not intended to be a research project.  Instead, present a close reading of a single work or of a few related poems.  You might include some biographical or historical information, or you might use passages found in one of our author interviews as opportunities to initiate your close reading.  However, do not turn this short writing assignment into an extended research project.  The aim of the short paper is to explore a theme, formal concern, question, or issue relevant to a particular author's work.  For the format of the paper, see the comments below on the graduate student seminar paper.  For graduate students, the short paper may not be a draft of the final seminar paper.

Mid-Term Examination [25%]:  The mid-term examination, consisting of short answer and essay questions, will be given in the 8th week of classes [March 1-5].  To prepare for this examination--and for the final examination--you should take notes while reading assignments and during class discussions.  The specific format of the examination will be determined by our class discussions and our particular emphases while covering the material. 

Final Examination [25%]:  Our final examination, also consisting of short answer and essay questions, is scheduled for Wednesday, May 5 at 1:00 in our classroom.  Graduate students will complete the 15-page seminar paper instead of taking the final examination.

Graduate Student Seminar Paper [25%]:  This 15-16 page paper [4500 word minimum] will be a researched examination of a particular author's work.  This must be a different author than the one covered in the short paper. The essay should involve a well-researched address to a single author, playwright, or poet studied in the course.  While the project may be an examination of a single work, it should situate that work [a novel, a collection of poems, a play or series of plays] both within the author's larger body of work and within broader cultural or literary contexts.  For example, you might address the relation of a particular work and author to formal experimentation, to a movement or emphasis [theater of the absurd, metafiction, postmodernism, minimalist fiction, etc...], or to recurring themes or issues in the author's developing body of work. You have all written seminar papers before.  The principal idea is to develop a preliminary plan, meet with me to discuss it [preferably with a brief written explanation], and get my approval for your final project. 

Papers will be typed, double-spaced, using Times New Roman 12 font and 1" margins on all 4 sides of the page and documented according to MLA style.  Submissions with larger or odd font styles or those with margins wider than 1" will not be accepted.

Academic Dishonesty:  Plagiarism or cheating on papers will result in failure in the course.




This is a tentative syllabus subject to change over the course of the semester.  It is your responsibility to attend regularly, and to adjust to changes in the reading or assignment schedule.  Any changes will be posted in the syllabus available at my web site: http://isu.indstate.edu/jakaitis. Please check the web site regularly, as additional supporting materials [criticism, study questions, background information on the authors and assigned readings, etc...] will regularly be added to that site.  The Professor's Pack is available at Goetz Printing, 16 South 9th Street. Telephone:  232-6504.  For these assignments, I use the abbreviation "PP" and provide the pagination from the original text to provide a guide to assignment length.


DATE                        ASSIGNMENT


1-11            Introductions of course members, course policies, assigned texts and readings, and course emphases. ORAL PRESENTATION/REPORT SIGN UP SHEET

1-13            "Everything That Rises Must Converge" [1961] by Flannery O'Connor [3-23]. Handout

1-15            Two Stories from The Little Disturbances of Man [1959] by Grace Paley:  "Goodbye and Good Luck" [9-22] and "A Woman, Young and Old" [25-40]. Handout


WEEK TWO:  The Individual in Post-War Society*

1-18            Martin Luther King Day:  No Class

1-20            In Death of a Salesman:  Text and Criticism:  "A Salesman is Everybody" by A. Howard Fuller [240-243] & "Death of a Traveling Salesman" by Eudora Welty [371-385].

1-22            In Death of a Salesman:  Text and Criticism:  "Tragedy and the Common Man" & "The 'Salesman' Has a Birthday" by Arthur Miller [143-150] and Morality and Modern Drama,"                    the Miller interview with Phillip Gelb, [172-186].


WEEK THREE: 1950s Divided Selves*

1-25            In Death of a Salesman:  Text and CriticismDeath of a Salesman by Arthur Miller [7-139].

1-27            In Death of a Salesman:  Text and Criticism:  "The Last of My Solid Gold Watches" by Tennessee Williams [386-398] "The Realism of Arthur Miller" by Raymond Williams [313-325].

1-29            "Introduction" by Robert Bray [vii-xv], "Production Notes" by Tennessee Williams [xix-xxii], & The Glass Menagerie [1944] by Williams [3-97]. ESSAY ASSIGNMENT

WEEK FOUR: 1950's Divided Selves

2-1            "Introduction" by Cynthia Ozick [ix-xxiii] & Saul Bellow Nobel Prize Lecture. Additional Bellow Materials: Bellow Articles. Study Questions for Bellow and Ozick.

2-3            Chapters I-III of Seize the Day by Saul Bellow [1-51].

2-5            Chapters IV-VII of Seize the Day by Saul Bellow [52-114].

WEEK FIVE:  Women of the Beat Generation

2-8            "Mapping Women Writers of the Beat Generation" by Ronna C. Johnson [PP:  3-41] & Lenore Kandel's poems [PP:  100-107]. Study Questions for Beat Women.

2-10            "Pieces of a Song" by Diane di Prima [PP:  83-106] & di Prima's poems [PP:  46-50].

2-12            "Places to Go" by Joanne Kyger [PP:  133-153] & Kyger's Poems [PP:  140-146]. Paolo Uccello Painting

WEEK SIX:  Male Beat Poets

2-15            Eight Poems from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind [PP] Additional Poetry by Ferlinghetti Ferlinghetti Biography

2-17            In Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsburg:  "A Supermarket in California" [29-30], "Sunflower Sutra" [34-38], & "America" [39-43]. Ginsberg Reading Howl

2-19            CLASS CANCELED


WEEK SEVEN:  Kerouac

2-22           In Howl and Other Poems:  "Howl" [7-26] & "Footnote to Howl" [27-28].

2-24            "Neal Cassady:  1926-1968" [PP:  163-177] & On the Road by Jack Kerouac [Parts One & Two:  1-108 & 109-178]. Check out Kerouac on YouTube Definitely watch him reading on                    The Seve Allen Show.

2-26            On the Road by Jack Kerouac [Part Three:  179-248]. Basis of Characters alphabetically by character name in Kerouac novels.


3-1            On the Road by Jack Kerouac [Part Four:  249-307]. MID-TERM EXAMINATION PREPARATION

3-3            Mid-Term Examination

3-5            Mid-Term Examination


WEEK TEN:  The Albee/Baraka Connection

3-15            In Two Plays by Edward AlbeeThe Zoo Story [7-49]. Notes and SQ for Albee.

3-16            MID-TERM GRADES DUE

3-17            In Two Plays by Edward AlbeeThe American Dream [53-127]

3-19            Dutchman [1964] by Amiri Baraka [PP:  76-99].
                        PAPER DUE

WEEK ELEVEN:  Exhausting Narrative Form

3-22            "The Literature of Exhaustion" [1967] from The Friday Book by John Barth [PP:  62-76] & "Ambrose His Mark" [1963] from Lost in the Funhouse by Barth [PP:  14-33].

3-24            "Lost in the Funhouse" [1967] by Barth [PP:  72-97] Scriptorium Entry on Barth; This site provides commenttary/background on amany contemporary authors. However, the entries are                    each written by different contributors, so it is important to exercise judgment when visiting the site.

3-26            Interview with Robert Coover [PP: 63-75] and "The Babysitter" [1969] by Coover [PP:  324-345]. Coover's Faculty Home Page. SQ for "The Babysitter."

WEEK TWELVE:  Postmodern Replenishment

3-29            "The Literature of Replenishment" [1979] by John Barth [PP:  193-206] & The Crying of Lot 49 [1965] by Thomas Pynchon [Chapters 1 & 2:  9-43].

3-31            The Crying of Lot 49 [Chapters 3 & 4:  44-99].

4-2            The Crying of Lot 49 [Chapters 5 & 6:  100-183].


WEEK THIRTEEN: Replenishment & Simulation

4-5            In The Girl with the Curious Hair [1989] by David Foster Wallace:  "Little Expressionless Animals" [1-42]. Rolling Stone Article [11 Pages]

4-7            In The Girl with the Curious Hair [1989]:  "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" [233-299]. Charlie Rose Video Interview with Wallace.

4-9            In The Girl with the Curious Hair [1989]:  "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" [299-373].


WEEK FOURTEEN:  Postmodern Uncertainty

4-12            In The New York Trilogy: City of Glass [1985] by Paul Auster [Chapters 1-8: 3-87]. Granta Interview with Auster

4-14            City of Glass [Chapters 9-13:  88-158].

4-16            The Names [1982]:  Chapters 1 & 2, "The Island":  3-37


WEEK FIFTEEN:  Post-Postmodernism

4-19            The Names [Chapters 3 & 4, "The Island":  38-134].

4-21            The Names [Chapters 6-10, "The Mountain": 137-250].

4-23            The Names [Chapters 11-13, "The Desert" & Chapter 14, "The Prairie": 253-339].



4-26            "A Small Good Thing" from Cathedral [1983] by Robert Carver [PP:  59-89].

4-28            "Cathedral" from Cathedral [1983] [PP:  209-228].

4-30           Final Examination Review