Instructor:  Jake Jakaitis

Meeting Time:  2:00–3:30 M

Office:  RO A-209

Classroom:  Root Hall A-276

Office Hours: 2:00–3:00 TU & TH & by appointment

E-mail Address jake.jakaitis@indstate.edu

Office Telephone:  812-237-3269

Home Page:  isu.indstate.edu/jakaitis



English 447/547:  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 a single session.  Instead, we will attempt an admittedly reductive literary and cultural history, examining the initial postwar resistance to literary modernism through works by Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, and the Beats among others; formal dramatic experimentation through Edward Albee and Amiri Baraka [LeRoi Jones] and the metafictional "break" with modernism through short fiction; and reactions to postmodern fiction through Don DeLillo's, David Foster Wallace's, and a few other authors' work.

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
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 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's 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
Bellow, Saul.  Seize the Day.  Penguin.  0-14-243761-1
DeLillo, Don.  Falling Man.  Scribner.  978-1-4165-4606-1
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
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake.  Houghton Mifflin.  978-0-618-73396-5
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. Penguin. 978-0-140-086683-6

Professor’s Pack of short readings. [Available at Big Picture Printing, Northwest Corner of Spruce and 13th Streets. Telephone: 812-232-6504.  Do not call Big Picture until I announce that the professor’s pack is ready.]


Attendance and Participation [20%] 

Attendance: Full attendance is expected.  Since we are meeting only once each week, it is crucial that you attend all class sessions. Serious illness or emergencies, of course, may result in excused absences as long as you inform me at the time of the event. If you accumulate 3 unexcused absences, you will fail this course.  Of course, all absences, excused or unexcused, affect your grade because each absence reduces your participation score.  If you have an excused absence for medical or other University approved reasons, it is your responsibility to make up missed work by appointment with me as soon as is possible.  Attendance will count for 10% of the course grade.

Participation:  Much of our time will be spent discussing the assigned readings.  Exemplary performance in these activities will demonstrate that you are effectively preparing and thinking about the material and will significantly increase your participation score.  After each class meeting, I will assign participation points to students who actively comment on the readings and promote meaningful discussion related to the specified goals of the course. At semester's end, I will assign you a letter grade for participation based on your accumulated point total. It is in your best interest to take notes as you read and come to class prepared to ask questions or provoke discussion.  I encourage you to meet with me if you are having difficulty with the course or if you would like to discuss aspects of the assigned reading that were not covered in class. If you wish to meet with me but cannot attend my office hours, please arrange a conference with me at a more convenient time.  If you do intend to meet with me during one of my office hours, it is best to let me know that you are coming so that I can reserve the time for you.  Participation will account for 10% of your course grade.

Short Essays [80%]:  You will write four short essays [4–5 pages, 1,200–1,500 words] overthe course of the term. During this independent study course, these essay assignments will be arranged duirng our discussions and will vary for each student. As we discuss individual texts, I will recommend possible topics and each of you will write a total of four essays determined by your interest in the assigned texts. 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. These are not intended to be research projects.  Instead, present a close reading of a single work or of a few related poems.  You might include some biographical or historical information or author interviews as opportunities to initiate your close reading.  However, do not turn these short writing assignment into extended research projects.  The aim of these short papers is to explore a theme, formal concern, question, or issue relevant to a particular author's work. Given this approach, all students will not be writing about the same texts or submitting their papers at the same time; however, all of you will submit your fourth paper at our final examination meeting. I will do my best to encourage each of you to select topics and produce papers in a timely way.

Papers will be typed, double-spaced, using Times New Roman 12 or Cambria 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. All papers will be submitted to me as a Microsoft Word file by e-mail attachment. Begin your Word file title with your family name; for example, Jakaitis Seize the Day paper.docx.

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


This is a tentative schedule of readings and course assignments subject to change over the course of the summer session. It is your responsibility to attend regularly, and to adjust to changes in the reading or assignment schedule. Any changes will be posted at the course website. Please check the website regularly, for I will often post additional study questions, author interviews, or criticism.

DATE              ASSIGNMENT


1-28                       In Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism:
                              "Death of a Traveling Salesman" by Eudora Welty [371-385]
                              "The Last of My Solid Gold Watches" by Tennessee Williams [386-398] SQ [Welty and Williams]
                              "A Salesman is Everybody" by A. Howard Fuller [240-243]
                              "Tragedy and the Common Man" & "The 'Salesman' Has a Birthday" by Arthur Miller [143-150]
                               Morality and Modern Drama," the Miller interview with Phillip Gelb, [172-186] SQ for Essays
                              Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller [7-139]


2-4                        Seize the Day by Saul Bellow SQ
                             Saul Bellow Nobel Prize Lecture   Essay Topics


2-11                      In Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsburgh: "Howl" [7–26], "Footnote to Howl" [27–28],
                                         "Sunflower Sutra" 34–38], & "A Supermarket in California" [29–30]
                             Poems by Gregory Corso [Read the poem, "Marriage."] and Lawrence Ferlinghetti   LF Reading

Corso Reading "Marriage"

Essay Assignment


2-18                       Essays and Poems by Women of the Beat Generation SQ


2-25                       On the Road by Jack Kerouac [Part I, Chs. 1–14 & Part II, Chs. 1–11: 1-178]
                               Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show
                               Characters in On the Road


3-4                        On the Road by Jack Kerouac [Parts III, IV, & V: 179–307]


3-11                       Two Plays by Edward Albee: Zoo Story and The American Dream SQ

                               Dutchman by Amiri Baraka Film   Lunch Poems  Dope


3-18                       Falling Man by Don DeLillo [Chs. 1–6: 3-109] SQ
                               "In the Ruins of the Future" by DeLillo [PDF] Falling Man Photo


3-25 TO 3-29: SPRING BREAK


4-1                        Finish Falling Man [Chs. 7–End: 111–246]
                              Bring Ceremony so that we can compare page numbers of various editions.


4-8                        Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko [1–130]

                              Weaving 1  Weaving 2  Adobe Hut


4-15                       Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko [131–261]


4-22                       "The God of Dark Laughter" by Michael Chabon" [208–227]
                               "Bright Morning" by Jeffrey Ford [159–180]


4-29                       "Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland" [116–131]
                               "Little Expressionless Animals" by David Foster Wallace" [3–42]
                               "You Have Never Been Here" by M. Rickert [272–284]