ENGLISH 447/547:  POSTMODERN AMERICAN FICTION                                    SUMMER II 2017

Instructor:  Jake Jakaitis

Meeting Time:  12:00-2:20 M Tu W Th F

Office:  RO A-209

Classroom:  Root Hall A-275

Dates: Monday, July 10, through Friday, Aug 4

Final Exam: Friday, August 4

Office Hours: 11:00-12:00 TU & W; 3:00-4:00 Th; & by appointment

E-mail Address jake.jakaitis@indstate.edu

Office Telephone:  812-237-3269

Home Page:  isu.indstate.edu/jakaitis



English 447/547:  Postmodern American Fiction surveys American metafiction and postmodern fiction 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 short summer session.  Instead, we will attempt an admittedly reductive literary and cultural history, examining the metafictional “break” with modernism through the short fiction of John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Robert Coover [including Coover’s novel, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc, J. Henry Waugh, Prop.] and then moving on to the postmodern fiction of Thomas Pynchon and Paul Auster. We will finish with Don DeLillo's Running Dog as evidence of postmodern realism.

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 will 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 influencing metafictional and postmodern reactions to the literary realism of postwar America and the return to a modified realism evidenced in the work of writers like Don De Lillo.



Auster, Paul. The New York Trilogy. Penguin. 9780140131550
Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse. Knopf Doubleday. 9180385240871
Coover, Robert. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Penguin. 9780452260306
De Lillo, Don.  Running Dog.  Knopf Doubleday.  9780679722946
Pynchon, Thomas.  The Crying of Lot 49.  HarperCollins.  9780060913076
Handouts of Short Readings. [Short fiction by Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover, as well as various interviews and essays will be distributed when appropriate.]



Attendance and Participation [20%]

Attendance: Full attendance is expected.  Because we will open most class sessions with a daily writing assignment or quiz, punctuality is crucial to your success.  If you arrive late, it will be impossible to give you additional time to complete the assignment and since the class discussion following each writing assignment or quiz will rely on students’ responses to the assignment, completing the work after class is not an acceptable option.  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 quiz and 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.  These practices will also prepare you to perform well on the final examination.  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.  This brief summer session will go by rather quickly; please see me immediately if you begin having difficulty with any of the course materials.  Participation will account for 10% of your course grade.

Professional Courtesy:  You will be expected to behave professionally in this college classroom.  Turn off cell phones before entering the room.  From the moment that you enter the classroom, you should be focused on the materials and assignments in this course.  Reading of newspapers or other material not directly related to work in this course will not be allowed in the classroom--neither before class has started, nor during our formal class session.   If you are interested in reading newspapers or other materials unrelated to this course as you wait for class to begin, do so outside the classroom. Students who behave rudely, or who have to be asked to put down newspapers or other reading materials will lose participation points.  Laptops may be used for note taking and for review of course materials posted in our on-line syllabus or for searches during class to support our discussions.  However, this privilege will be revoked for anyone using a laptop for e-mail, instant messaging, or any purpose not directly related to the ongoing class discussion.  If laptop use appears to become a problem, I reserve the right to demand that an individual immediately turn the display toward me for inspection.  Any student viewing material irrelevant to this course will be removed from the class.

Daily Writing and Quizzes (30%)50 Point Scoring Chart

Class meetings will often open with a writing assignment or quiz.  These short examinations will either ask you to respond briefly to a few factual questions [usually 10] about the assigned reading, or require short essay responses that analyze and interpret assigned readings.  The latter responses must begin with topic sentences that directly answer the question and then supply specific story details to support the topic.  Simply quickly reading the assigned stories will not prepare you to score well on these quizzes.  Instead, you must actively consider study questions, literary techniques, plot structures and conflicts, thematic concerns, or the relation of the assigned reading to material presented in lectures and discussions of previously assigned works.  Missed quizzes cannot be made up unless you have a medical, family emergency, or ISU program excuse.

Mid-Term Examination [25%]:  The examination, covering Barth, Coover, and Pynchon, will be administered on Friday, July 21.  The examination will include both short answer and essay questions. Since the short answer section of this exam will ask you to identify quotations, it is a good idea to note those passages in the assigned readings that we discuss in class. The essays will ask you to demonstrate your engagement with the defining features of metafiction and postmodernism through discussion of the assigned readings.

Final Examination [25%]:  Because our final examination, scheduled for Friday, August 4, will cover only two novels [by Auster and De Lillo] and a couple of David Foster Wallace stories, it will be an entirely essay examination. Graduate students will complete the 10-page seminar paper instead of taking the final examination.

Graduate Student Seminar Paper [25%]:  This 10-page paper [3000 word minimum] will be a researched examination of a particular author's work. The essay should involve a reasonably well-researched address to a single author studied in the course.  While the project may be an examination of a single work, it should examine that work within the discussions of metafiction and postmodernism discussed in the course or within the author’s body of work. For example, you might address the relation of a particular work and author to formal experimentation, or to recurring themes or issues in the author's body of work. 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.  Since this is a short summer session, I encourage graduate students to identify an emphasis for the short paper early in the course, and to present me a paper proposal no later than the end of week three. The paper will be due no later than Sunday, August 6 by e-mail attachment.

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.

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 my website: http://isu.indstate.edu/jakaitis. Please check the website regularly, for I will sometimes post additional study questions, author interviews, or criticism.

DATE              ASSIGNMENT


7-10 [M]   COURSE INTRODUCTION and Lulu on the Bridge (Film written and directed by Paul Auster). 143 minutes. IMDB Cast and ReviewsSQ

7-11 [Tu]   John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse: “Author’s Note” and “Frame Tale” through “Petition” [1-71].   SQ         

7-12 [W]    John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse: “Lost in the Funhouse” through “Life Story” [72-129]. Lit of Exhaustion Barth Writing Prompts

7-13 [Th]   Handouts: Interview with Donald Barthelme [32-44], “Margins” [9-13], “Shower of Gold [14-23], Interview with Robert Coover [63-78], & “The Babysitter” [324-45].

7-14 [F]       Robert Coover’s Universal Baseball Association: Chs. 1-2 [3-76]. SQ and Writing Prompt


7-17 [M]   Robert Coover’s Universal Baseball Association: Chs. 3-5 [77-170].SQ and Writing Prompt
7-18 [Tu]  Robert Coover’s Universal Baseball Association:  Chs. 6-8 [171-242]. SQ

7-19 [W]   Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49: Chs. 1-4 [9-99].

7-20 [Th]   Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49: Chs. 5-6 [100-183].

7-21 [F]      EXAMINATION #1


7-24 [M]     Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy: “City of Glass, Chs. 1-9 [3-108]. Interview with Auster

7-25 [Tu]    Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy: “City of Glass” Chs. 10-13 [109-158].

7-26 [W]     Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy: “Ghosts,” Complete [161-232].

7-27 [Th]    Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy: “The Locked Room” Chs. 1-5 [235-301].

7-28 [F]      Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy: “The Locked Room” Chs. 6-9 [302-371].


7-31 [M]      Don De Lillo’s Running Dog: “Running Dog,” “Cosmic Erotics,” and Radial Matrix” [3-160].

8-1   [Tu]     Don De Lillo’s Running Dog: “Marathon Mines” [163-246].

8-2   [W]      David Foster Wallace: “Little Expressionless Animals” [4-42] and “My Appearance” [175-201].

8-3   [Th]      STUDY DAY