English 650: Readings in Contemporary American Novels
Section A: MWF 2:30-3:20 p.m.
218 Eisenhower Hall
Professor Phil Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: 210 Denison Hall
Office Hours: M 3:30-5:30 p.m., & by appt.
Virtual Office Hours: philnel@ksu.edu
Website: http://www.ksu.edu/english/nelp/
Syllabus last updated on 14 November 2000

Required Texts | Objectives | Grading | Requirements | Schedule of Assignments | Suggestions for Further Reading | Links
Required Texts:
Donald Barthelme, Snow White (Scribner).
Art Spiegleman, Maus I and Maus II (Pantheon).
Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods (Penguin).
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (Vintage).
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (HarperCollins).
Don DeLillo, White Noise: Text and Criticism, edited by Mark Osteen (Viking).
Rikki Ducornet, Phosphor in Dreamland (Dalkey Archive Press).
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (Penguin).
Louise Erdrich, Tracks (HarperCollins).
Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina (Penguin).
Gish Jen, Mona in the Promised Land (Vintage).
Paul Auster, City of Glass (Penguin).
David Bowman, Bunny Modern (Little, Brown & Company).
Class Pack for English 650.
        To read a range of American fiction written during the last thirty-five years, supplemented by theoretical readings that explore related issues. A major issue we will try to wrap our minds around is the term "postmodern," that conceptual sponge which can refer to such diverse phenomena as: "high" vs. "low" forms of expression in art, literature, architecture, music, and (in the "popular" or "low" category) film, TV, comics, advertising; an historical period of cultural (literary, artistic, etc.) production; works that draw upon a particular formal stylistic repertoire such as self-reflexivity, "new"-ness, and being consciously experimental or difficult; debates about the fate of modernity; economic developments such as advanced or "late" capitalism; social and cultural trends like identity politics. Though we will try to get a handle on this admittedly slippery term, we will not limit ourselves to the "postmodern." We will also consider how fiction interacts -- or fails to interact -- with race, ethnicity, gender, class, politics, history, and the conditions of a work's production.




Response Papers

  100 (total for all responses)   

In class, day reading is due.

Class Participation



Presenation / Leading Class Discussion   


In class, on day scheduled.

Paper #1



Paper #2


Prospectus, 11/3; Final, 12/1.

Final Exam


In class, 12/11, 4:10-6:00 p.m.



Requirements: Papers | Response Papers | Class Participation and Attendance | Presentations and Leading Class Discussion | Computing | Assignments
        You will write two papers, one 5-page paper due on September 27, and one 8-page paper due on December 1 (its prospectus is due November 3). Papers must: be typed (preferably word-processed) and double-spaced; include a title, your name, and the date; and have numbered pages that are stapled or paper-clipped together. Late papers will be penalized one grade (e.g., B+ to C+) for each day late.
        Sources: Use the MLA method for documenting sources. And don't plagiarize. When you turn in a paper, you pledge that you have faithfully abided by the guidelines for documenting sources -- most grammar handbooks provide guidelines for documentation. Always remember: you must cite the sources of any ideas that are not your own. If you quote, paraphrase, or use another's ideas, you must give credit to the person whose ideas you are using. If you have any questions, please ask. If you plagiarize, you will automatically fail this course. For more information on Kansas State University's Honor System, please visit <www.ksu.edu/honor>.
        Response Papers:
        Roughly once a week (and no more), you will hand in a typed, double-spaced response paper of 1 to 2 pages. The response is due in class the day we begin our discussion of the work in question. So, for example, on Wednesday, August 23, you will hand in a response to the first half of Barthelme's Snow White. No late response papers will be accepted.
        Response papers are intended to help to prepare you for class discussion by providing you with an occasion to reflect upon a major question or question at issue in the work under consideration. For your response paper, begin by selecting one or two lines, a phrase, an image, or even a word from the novel; type your selection out in full at the top of the page, and then write a commentary in which you strive to articulate why the selection strikes you as important or significant to a reading of the work. In other words, use your selected lines or words to explore the work's theme(s) and form. Your response paper may also include your personal response, or perhaps how it relates to other works we have discussed in class. In your response, do not paraphrase the novel; instead, develop a reading of the work.
        Note: You must turn in 11 response papers, but there are 14 weeks in the semester. So, there are two weeks in which you can elect not to turn in a response. If, however, you turn in more than 12, you will receive extra credit for the 1 or 2 extra responses.
        Class Participation and Attendance:
        Read everything, and come to class prepared to talk about what you have read. On the first day of class discussion for each assignment, you must have finished the reading and be ready to discuss it. By "the reading," I mean all the text assigned for that day. This class will be based on discussion, so class participation is expected, and will count for 10% of your final grade. I reserve the right to assign homework or in-class writing projects that are not listed on the syllabus.
        Class attendance is required. Since the class meets three times a week, you are granted three absences, but more than three will lower your final grade by one grade increment for each absence (e.g., B+ would become B). You cannot earn credit for work missed in class. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to discover what went on that day. "I didn't know because I wasn't in class" is never an acceptable excuse.
        Presentation OR Leading Class Discussion:
        Once during the semester, each of you (working in groups) will either (a) present some background for and critical responses to a work under discussion or (b) initiate our class discussion and sustain it for about 10 minutes. This activity has two goals: to make the classroom more interactive and collaborative, and to encourage you to ask the sort of questions and do the sort of research that can lead you to a reading of one of the novels. (During the second week of class, each pair will sign up for a specific day.)
        (a) Presentation: Presentations (10 minutes in length) should provide information which can in turn encourage us to explore the connections between the secondary readings and our assigned primary reading. You might look for contemporary book reviews, interviews with or profiles of the author, good websites, and any exemplary lit. crit. you think we ought to consider. Bring a handout, including a brief bibiliography of (in your view) essential resources.
        (b) Leading Class Discussion: On the day you lead discussion, you will need to do the following:
  1. As a focus for your question or questions, choose a specific passage, image, or a small portion of a scene. Note: while your question can (and should) lead us to other areas in the novel, select a specific place from which to launch our discussion.
  2. Develop discussion questions on some issues or ideas you think we should address. Discussion questions should have more than one possible answer, and should lead to other questions. Note: While your discussion questions should point us towards a reading of the poem or play, your questions can certainly be ones to which you do not yet have complete answers.
  3. Make an outline of your discussion, including the passage(s) you intend to focus on, and the questions you will ask. Your outline needs to reach me 24 hours in advance of class: email it to me or put it in my box in the English Department (in Denison Hall).
        Computing -- the Internet and Email:
        The Internet: For your reference, a hyperlinked version of this syllabus is on-line. Go to <www.ksu.edu/english/nelp/> and click on "Courses." When possible, I have linked authors' names to relevant webpages, and I plan to provide a link from each paper to its paper assignment.
        Email: My email address is philnel@ksu.edu. If you need help establishing an email account and learning to use email, please visit the Office of Telecommunications at 109 East Stadium or <www.telecom.ksu.edu/> to find out what you have to do. Although I do not require you to use email, I encourage you to use email as a way of touching base with me. You can write me with questions, send a thesis statement or outline for an essay, make an appointment to meet me in person, or anything else that could be handled with a quick exchange of messages. I tend to check email several times a day, but please keep in mind that I am not on-line at all times. You can access email and the various computer labs around campus: 21 Nichols Hall, 22-25 Seaton Hall, 1-1A Dickens Hall, and 325 Justin Hall and in some residence halls (visit <www.ksu.edu/housing/complab.html> for more details about resident hall labs).

Schedule of Assignments
Subject to Change
[W] = Web. [CP] = Class Pack. [R] = On Reserve (at Hale Library).
Postmodernism (1): Form • History • Narrative
M 21
W 23
F 25
Jeffery N. Wasserstrom, "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been....
Postmodern?" [CP]; Donald Barthelme, Snow White (1967), Part One.
Snow White, Parts Two and Three
M 28
W 30
F 1
Art Spiegleman, Maus I (1986). Read all of it.
Spiegleman, Maus II (1991), chapters 1 and 2
Maus II, chapters 3 through 5
M 4
W 6
F 8
Labor Day (No Class)
Maus I and II
Presentation #1
Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods (1994) to p. 101
M 11
W 13
In the Lake of the Woods to p. 200.
In the Lake of the Woods to end.
Presentation #2
F 15
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (1965) parts I and II
M 18
W 20
F 22
In Cold Blood, part III
In Cold Blood, part IV
Presentation #3
Raymond Carver, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" (1981)
"Cathedral" (1981) [CP]
M 25
W 27
Lorrie Moore, "How to Be an Other Woman" (1985) "People Like That Are the
Only People Here" (1998) [CP]
T. Coraghessan Boyle, "Sitting On Top of the World" (1989), "Big Game"
(1990) [CP]
Paper #1 DUE in class
Postmodernism (2): Art • Mass • Culture
F 29
Chapter 1 of Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism (1991) [R]
M 2
W 4
F 6
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), chapters 1 through 4
The Crying of Lot 49, chapters 5 and 6
Presentation #4
Jean Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulation" (excerpts) [R]
Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985), part I
M 9
W 11
F 13
White Noise, parts II and III through chapter 28
White Noise, part III to end
White Noise: Texts and Contexts: interviews with deCurtis and with Begley,
DeLillo's "Silhouette City," Newsweek article, and one critical essay
of your choice.
Presentation #5
M 16
M 18
F 20
Rikki Ducornet, Phosphor in Dreamland (1995) to 71
Phosphor in Dreamland to 124
Fall Break
M 23
Phosphor in Dreamland to end
Leading Class Discussion #1
American Identities & Communities
W 25
F 27
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977), chapters 1 through 4
Song of Solomon, chapters 5 through 9
M 30
W 1
F 3
Song of Solomon, chapters 10 through 15
Presentation #6
Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1988), chapters 1 through 5
Tracks, chapters 6 through 9
Leading Class Discussion #2
Prospectus for Paper #2 DUE in class
M 6
W 8
F 10
Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), chapters 1 through 8
Bastard Out of Carolina, chapters 9 through 13
Bastard Out of Carolina, chapters 14 through 22
Presentation #7
M 13
W 15
F 17
Gish Jen, Mona in the Promised Land (1996), part I
Mona in the Promised Land, part II
Mona in the Promised Land, part III and Epilogue
Leading Class Discussion #3
M 20
W 22
F 24
Andreas Huyssen, "Mapping the Postmodern" (1986) [CP]
M 27
W 29
F 1
Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985), chapters 1 through 7
City of Glass, chapters 8 through 13
Leading Class Discussion #4
David Bowman, Bunny Modern (1998), chapters 1 through 4
Paper #2 DUE in class
M 4
W 6
F 8
Bunny Modern, chapters 5 through 9
Conclusion & Review
More Bowman, More Conclusion, and Some Final Speculations.
M 11
Final Exam, 4:10-6:00 p.m.
You must take the exam on this day
and at this time.  NO EXCEPTIONS.
Further secondary readings may include essays by: Clement Greenberg, Susan Sontag, and Linda Hutcheon.

Suggstions for Further Reading
Books that missed this version of the syllabus:
Paul Auster, Leviathan (1992)
Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America (1967)
Don DeLillo, Libra (1988) and Mao II (1991)
E. L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel (1971) and Ragtime (1975)
Tony Earley, Jim the Boy (2000)
Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) and McSweeney's Internet Tendency (online)
Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1991)
Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night (1968)
Carole Maso, The Art Lover: A Novel (1990)
Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
Gloria Naylor, Mama Day (1988)
Joyce Carol Oates, Foxfire (1993)
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980)
Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres (1991)
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1968)
James Welch, Fools Crow (1986)
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)
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Last updated 14 November 2000