Description   |   Syllabus

PoMo: Exploring the Landscape of Postmodernism
UC Berkeley
Spring 2020




Exploring the Landscape of Postmodernism

Spring 2020// English 166 // T, Th 3:30 – 5 // Mulford 240

Mark Danner 

Postmodernism is one of those peculiar words, like "nonfiction," that struggles to define something by what it is not. Or rather, in this case, by what it comes after: Postmodernism was what came after modernism. In this seminar we'll attempt to go beyond that rather empty surmise to the self-regarding, fragmented, multiform, satyric, parodic, pastichey works themselves. That means readings from Borges to Burroughs to Barth and Barthelme, from Calvino to Carter to DeLillo to Heller to Pynchon and Toni Morrison to Whitehead. Others besides, all in the service of answering the nagging questions: What did come after Modernism? How exactly should we think about it? And where oh where did it go?

Class Requirements This seminar will be a mixture of lectures and discussion, backed up by a large amount of reading, some student presentations and a little writing. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

*Deliver one presentation on a subject related to postmodernism

*Complete the final examination

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade. Students who miss classes will not do well in this course.

Schedule Note that all classes will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 pm in Mulford 240. 

Reading Our primary reading will draw on the classics of postmodernism, both novels and short stories. They are listed below under Required Texts. 

     I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that we will all be “on the same page” and so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

     Some excerpts from critical essays collected in the sourcebooks listed below will be distributed as supplemental reading during the semester.

Presentations Students will make one presentation on the theme of the course, with a colleague, in some way tied to the current reading. Use of multimedia and social media during the presentation is strongly encouraged. 

Favorite Passages During your reading please make sure to select each one favorite or representative passage that you can offer to the class when called on. These passages should exemplify something about the book or the author that you think is important to the themes of the class – or simply important to you.

Writing Depending on response to the reading there may be an occasional in-class quiz, which will be short “pop” quizzes presented at the beginning of class.

     Each student will complete one short paper on themes raised in the course or a text discussed in it or both. “Short” means two to three pages.

      To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest studying two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language” and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style. 

Office Hours I will count on meeting with each of you individually at least once during the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My offices are Wheeler 229 and North Gate 32. My writing, speaking, biography and other information can be found at my website,

Final Examination The final exam will be made up of questions with short answers whose purpose is to ensure, first, that you have read the books, second, that you have listened to and absorbed the discussions, and third, that you have acquired some mastery over what we have read and discussed together. If you attend class and do the reading you will, with little or no additional preparation, do well on the test.

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, as follows:

Attendance            30 percent

Participation          30 percent

Writing                  20 percent

Presentation           20 percent

Required Texts

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [first published: 1964 – 79])

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56])

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979]) 

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (Anchor, 2002 [2001])

Recommended Sourcebooks

Lawrence Cahoone (ed.), From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology (Blackwell, 2003)

Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity (Duke, 1987)

Paula Geyn et al (eds.), Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology (Norton, 1998)

Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon (eds), A Postmodern Reader (SUNY, 1993)

Tentative Syllabus

Note: Tentative means the schedule may change. Some short essays may be added and particular stories and excerpts specified with page numbers. Stay tuned. 

January 21 – PoMo: An Unending Longing to Define 

On the many meanings of a big, greasy word. Era, style, philosophy. The question of periodization. Are we in it? Or of it? PoMo and truth: a dip into politics. A few short examples. Borges and the pliability of time. Barthelme and tragedy.

Required Reading:  Jorge Luis Borges, “Kafka and his Precursors”

                                Donald Barthelme, “The School”

January 23 – Borges and the Modern/Postmodern Borderland

Finding the seam: when did Modernism become something else? And what exactly was that else? The short story and essay. The story as philosophical problem. The story as intellectual pastiche. What do stories do? On Borges and Barthelme.

Required Reading: Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 9 – 65.

                               Ihad Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism”                             

January 28 – Borges, Barthelme and the Metaphysics of Storytelling

What makes a story a story? Theme and enigma. Do we need character? What exactly is realism and what does it do?

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 65 – 174.

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 1 – 120.

January 30 – Tragic Cartoons: Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 121 – 444, with specific stories to be named.


February 4 – So It Goes: Firebomb Dresden, Napalm Vietnam

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

February 6 – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

February 11 – William Burroughs: Punks, Beats, Drug-Fueled Dreams

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

February 13 – William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

February 18 – Postmodern Paranoia: Pynchon’s America

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

February 20 – Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

February 25 – Ouroboros: Calvino’s Self-Consuming Story

Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979]) 

February 27 -- Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979]) 

March 3 – Pastiche, Fairy Tales, Women’s Voices: Carter’s Fables

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

March 5 – Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

March 10 – Marilynne Robinson’s Pilgrim Quest

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

March 12 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

March 24, 26 – Spring Break (No Class: Read Catch-22)

March 31Slapstick of Total War: Heller’s World

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

April 2 – Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

April 7 – Persistence of Airborne Toxic Events: DeLillo’s Prophesy

Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

April 9 – Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

April 14 – Unburying History: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

April 16 – Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

April 21 – Dystopia or Paranoia? Markson’s Cracked Mirror

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

April 23 – David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

May 5 – Charging Culture’s Theme Park: Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (Anchor, 2002 [2001])

May 7 – Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (Anchor, 2002 [2001])

May [Date TBD] – Final Examination (Short Answers)

Annotated Syllabus

January 21 – PoMo: An Unending Longing to Define 

On the many meanings of a big, greasy word. Era, style, philosophy. The question of periodization. Are we in it? Or of it? PoMo and truth: a dip into politics. A few short examples. Borges and the pliability of time. Barthelme and tragedy.

Required Reading:  Jorge Luis Borges, “Kafka and his Precursors”

                                Donald Barthelme, “The School”

Course Recording

Class Notes: 

Postmodernism is a literary and artistic era beginning after WWII

Are we still in the postmodern era?

Characteristics include self-awareness/metafiction and absurdity within the plot

What does “meta” mean? History of itself; self-referential

Reflexivity: fiction about fiction

All these descriptions are very unspecific

It’s trying to locate a kind of era and intellectual art

We’re not exactly sure where it started and where it ended/if it’s still continuing

Initially used to describe buildings emerging in the 1960s

Ex: Disney Hall looks like a wave and is sort of figurative (designed by Frank Gehry)

Modernist Building are much different from postmodernist

Modernism had an austere philosophy for architecture

“form follows function”

Ex: Seagram Building in New York is a straight, black glass, unornamented building (designed by  Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson

Postmodern architecture is more popular than modern because it is more ornamented and pleasurable

Not everything in the postmodern era is necessarily postmodern

Some recent postmodern buildings include the Salesforce Building and BAMPFA

PoMo is predicated on irony

These buildings talk to us because they have screens

Irony: The opposite of what is expected to happen, happens

Does BAMPFA’s architecture undermine the seriousness of the museum?

Postmodernist opt to be less serious and more ironic

The past, which cannot be destroyed because then there will be silence, we must revisit with irony

Our age is one of lost innocence

Neoclassical architecture: we live in the shadow of it

Buildings like the MET and the Supreme Court remind us that we are entering western culture and the myth of dominance

British thought of themselves as the dominant western culture

The metanarrative is that they were the most powerful and thought they should spread this “dominant” culture

Marxism and class struggle are metanarratives

Freudianism is another metanarrative

In the broad sense, PoMo’s key attribute, identified by Lyotard, is the end of metanarrative and the treatment of metanarrative ironically

French Writers who became famous in the 60s wrote a lot of theory about PoMo

The School by Donald Barthelme

It’s a monologue

Extremely casual

Missing some things: no dialogue, no real context, no kids’ names (except those who died)

Story has an implied listener

We’re used to realism, so we recognize weirdness

The story has two strong turns

The Korean orphan

Surprising but strangely expected, thus making it absurd

Ending part

January 23 – Borges and the Modern/Postmodern Borderland

Finding the seam: when did Modernism become something else? And what exactly was that else? The short story and essay. The story as philosophical problem. The story as intellectual pastiche. What do stories do? On Borges and Barthelme.

Required Reading: Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 9 – 65.

                               Ihad Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism”                             

Suggested Reading:

Donald Barthelme Interview with the Paris Review

Jorge Luis Borges Interview with the Paris Review

Course Recording

Class Notes: 

Jorge Luis Borges

Borges’s stories oftentimes have many real people in them

However, they haven’t always written what he says they’ve written

He deals with idealism and concepts of what is real v not real

These stories are from the 1940s, but suddenly became popular in the 1960s

Borges was from Argentina but spent a lot of time in Europe

He and Samuel Becket shared an international prize for literature in 1961


Born around 35 years after Borges

One of the founders of Postmodern literature

“The School” by Barthelme

Ellipses make it feel far more casual—it’s not very descriptive

Concepts of being individually responsible

The children are responsible for what they take care of, but are they responsible for their deaths?

Life and death—everything is passing

The story is ultimately about death

Do we really know how old the kids are?

He’s playing with the reader’s expectation of what a story should be

There isn’t a plot, but there is a gradual intensification off the stakes

The children don’t understand death, but neither does Edgar, really

When the gerbil appears, we know he will eventually die

Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” by Borges

Borges worked with and was influenced by Louis Aragon, a French surrealist

He was part of the young avant-garde of Argentina

He became a Newspaper editor when he was around 30

He wrote many stories for this paper

His fiction was hardly distinguishable from his nonfiction

“Mirrors are grotesque”

Because they create more people—likens mirrors to copulation

Mirrors make a blurred line between fiction and reality

There are many mirrors in this story

Borges steers towards Plato and maybe even critiques him

Idealism: the philosophy that reality is real because of our perception of it

Tlon is idealism without any backstop

Borges constructs a whole world based on idealism

Plays out paradoxes in this world

Tlon becomes real in two ways

People reading about it and learning about it in school

People finding artifacts from it

The two artifacts that appear are a compass and a heavy cone

There is no independent existence of anything, so can we create anything?

Descartes said “I think therefore I am”

Gnostic: an extreme Platonist who believes the world is an illusion—Gnostics hate the world

January 28 – Borges, Barthelme and the Metaphysics of Storytelling

What makes a story a story? Theme and enigma. Do we need character? What exactly is realism and what does it do?

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 65 – 174.

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 1 – 120.

Suggested Reading:

Explanatory Notes  for Sixty Stories

Course Recording

Class Notes:

In 1921, Ulysses and The Wasteland were both published

Modernism began around 1914 with the war

WWI interrupted a time of very little world conflict

20-25 million people died

Modern technology that was supposed to improve life was used to destroy it

Key decade of PoMo was the 1960s

started around 1945

Death toll of WWII was around 55 million people

It was apocalyptic

they were killed in an industrial fashion

Produced by a country considered "civilized"

6 million people died in the holocaust

What do Barthelme and Borges have to do with this?

Barthelme's "The Game" is very apocalyptic

irrationalism, war

Borges said there were four devices of great literature

work within the work

evident in many of his short stories

in media res

fictional world within the fictional world

formula: mise en abyme (putting into an abyss)

Contamination of reality by dreams


reality is unstable

Ex. "The Circular Ruins"

Voyage in Time

Things occur again and again

Ex. The Secret Miracle

Time is malleable

The Double

For Borges, history is cyclical

most of his stories take place in the past or in some indeterminate time

"Pierre Menard"

arcana: secret knowledge

Destroys his own argument about changing the game of chess

Doesn't really have an effect on the objective world

Something willfully playful about destroying what you make

Almost absurd

stays in the realm of imagination--exists only in the mind

"The South"

Dahlmann suffers an injury and is charged

injury is autobiographical--Borges once hit his head while carrying a copy of A Thousand and One Nights

reminiscent of Funes


Funes is mentally and physically paralyzed

He cannot escape the power of his own mind

"Babylon Lottery"

culture and time period of PoMo fit into the story

mass death and the search for an explanation

question of free will or the absence of it

What does the Company represent?


gives reason to determinacy

"Garden of Forking Paths"

The book inside is strangely the ultimate realist novel because it offers choices as in real life

Discusses the novel in a novel, voyage through time, and arguably the double

Same title for Borges's very first collection

Bifurcating series of choices, but he happens to pick the one connected to his ancestor

Why does something stir in his memory?

either it is a reference to him remembering his ancestor or

this has happened before

January 30 – Tragic Cartoons: Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 121 – 444, with specific stories to be named.

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Similarities and differences between Borges and Barthelme

short stories

Both use humor

Barthelme has a sort of quirkier style

both have a sense of play

Barthelme makes more jokes and is more fragmented

Their relationship to realism is different, but they are both distinctly distanced from it

They both play with the story's form

Characteristics of Realism

everyman character

uniform narrative time

consistent reality

plot, which implies a narrative shape


character development

Characteristics of Postmodernism

non sequitur


open-endedness keeps the story echoing

it's fertile

Not always a traditional climax

ex. "The School" is an escalation story

There is progress and narrative movement, but not in a conventional way

"Flat" characters

"The Falling Dog"

not really about the dog

similar to Kafka's Metamorphosis in that something absurd and unexplained occurs

"The Balloon" is most similar to Metamorphosis

"Views of My Father Weeping" is similar to Kafka's first story, "The Judgment"

Barthelme wanted to "find freshness in a much used language"

Barthelme is interested in different kinds of speech


all kinds of voices--> mixture of voices

sometimes very matter-of-fact


ex. Cortes and Montezuma riding in a limousine

Borges subjects time whereas Barthelme uses it for play and fun

Barthelme is interested in collage

influenced by pop art, Lichtenstein

uses appropriation, allusions, sampling

"The Falling Dog" continued

the 'poems' are the notes of the sculptor

trying to develop his next work

This is a story that does indeed progress

not in a normal sense 

no conflict or climax

we don't know how real any of it really is

We're witnessing the process of creation

It's as though he's explaining his artwork to someone and making up a story of how he was inspired

The image of the falling dog replaces the yawning man

he's made thousands of yawning men, thus mocking the commodification of art

Barthelme's father was a modernist architect and he grew up in a modernist home

"We like stories that have a lot of drek in them"

Barthelme says this to suggest that realist books waste themselves on superfluous description

he says realism is a series of agreements about how to fake the world

"Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning" has a date at the end that is a few months before his assassination

it was written before the assassination though

"The Balloon"

one of Barthelme's most famous stories

Third paragraph is sort of about how we experience art

why bother trying to figure it out 

Go to it, experience it, enjoy it

Last couple paragraphs

blather of sociological discussion

The balloon eventually becomes accepted as normal (sort of a joke about New York)

Was the speaker truly responsible for the balloon or not?


February 4 – So It Goes: Firebomb Dresden, Napalm Vietnam

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

Suggested Reading:

 Susan Sontag's Essay "Against Interpretation" 

Washington Post Essay on Slaughterhouse 5

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Best-selling PoMo novel

This book has a preoccupation with Dresden as well as Vietnam

the children of the soldiers of WWII fight in Vietnam

The two are linked with many things

for instance, napalm 

Slaughterhouse Five rose to the #4 on the bestseller list and stayed there for 16 weeks

One of the most frequently banned books in America

Judge in Michigan called i vulgar, depraved, psychotic and antichristian

What makes it PoMo

time travel--makes narrative fragmented, grammar travels through time as well

confusion of whether or not Vonnegut is SciFi

Self-reflexive--meta narrative

The book is composed of reappearing chunks

Vonnegut said his books are a mosaic made of chips and each chip is a joke

His characters reappear in several of his other books as well

The random chunks sometimes work as epithets

ex. Edgar Derby is always referenced along with his death

What is the linear narrative?

The Dresden past, primarily

Is there a naturalistic explanation for the plot?

Yes, the SciFi explanation is that he really is unstuck in time but the naturalistic explanation is that this is the result of PTSD

Many absurd deaths throughout the book

Ex. Billy's father being shot by a friend while deer hunting

Slaughterhouse Five was an underground meat locker of stone

absurd that it saves them from destruction

Dresden is described as a fantasy land, but we never really get a clear, detailed description

Fire bombing is bombing with a mixture of high explosives and then incendiary bombs

trying to create a firestorm where fire develops its own momentum and forms a tornado

"So it goes" appears 106 times

War culture is sort of more a daily reminder that we forget nowadays

What is the sentiment that keeps the book going as a working narrative?

unique perception of time and triviality, which enables Billy to find humanity in crazy situations

Many things we experience second hand

we learn about Billy's trauma through other people

Billy is passive and in some ways his experience with the Tralfamadorians makes him more numb to everything

The theme of this novel is more about cruelty than death

When Vonnegut is at the motel in Boston, he reads two things

1. Words for the Wind, which has a poem that hints at free will

2. The Gideon Bible chronicling the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah, which hints more at an absence of free will

From the Gideon Bible, Lot's wife turns back at the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt

Vonnegut call himself a pillar of salt because he is looking back

It's a deeply moral book, but it creates its own moral structures

Vonnegut revisits his past through this novel

What does it do to you to revisit your past?

He calls the book a failure because it was written by a pillar of salt

his looking back mortifies himself

Looking back is reminiscent of the story of Orpheus

There is a shape to the book, ending on a question

Billy had a meek faith in a loving Jesus that most soldiers found putrid

He plays the organ at various churches because of his mother, but she never picks one

Billy is Jesus--passivity in suffering, feeling things in a unique way

he's an antihero, but also not

February 6 – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Kurt Vonnegut and Science Fiction (Landon and Cooper's presentation)

Born in 1922

Went to Cornell

Studied Biochem

joined the airforce

worked as a reporter

then worked in PR for GE

 left in 1950 to work as a full time writer

Elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Died in 2007

Genre v literary

In genre, plot comes first, there is a more traditional/basic narrative, and there are often impossible or fantastic events

In literary fiction, there is a focus on characters, there is experimental and complex structure, and there is a focus on social issues 

this is what is considered more high art

Science Fiction deals with imaginative and futuristic/alternate realities

confusion of genre v literary

often has elements of advanced science and tech

soft sci fi takes more creative liberties and has less of a concern for plausibility

hard scifi is more rooted in reality and actual science

Vonnegut's first two novels, Player Piano and Sirens of Titan, were more Sci Fi-esque and were marketed as such

Vonnegut didn't like this so he started to deviate from SciFi a little bit

Player Piano was partly inspired by his time at GE

Slaughterhouse 5 is where the genres begin to blend more

there are elements of genre fiction and literary fiction

One of the most notable traits of PoMo is its blending of different genres as well as high and low art

meshing contradictions

SciFi is a very young genre

first really began in the late 1800s

HG Wells is the honorary father of SciFi

Postmodernism dissolves categories

it is aware that the categories are about power and economics

There's pastiche

Pastiche is something made up of different elements

SciFi itself is a type of pastiche

PoMo takes acid to these categories of genre and literary fiction and to literary authority

These categories are historically determined

PoMo has trouble with authority and meta-narrative

Vonnegut struggled to find literary respect

he was mixing categories and that is part of what makes him PoMo

Slaughterhouse 5 is also somewhat humanist

it's antiwar

Billy's last name is Pilgrim

it has a religious meaning

Vonnegut makes a pilgrimage back to Dresden in the first chapter and he makes biblical allusions as well

Billy goes by 'Billy' for business reasons, but it also makes him more childish

The Children's Crusade

What is the drive  behind Billy's pilgrimage?

Is this all compensation for his PTSD?

If we read it as a realist piece, this new vision of time is compensation for what he's lost

The book is a complete take down of the narrative of Christianity (if read from a PoMo perspective)

Billy tries to reconstruct a world where he is unstuck in time, there's been this mass cruelty, and his faith can't help

The novel is both Satire and SciFi

in a literary sense, SciFi belongs to satire--it's using a narrative of the future to critique the present

February 11 – William Burroughs: Punks, Beats, Drug-Fueled Dreams

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

Suggested Reading:

Wikipedia Article on William S. Burroughs

Wikipedia Article on the Beat Generation 

Burroughs Paris Review Interview

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Book went to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in a case against its obscenity, but it was deemed not obscene

You can intersect the text at any point

the book is deeply unconventional

Many consider the novel immoral

It critiques middle class morality

It's sort of a literary experiment

Burroughs was partially interested in Dadaism

Ginsberg and Kerouac helped him chop his original 1,000 page draft of Naked Lunch into what it is today

1954-58 Burroughs lived in Tangier

Interzone--it did not belong to any country and was international

Drugs were fully available in the Interzone of tangier

So was sex, including 'unconventional' sex

Book was partially shocking because of the homosexuality

The beat poets were key figures in the post-war literary movements

This is very much a book of the 50s

50s were a time of consumerism and an era of American prosperity

USA left WWII having 50% of the world's GDP

The US was incredibly rich and prosperous and the baby boomer generations as born

The 50s had the Civil Rights Movement as well as McCarthyism

Homosexuality and any 'unconventional' sexuality warranted arrest and could ruin someone's life

There is a large segment of society that is repressed and under threat of persecution in the midst of this prosperous society

All of this 50s mask of perfection cracked in the 60s giving birth to counterculture

The 50s is the great moment of repression

Various bureaucracies oppress

Drug bureaucracy, mental hospitals, etc.

"The algebra of need" --the more you have, the more you need

"Junk is the mold of oppression" --Burroughs

Given certain unknown factors in an equation with absolute need, the outcome is regardless predictable

Burroughs suggests that the junkies represent everyone

The book is a critique of American society by an exile in Tangier

Burroughs was a little older than some of the other beats

The beat philosophy dates back to Lucien Carr

They were big on transcendentalism and Emerson


Carr had three main points of philosophy

Naked self expression is the key to creativity

An artist's conscience is expanded by "derangement of the senses"

drugs, alcohol, hedonism, etc.

"Derangement of the senses" is a Rimbaud quote

Art eludes conventional morality

paranoia--fear of arrest, not getting what one needs, loss of control, judgment from conventional society

The novel is very much a pastiche

SciFi, travel, surrealism, pornography, detective fiction,

The narrator is authentic, which lends him some pretentiousness

his is who he is and is not hypocritical or deluded

he indulges his desires

Many of the scenes are thematic representations of the routines of coming down from a high, dreaming, fantasizing, etc.

Ongoing satire of American racism and violence

Psychoanalysis of the American psyche--particularly the darker side

Burroughs grew up very wealthy

his grandfather invented the adding machine

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri

February 13 – William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Burroughs is a unique figure among the Beats

Ginsberg helped extract Naked Lunch from a 1,000 page "word horde" that Burroughs wrote between 1954 and 1958

The word horde wasn't a story but rather a series of routines of coming down from a high, kicking it, etc.

A theme of his work is stripping away the calm face of prosperous Western society and showing the power of media and law that terrorize underneath

mechanisms that control people

Dr. Benway talking about the man who taught his asshole to talk is a very famous part of the book

metaphor for powers of service and consumption

man is reduced to only a mechanism of consumption

Simopath: citizen convinced that he is an ape

Latah: form of involuntary hypnosis and movement native to Asia

lack of control

INDs: "irreversible neural damage"--Benway produces these people

Image of disgusting grey, translucent monkey fetus

a parasite that is nothing but need

Capitalism stimulates this need

This and addiction are a critique of a certain type of society

Salvador Hassan O'leary (character): describes himself as a cancer that must proliferate

he's the friendly face of capitalism

he sells cut antibiotics, adulterated shock repellent, and more things that are really useless

P.32 passage

Categorization of different groups that is very typical of the 50s

Lack of control and stripped agency

People indulging their most depraved desires

scene of decay and moral depravity

Presentation: "The Shootist": Burroughs and Vollmer, by Kathryn Riley and Erika Badalyan

Born in Missouri to a wealthy family

Expressed an interest in writing from a very young age

Injured his hand in Mexico and was treated with Morphine

one of his first exposures

Graduated from Harvard with honors

Traveled a lot and learned a lot about queer culture

Was psychoanalyzed a lot, but didn't really believe in psychoanalysis

this did help him remember that when he was four his maid forced him to have oral sex with her boyfriend

Went to war but got psychiatric discharge

Went to Chicago

worked as a PI and an exterminator

Vollmer was born in 1923 and went to Barnard College

She was roommates with Edie Parker, Kerouac's first wife

Ginsberg and Kerouac introduced Vollmer and Burroughs

They called each other telepathic soulmates

Both had substance abuse problems

Burroughs did Heroin and Vollmer did Benzedrine

Vollmer's first husband left her because of her drug problem

Eventually moved to New Orleans where Burroughs was arrested for heroin possession

They then went to Mexico together

At a party, they say that they're going to do their William Tell act, something they had never done before

She places a cup on her head and he means to shoot it off, but accidentally kills her

He made a cover story that it was an accident, but his lawyer then killed someone and fled

Burroughs was detained in Mexico for 13 days before being bailed out and fleeing himself

Ginsberg though that Vollmer wanted to die and that Burroughs was assisting her

Burroughs then went to Paris and Tangier

He performed experiments on himself where he'd do drugs and mirror gaze

these got him interested in cut ups

cut ups became a way for him to make sense of things

As a shootist, he shot boards and made paintings out of them

He was very passionate about his identity as a shootist

Burroughs's work had a fair amount of gynophobia in it

always used in a way meant to shock people

Females are always portrayed as ravenous

trope of pornography

The hanging thing is also a trope of pornography and there are many others throughout the book

February 18 – Postmodern Paranoia: Pynchon’s America

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

Suggested Reading:

Wiki Annotations of The Crying of Lot 49


February 20 – Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Today we had a discussion wherein people wrote questions about anything in the class and we discussed them at random.

Least favorite novel and why

Naked Lunch seemed overwhelmingly the least favorite

not meant to be enjoyable

historical context of the time is important to fully appreciate it


is it less potent to us because we are desensitized?

would it have been more profound in the 60s?

What makes these works Postmodern?


mocking metanarrative

they turn modernism on its head

Why is the end of Pynchon so ambiguous?

whole point of the novel is that everything is in flux


Oedipa sets herself as other from everyone else in the story

If there was a buyer, it would give Oedipa a victory no matter what--the victory of satisfaction

What is modernism?

after WWI and during rapid industrialization

focus on consciousness

not as satirical and critiquing as PoMo

expands more on tradition

function precedes form

What makes Barthelme different from the other authors?

more modulated

many different styles of writing from story to story

Is Borges more different from the other authors than Barthelme?

man of his themes occur in the other works

he takes himself more seriously and his work as a sacred aspect to it

he's more esoteric

Barthelme is very interpersonal in some ways, which makes him stand out

Are we still in PoMo?


PoMo isn't well-defined so it's difficult to say

Can we still define literature in terms of eras?

David Foster Wallace--Concept of New sincerity wherein after PoMo we have to come back to regular narrative

Is irony dead? Have we had irony poisoning?

What is the significance of Pynchon's long sentences?

most literary element to the work

gets you caught up in each moment

aesthetically pleasing?

Contributes to fragmentation

Intentionally overwhelming

How do drugs function in PoMo?

They're a tool

Literally contaminating reality with dreams

Drug use also exploded in the 60s

How does PoMo relate to American culture?

nowadays it connects to the internet and internet humor/irony

Apathy in American culture

after WWII Americans were just in shock and incapable of comprehending such mass destruction


How do names in The Crying of Lot 49 function?


Oedipa's name comes from Oedipus

may be pointing at the false sense of security



Maybe the names have no meaning

February 25 – Ouroboros: Calvino’s Self-Consuming Story

Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979]) 

Course Recording

Class Notes:

The Crying of Lot 49

Element of pastiche and detective novels

If we look at it as a mystery, the mystery gets bigger the more the book goes on

It heads toward a condition of non-knowledge

starts of sort of stable but ends in much more uncertainty

progressive lack of understanding that comes with understanding

conspiracy: many different elements working together to achieve something hidden

different from conspiracy theory

Menippean Satire: something that is not only throwing satirical reflections on society, but is a wisdom narrative

wisdom narrative--she's a different woman at the end of the novel; similar to a fable

What is the pushing force of the narrative?

it's a quest narrative of her trying to figure out the conspiracy

confronting other forces

Oedipa is alerted of some strange reality

Why was she presented with this quest?

Pierce Inverarity is an obscure, all-powerful figure

The book's advancement is thematic

headed toward a larger reality underneath the surface

Oedipa learns about all these underground groups beneath her suburban life

Thematic journey through secret worlds connected in different ways

Reminiscent of Borges

secret groups, reality, Tlon Uqbar, generational secrets

Oedipus gets caught up in a prediction

he tries to avoid it and thus does exactly what it predicts

Inverarity--comes from the latin word for truth, but means "untruth"

Rapunzel paragraph on pg 10 has a switch of registers

goes back to vernacular

Oedipa is trapped

things feel insubstantial and arbitrary

The image of Oedipa trapped is a counterimage to the rest of the world

He dissatisfying, mundane life is the set up of the quest

Pierce may have been trying to reveal a more interesting world to Oedipa

Pierce creates San Narciso

He's the mega-developer full of power and he connects everything

Rapunzel is unique in that the princess actually has agency and acts heroically

When Oedipa arrives in San Narciso, she experiences several revelations

hierophant: the revelation of a god

She senses that there's something more, but she doesn't know what

Presentation: PoMo and Film: The French New Wave (By Alyssa and Mika)

French new wave was mostly in the 50s and 60s

Post WWII revival of French Cinema

Loosely organized, unpolished, disjointed

New directors, actors, styles, etc.

Jean Luc Godard

important figure in French New Wave Cinema

was upset that there was nothing new and unique, so he started making his own unique films

New things like breaking the fourth wall and jump cuts

reminds you that you are watching a film

A Bout de Souffle (Godard)

protagonist is a bad person

role reversal in the end where the woman betrays him

many pop culture references

February 27 -- Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979]) 

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Why is this book good PoMo?

60s were a key decade for PoMo

disjunctive decade

rupture between past and future

flowering of social liberation after conforming 50s

US dominated the world after WWII

This book sort of mirrors the shattering of the 50s

1963--Kennedy's assassination

everyone's watching when he is shot and when his killer is shot

Shatters the mirage of invulnerability

idea that we know what's going on

dark looming other reality

loss of trust and confidence in the predictability of the world

Lyotard quote: "I define Postmodernism as incredulity toward meta-narrative"

what is a meta-narrative

the person who the history is about is telling the history

ideological systems we use to make sense of the world--Christianity, Marxism, Freudianism, etc.

It's a larger system for making sense of events

delegitimization--word used by Jurgen Habermas

How can we judge and place values without metanarrative?

This book is about delegitimization and incredulity toward metanarrative

No one ever tells Oedipa how to feel

She's trying to find a connection, but is afraid of what she'll find

Apologue: opposed to a realist narrative, this is more of a verbal fiction concerned with idea, fable, and the shape of language

Characters are plot devices

flat characters that hold up the plot

Story expands, it doesn't narrow down

She's seeing reality for the first time

"Promise of hierophany"--promise of the appearance of the sacred

Revelation that something about the US is rotten

revelation of landscapes

Symbol is a mute post horn

Theme of communication--revelation of isolation

She realizes the power of choice and options

she acquires agency

She loses everyone in the book

strips away everything

Absurdity of the mail being the conspiracy is part of the humor

Oedipa knows she wasn't happy (rapunzel imagery)

Dichotomy of "secret richness"

manifest world is revealed to her as this tawdry place

He new knowledge leader her to ambiguity and even less certainty

Underclass theme--agency of social revolution

Is it Tristero or is it just America?

Sailor is the only character with a strong emotional connection to someone

Oedipa sees him and she sees him burn--hierophany

he's almost being sacrificed

Why is this image an important one?

It's where Oedipa sees the darkest side of America

Tristero is a system relied on by people on the outskirts

March 3 – Pastiche, Fairy Tales, Women’s Voices: Carter’s Fables

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Mandarin PoMo

high-toned viscosity

He admired Borges and Nabokov

intricate labyrinthine structures

Calvino called this book a "hyper novel" done to the "tenth degree"

"it's a catalogue of anthology novel"

"individual confronted by a menace"

in danger from attraction to a female

Lived in Paris while writing

political turmoil in Italy

reader is reading the description of reading

reading is the one thing consistent in the plot

He stopped writing fiction for three years when he came up with this book idea

He moved to France in 1967 with his wife

Loved literature of the fantastic

He emphasizes his power as a writer

But the book itself contributes to a very PoMo idea of the death of the author

author becomes a character like others

Idea of the artist existing present with the text

destroyed this idea in the text

multiple authors and the privileged author

we're no longer in the hands of the all powerful author

multiplicity of authors and stories

10 stories and the framing narrative

frame is the story of the reader

Very pastiche--made up of chunks of different stories

almost a found object

Calvino, in a 1984 letter, stated that he was parodying Borges and several other authors, like Tanizaki, Rulfo,  Chesterton, Bulgakov, etc.

Various readers in the story: us, Ludmilla (the female reader), the reader, Lotaria, Cavedagna

Calvino worked for Einaudi publishing in Italy

There's a character who is the book as an object: Irnerio

He's taught himself not to read

What is art?

it's not necessary

It consumes time

it fascinates us

Tour de force


"I can do this"

setting yourself a technical challenge

ex. Chinese boxes, Matryoshka Dolls

Mise en abyme: to but in the abyss

infinite reflection

creating a minor world different from our world

Is this book just a tour de force, or is it more?

renders obsolete the willing suspension of disbelief and tells the truth about reading and how it affects us

it's a book addressed to readers

Showing the two extremes of the critical art world

Ludmilla is the perfect reader

she doesn't try to do anything with it

The main character is contrasted to her

Her reading is so attractive because she just takes the book for what it is

she's an optimistic reader

The power of the narrative art is usually suspense

suspense: contradiction between wanting to know something and being caught in the present

After the first few chapters, suspense is somewhat erased

the burden of suspense is thrust on the frame story

Strange, floating characters is a very Nabokovian idea

The stories are meant to be incipits of stories

The stories are all interconnected

Being told that they're incomplete tries to impede our enjoyment

The natural reading of Ludmilla isn't about meaning divorced from the text

Just the pleasure of reading

realism is built on recognition of emotions and states of being

All of these stories refer to things we experience

recognition remains

This novel is fascinated with erasure

recurring ideas in the stories


forbidden love


being watched



losing control to outside forces

others being in control

female characters with narrative power

This is the age structuralism

Calvino's friends are Levi Strauss, Roland Barthes, Raymond Queneau, etc.

structuralism--analysis of elements of a story as related to the structure

Calvino's also related to Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle


Queneau, Harry Matthews, George Perec, 

Avant garde literary movement that Calvino associated with

creating games and structures that repeat

AJ Greimas--semiotic square

using squares to produce narrative

Always using formulae games

March 5 – Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

Suggested reading:

Calvino Reading on Oulipo: "A Crew of Variegated Weirdos", From Harper's

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Calvino's parents were botanists

he was expected to pursue science

He joined Oulipo in the 60s

interested in stories under constraint

aleatory: using luck and randomness in art

Calvino was also associated with structuralism

story structures

false authority of the author

stories themselves use rules similar to the rules used in language and we can analyze them according to these rules

This novel was organized in semiotic squares

semiotics: theory of signs

went along with structuralism

The squares seem like a joke comprised after the fact, but Calvino insisted that this is how he wrote the story

atmosphere of producing art according to these rules

Calvino's conjuring the author and assaulting it

France 1968: huge student protests that overthrew the government

one of the high points of Postmodernism

As a genre this would have been a comedy because there's a marriage at the end

main reader has no expectations or idealism

Ludmilla is much more idealistic and functions as a manic pixie dream girl

They have complementary roles

For it's time, the main reader was a standard male character

Ludmilla is characterized in part as a figment of him

Frame story is a highly self-conscious story about stories

but also a tour de force

Some of the humor comes from the cliche of the frame story

frame story's cliche brings us in as the common reader

The stories themselves border on cliche

At what point in our reading do we come to sterility?

How seriously should we be taking these stories?

There's a significant component of play

Intentional Fallacy: making the writer's intention the main part of the interpretation

passage from "Leaning from the Steep Slope"

you can examine everything and still miss meaning


What gives us pleasure in reading and why?

(not a) Presentation: Postmodern and Modern Art by Herman and Jordan

modernism: generally characterized by a deliberate break with classical and traditional forms

Postmodernism: conscious departure of modernism characterized by rejection of ideology and theory

Dada: political modernist art movement responding to WWI

rejected logic and rationality and embraced nonsense

Dada artist and work

Duchamp--originally a cubist

preferred conceptual art to retinal art

readymades: regular objects labeled as art

The Fountain (a urinal) for example

pop art and Warhol are PoMo descendants of this

Duchamp admired Warhol

Hanna Hoch: German artist, political, focused on collage

nazi censorship stopped her

photomontage: collage of photos of everyday objects

feminist dadaism

PoMo pieces like Retroactive I and Beyond the Pleasure Principle Piece were similar to her work

assemblage: like photomontage except done with physical objects

literary equivalent was cut ups

Surrealism: emphasis on the unconscious and dreams in unlocking the imagination

motifs of nature imagery

rejection of realism and rationalism

influenced the 50s beats

Surrealist Artists and works


painting called "The Lovers" where their faces are covered by white cloth

consciousness separate from what we see

many figures in his art as well as nature

idea of the human head


some concepts of the feminine domestic

objectification of women

PoMo post-surrealist

lowbrow (pop surrealism): opposition to the idea of high art

ex. Hot Rod Race

cartoonish characters

merging of pop culture and surrealism

Difference between Mo art and PoMo art is difficult to define, but it lies in how we view the art

Idea that modernism was killed by capitalism and all that's left is capitalism

PoMo is anti-capitalist and anti consumerism

March 10 – Marilynne Robinson’s Pilgrim Quest

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Suggested Reading:

Beauty and the Beast, Beaumont Version

Bluebeard, Perrault Version

Course recording

Class Notes:

First online class

Carter was a British journalist and fiction writer

fascinated with the objectification of women in society

Worked in the 70s mainly

Took Marquis de Sade's works seriously

wrote about why they ported for women

She used her literary award money to get divorced

Moved to Japan

wrote this book shortly after returning from Japan

The language is more lush, romantic, realist, etc.

Why is it in this class then?

it's an excellent example of pastiche

fable, fantasy, gothic

gothic is dark, like Frankenstein, for example. It fits into the world of romanticism

Empires, ghostly castles, threatened maidens, sexual elements, murder, etc.

She was influenced by Edgar Alan Poe who also used pastiche somewhat

Fairy tales were only put into written format in the 19th and 18th centuries

Beauty and the Beast was published slightly before the French Revolution

Story goes back to Cupid and Psyche

Also a fair amount of surrealism

ex. The tiger's Bride

the valet, the mechanical servant, the horses in the dining room

Her intention was not to do "versions" or "adult fairy tales"

she wanted to find the "latent content" of the stories

Freudian idea of latent v manifest where manifest is the literal dream and latent is the dream's meaning

Stories with a fairy tale depth that bring it into a contemporary setting

latent sex brought into the manifest world

sexual underside of fairy tales are much more common now

These were early versions of the analysis of this

Fairy tales show men's power and women's virginity--> power of men over women

Best shown in "The Bloody Chamber"

surrealist element in blood that can't be washed off as well

Universal present of sex and sexual elements to these stories

Commodification of women

ex. In "The Tiger's Bride" she's gambled away

two functions of her work

analysis to bring out latent content

corrective view to make the woman's role different

Tiger's Bride

she belongs to her father and then to the Tiger man

she transforms as well

she refuses to be a prostitute

why does she refuse his proposal

she has nothing to gain from going back to her father

what she's after is liberation

she isn't willing to be treated like a thing

she wants to be deposited at a church for several reasons

that's where you leave an orphan child

she is also a ravaged woman

Responds to his proposal to remind him of what their transaction really is

Trompe l'oeil: paintings that give the illusion of depth

tricking the eye

The horse is munching on painted leaves

She says that as a woman she is like the beasts in the eyes of men--without a soul

male-centric universe where women have no souls

The fall of humanity is a gynophobic story

Why does she change in the end?

she finally comes into herself by becoming a tiger

How does she go from being fake to real?

she gets agency and decides to start

the tiger for is also very beautiful

The Bloody Chamber

Bluebeard story is focused on a woman's curiosity as tawdry

Why does she retain the mark?

she is irreparably changed

otherness and the stain of losing her virginity

Many fairy tales are about metamorphosis

Key metamorphosis for women historically was the loss of virginity

March 12 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Lindsey Ellies Monster Boyfriend video

Album with the Erlkonig (ninth track)

Goethe poem and an English translation:

Auerbach's Odysseus's Scar:

Class Notes:

Pastiche and recasting of fairy tales to bring out the latent content

recast the roles of women in the fairy tales

pioneered the concept of looking at traditional texts and retelling them

What's her method?

not quite parody, but comes close to it in a serious manner

"The Bloody Chamber"

example of a feminist retelling

some versions of Bluebeard have the brothers save her

much more nuanced to be in first person

we see more of the character's interior

we see that she has doubt and isn't passively accepting everything

she doesn't love him

Exposition on the mother is done without feeling like exposition

She marries him for certain things, but not for love

she seeks independence

he's wealthy

she senses in herself a "corruption that took [her' breath away"

she's intrigued by the idea of sexuality

by looking in the mirror she sees herself through his eyes

She's finally seeing herself as desirable

she compares herself to the past wives, all of whom were famed beauties

The power of sex suffuses this book

women can have sex and enjoy it

Potentiality for corruption is a potentiality for her own power

he's attracted by her virginity/purity

Shows women understanding the power of their sexuality

Phone after sex scene feels very anachronistic

Mother saves her with late-husband's gun

symbol of what's left of her husband

The subtext of the fairy tale is that you can learn to love a much older man

sent a message to young, aristocratic girls who were being given to older men by their families

The Company of Wolves

The girl gets naked and seduces the wolf

"The blizzard died down"--> jump cut

they had sex

Through her sexuality, she saves herself

sex seems to subdue him

it's not just a transaction, it's of her own volition, she chooses to sleep with him

she saves herself and transforms him into something more presentable and domesticated

Virginity makes characters fearless; don't know how to be afraid

The Lady of the House of Love

fearless virgin man

he sucks her blood and turns her human, which kills her

The Erl-King

original is of a father taking home is son through the forest, but the son sees the Erl King who is trying to get him

the son dies in the end

In this version, the girl strangles him to death

Fair amount of evocative language that doesn't really make sense

All of these stories have a lot of eyes

Puss in Boots

How does this fit in with the other stories?

Less interiority; more absurd characters

No pull toward modernity

extra bawdy version of the original

Premise doesn't allow for seriousness

primarily focused on the male perspective

contrast of weeping romanticism and practicality

the cad does everything and the man does nothing

puss is the one running the operation

Carter raises many questions about eroticism and romanticism

Many myths punish women for their curiosity

All these stories have some sort of bloody chamber

decoration is gothic but mentality is contemporary

March 17 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Class Recording

Class Notes:

The Bloody Chamber Cont.

The Lady of the House of Love

female vampires were not very common in 1979

especially facing the male virgin

they're both virgins

Does she have more agency and power?

she has uncontrollable desires and urges

there's a kind of ambivalence

she has to obey her ancestors and caretaker and she's dependent on the tarot cards

Latent content of the fairytale

she can't love, but she wants to

The house is decayed and degraded

weather has gotten into the house

What allows him to survive?

we are told that it's his innocence

he's a hero of the story and he's also a hero in going to France

She cries because she doesn't know how to do anything but kill

with the cards, she sees that she can have something other than killing, but she doesn't know how to get it

He doesn't really know what he is the hero

He kills the last vampire

WWI kills off the old world--modernity turned into blood and violence facilitated by modern technology

her death is connected to the end of Europe

She's ambivalent, but she finally sort of makes a decision in the end

Pay attention to the writing in these stories

It's a very gothic story

The Company of Wolves

She uses her virginity to triumph

The most famous of the stories

She takes off and burns her cloak, laughs at the wolf, and then sleeps with him

Why does she laugh at him?

she realizes her power and ceases to be afraid

She realizes herself as a subject and not an object

extremely old metaphor of the taming of the savage beast by a woman

Realization of female power

Why does she throw the cloak into the fire?

she's laughing at the idea of being kept from her power


seems less PoMo than many other books

Somewhat resistant text

many dualities

"The surface on which we stand is not fixed but rather sliding"--Emerson

transcendental pastiche

Is it PoMo or not?

some think it's extremely PoMo and others think it's at heart Modernist

an enormous part of this book is its imagery

won many awards

a lot of religious imagery

biblical echoing like Cormac McCarthy

March 19 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Debate over whether its PoMo or not

25 year gap between after this book was published where Robinson didn't publish any more novels

metaphors derived from nineteenth century transcendentalists

studied and worked with extended transcendental metaphors

collected metaphors on scraps of paper

A very meditative book

"everything that falls upon the eye is an apparition"

Beginning of the novel lies in the transcendental metaphors that she worked with

Argument for Not PoMo (courtesy of Jake Lillian)

more pastoral gothic like Faulkner

No contamination of reality with dreams

p. 116 at the beginning of the page seems to separate dreams from reality

lack of meta nature

Much more conventional in terms of what a novel is

Absence of PoMo attitude--PoMo doesn't conflate humanity as important in the way that this book does

Argument for PoMo (courtesy of Alyssa Martin)

Point where there are different POVs (first omniscient, limited, second, etc.)

Flips through time

A lot of referencing/pastiche-- particularly the bible

p.130-131, contamination of dreams and reality is so well done that you don't even realize it

The whole book uses dream logic as opposed to regular logic

Last page of the book is a hole in the narrative

book isn't plot/character driven

driven by the way in which things repeat

real life is transcendent and magical

makes PoMo even more real

p. 153 paragraph on Lot

what is going on at this point?

it's a book about mothers who have left and departed

Ruthie is speaking at least 7 years in the future

7 is a biblical number and is important in the book

lot's wife left but didn't mean to do so

Talking about a piece of art--Ruthie's making art with the snow out of her imagination

she imagines this creation

pastiche of the bible

intertextuality with the bible in the stories and the rhythm of the prose

king james bible

Makes lot into a universal mother figure to forgive

Feral children are kids who lose their mothers and return to nature

mother figure is forgiven

imagination in the world of feral children

Also a novel about loneliness and transience

Almost deems predetermined that Ruthie will join Sylvie in transience

Fixity v transience

The grandpa and the mother who died are still in the lake

they go ice skating above their bodies

notion of being drawn to the lake

grandpa's death is the first rupture and the second is the mother's suicide

no explanation is given as to why she commits suicide

Does our modern lens prevent us from grasping Robinson's point?

Are these moments tragic?

not really; they are written as simple states of being

Ruthie doesn't sugarcoat her memory of her mother whereas Lucille does

Sylvie is thought of as crazy in the town

her housekeeping is different from the settled community

she gets a deeper sense of being from it

she has a density of experience from her transience that settled people do not get

The end of the book is a liberation

Idea that if you exist in someone's memory, you exist

Idea that the past determines the present

March 24, 26 – Spring Break (No Class: Read Catch-22)

March 30 – Slapstick of Total War: Heller’s World

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

Class Recording

Class Notes:


p. 77

Sylvie's sick not for Ruthie and Lucille is very funny

She doesn't care about Lucille and Ruthie missing school

The girls decide not to turn in the letter

The letter shows that Sylvie doesn't have a lot of respect for the institution of school

does the note ridicule notes or Sylvie's parenting

She takes Ruthie away from the fallen middle class

they've always been afraid that Sylvie will leave or that she will be taken away from them

Lucille breaks and chooses the middle class life

Ruthie becomes a transient, but it's not viewed as a tragedy; it's more of a liberation

Ruthie doesn't regard her departure with Sylvie as something tragic

p. 168

one of the important metaphors of the novel

Why do they burn the house in the end?

The lake, house, and bridge are primal elements in the construction of the story

the bridge kills the grandfather, the mother, and supposedly Ruthie and Sylvie

it's really the beginning of Ruthie's life

Idea that our imaginations alter what's real

Lucille is in the house seeing the ghosts of the departed who are not really departed

then it's an image of her in Boston seeing no ghosts but putting oyster crackers in her bag and breathing her initials onto the window

The constant negatives are trying to describe what's not there

Sylvie and Ruthie have no idea where Lucille is and she doesn't know where they are

People are composed of different abstractions

The book's descriptions deal with the mystery of perception

Sylvie likes solitude, the dark, and gazing at things

Constant image of inside v outside with glass and light


Originally Catch-18, but it had to be changed

enormously popular

Heller became a huge literary star

Published in 1961 and written in the 50s

highly influential of later novels

Brings absurdity of WWII to the mix of the 60s

absurdity, existentialism, sane man in a sea of craziness

Heller was a bombardier in the war

Flew 60 missions

stated that he never had a bad officer

reminds us that the book is in many ways more about the 50s than the war

manic energy, bureaucratic absurdity, contradictions, paradox

This book looks forward

Many aspects of the 50s are present

loyalty oaths and CID men (like McCarthyism)

Henry Fonda



obsession with publicity

self-service and officers--permanent military industrial complex

suburban existence

What is Catch-22? What does it represent?

identity and bureaucracy

uncertainty in identity

bureaucratic dominance

absurdity and satire become magical realism

Yossarian prefigures a number of other sane characters in a crazy world

also a Christ figure

April 2 – Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

Class Recording

Class Notes:

Paradox is the driving force of the book

catch-22 is the central paradox

catch 22 takes us to the conclusion that war is crazy

people trying to kill people they don't know is crazy until everybody is doing it

This book was attached for being unpatriotic

50s sentiment of societal conformity is challenged

this "prosperity" covering a lot of really horrible things

Written at the height of the Cold War

absurdism, existentialism, attitudes toward god

absurdity is key

it's a text about absurdity and the way paradox spreads everywhere

It's very inventive technically

moves a lot through time

character's names are often used as transitions

Snowden's death is referred to again and again

it's the closes the book comes to a climactic moment

The book is organized around characters who are almost epithets

What is the central conflict of the book?

Yossarian's recognition of the possibility that he could be killed clashing with Cathcart's ambition

Snowden's secret is a revelatory moment close to epiphany

This is what leads to Yossarian's challenge of bureaucracy

Yossarian fights to save his life and for justice

it's the reveal

When he's walking through Rome, the tone is very different and it's one of the only long descriptions

The book came out before the forefront of Vietnam, but it became immensely popular against the backdrop of Vietnam

Some characters seem unaware they can really die

Yossarian is a very influential character

important trope of sane one among crazies in literature of the 50s and 60s

Christ figure

When he walks backward and people pop out of the bushes, there is a sense that he is carrying all their weight

He can't take the deal to go home because he would become part of the problem

Orr is the one who totally fools Yossarian

he triumphs in the end

One of the derivations of magical realism is satire

Orr is a revelatory figure that allows the end to happen

he leads Yossarian to decide to run

Nately's whore attacks Yossarian because she has no one else to blame

Yossarian and Nately's whore are similar in that they're both determined and will not be dissuaded

She never even liked Nately until the end

Many descriptions are cartoonish

Black humor, caricature, realistic descriptions

Postmodernism in the Present by Kayla and Ankita

April 7 – Persistence of Airborne Toxic Events: DeLillo’s Prophesy

Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

parody of the nuclear family

the kids aren't fully related

the kids are also more socialized than their parents

Consumerist culture

The book is somewhat prophetic in what future dynamics will be like 

There are parallels between Gladney and Yossarian, but they're in different worlds

consumer culture has taken over everyday life

Murray likens the grocery store to a temple

palaces of consumption

They're surrounded by consumerism with television and stores

Steffie talks about the Toyota Celica in her sleep

everything has become permeated by TV

see Baudrillard and Barthes

consumer culture and the language of signs

DeLillo had a job where he wrote advertising promotions

A lot of humor about death focused on the Postmodern family as a sort of tribe

the children are connected to all parts of the world through their mothers

their mothers, and Jack, are all connected to intelligence services

Estrangement of daily life that we take for granted

There's a search for meaning in a post-god world through consumerism and TV

meant to protect us from the coming of death in the way that religion does

Consumerist secular world where consumerism doesn't protect you from death in the way that religion does

This book is also a pastiche

satire, detective, family, surrealism, dystopian, etc.

neo-pastiche noir at the end where Jack plans to shoot Mink

Murray is like a Mephistopheles character who leads jack to talk about death

there's an almost bildungsroman spiritual search

Wilder is the only character not afraid of death or confronted by consumerism

he doesn't speak in pre-formed phrases from the TV

when he cries, it's not about death

Secularism, fear of nuclear war, fear of an airborne toxic event

This book came out 2 months before the Union Carbide disaster where toxic gas in India emitted during the night killed 2,500 people

Murray says that Tibetan's see death as the end of attachment

explains his view of consumerism and how grocery stores function like the place of recharging

Supermarkets are also where they get tabloids

Incomprehensibility of contemporary life

The airborne toxic event has to do with how contemporary science and technology rule our lives even though we don't understand them

Heinrich has an underlying skepticism of science and technology

they're supposed to be rational but become a threat we can't comprehend

General contempt toward religion

Television and technology are motors of consumerism

Heinrich makes the point that we think we're so advanced, but technology is as elusive to us as god

Technology is an unclear realm, and yet everything is centered around it

it's as ubiquitous as the great beyond

This novel depicts a blended, post-nuclear family

defamiliarizes the familiar

ex. the family going to a drive in and eating chicken

ostrene: Russian word for estrangement

DeLillo takes the world we take for granted and shows how weird it is

April 9 – Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

Suggested Reading:

The Art of Fiction, Joseph Heller, Paris review

Course Recording

Class Notes:

No final and deadline for paper has been moved to April 21st

Postmodernism traits

pastiche, irony, self-reflexivity, parody, cartoonishness, technique experimentation, satire, surfaces, depthless characters, simulacra, images produced by society, popular culture, consumerism, politics

Hitler was an enormous public phenomenon

Gladney is obsessed with German and is hung up on technology

Many aspects of Modernism predicted Postmodernism

periodism can't really be done with perfect accuracy

Deja vu here is a symptom of the phenomenon

Gladney does everything to deny that Steffie may actually be having signs of disease

Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies and created the department

part of the pastiche is the academic novel

Why does Hitler play such a large role in the book?

in popular culture, there is a sort of cast of characters

Hitler is a constant in popular culture

Gladney also has a fascination with authority, and Hitler epitomizes this

Gladney depends on Hitler

continuation of the satire of academia

Same thing when Murray tries to make an Elvis department

Idea of the consumption of disaster

There's an omnipresence of fascism

Hitler was a historian's dream in that he enacted the stuff of nightmares

Murray and Gladney talking about Hitler and Elvis's mother

Gladney is trying to help Murray get the Elvis department and it turns into an academic duel

a very absurd scene

they're both pop-culture figures with charisma

In talking about Hitler, Gladney creates his own crowd

Presentation: Metafiction and Postmodernism by Chenxin and Di


first used by William H. Gass to mean fiction about fiction

novels and stories that draw attention to their compositional features

Fiction about fiction and stories about stories are not quite the same

Metafiction is an important aspect of PoMo, but it can be traced back to older literature

Characteristics of Metafiction

narrator addresses reader directly

narrator comments on the story he/she is writing (self reflexivity)

narrator explains the process of creating the story/characters

narrator reveals the artificiality or fictionality of a text

The narrator presents the paradox between fiction and reality

Metafiction in If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

reveals the essence of the novel

addresses the readers directly

reveals the artificiality of the novel

Sterne and Diderot were some of the first to use metafiction and they influenced Calvino

Appeal of play-freedom from rituals and forms

Novel as an essayistic endeavor that views 19th century realism as a dead end path for literature

PoMo/metafiction hearkens back to much older fiction

April 14 – Unburying History: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

White Noise

DeLillo is almost entirely oriented in the present

the past exists through the wives and Hitler, but even Hitler is a very present figure

relentless interrogation of the present

Beloved is obsessed with history and how to bear the burden of memory

the books are complementary in that they don't overlap

Recurring theme of secret patterns in our lives and lonely men in rooms

The dark side of consumerism

DeLillo stated that his work does not offer comfort to readers

Heinrich is the voice of dark reason

DeLillo says that more comforting fiction doesn't show that society hasn't changed much from the past

DeLillo's work is driven by the language that records life

Great sensitivity to spectacles in this book

Consonance is in many of his sentences

Fascination with the spectacle of violence

Question whether we should take Murray's words seriously or not

Idea of contemporary violence as a sardonic response to the promise of consumer fulfillment

In a world without god, people think that consumerism promises happiness, fulfillment, and meaning

If one can't find this meaning, it produces frustration and loneliness, thus the solitary man in a room

Consumerism has made us into spectators of violence as people who demand titillation, but it doesn't satisfy

Why do people try to acquire meaning through violence?

When Jack shoots the man, there's a sort of faux climax

the nurses afterward are completely faithless

DeLillo's prose is a lot about lists and rhythm


elements of magical realism

present is 1873 Cincinnati

around where Morrison grew up

Morrison was influenced by Faulkner and Woolf

She was an editor at Random House for many years

Beloved is based on/inspired by a true story

a mother killed her child

Presentation: Simulacra and the Hyperreal, by Sharece and Randall

Simulation and representation

representation: refers to or is exchanged for the real

simulation: refers to exchange for itself

simulation absorbs representation in the "phases of the image"

Successive Phases of the Image

image functions as a reflection of a basic reality

then the image is considered to be masking and preventing basic reality

Marks the absence of reality

Bears no resemblance to reality

Hyperreality: when what is real and fictional blend together so there is no distinction between where one ends and the other begins

commodities are transformed in the hyperreal

Ex. of simulacra

Borges's story where they try to make a map as accurate as possible

Scientific progress/positivism is a metanarrative of modernity

PoMo throws this perspective after nuclear warfare

Critique of how scientific models supersede phenomena

skepticism of science

In White Noise the most photographed barn becomes a spectacle and thus an instance of simulacra

There's an aspect of simulacra that is communal

April 16 – Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

Suggested Reading:

Wikipedia Article on Margaret Garner

Songs of Strange Fruit, by Billie Holiday

Course Recording

Class Notes:

third person omniscient, some first person, stream of consciousness

influence of Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf who were all huge modernists

There's an elusiveness to the text

The Bible is a very looming text throughout the book

Lot's wife


4 horsemen of the apocalypse

The word 'beloved' itself

The party that Baby Suggs gives with the berries and pies--out of the gospel

Symbolic structure of the novel with several large symbols

the Ohio river dividing the lands between freedom and slavery is like the River Jordan

also about the passage from life to death

hangs over us as a master symbol

Morrison followed a lot of aspects of the Margaret Garner story that inspired Beloved

Other symbols:

the tree on Sethe's back

Tobacco tin replacing Paul D's heart

Tobacco tins used to be a classic thing that you used as a container for old stuff once the tobacco was finished

He can't live in any forward looking way without putting away his past

Morrison thought this book would be less popular because it's about something no one wants to remember

a novel very much about coping with the past

deals with a social reality that the characters feel as a burden and an obstruction, which is reflected nationally

Morrison is writing in the 80s where there's a conservative revolution

Reagan started his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the freedom riders were killed trying to register voters

The book had a present-day vitality that was very important

it was very controversial--it won the Pulitzer in the wake of its loss of the National Book Award which many claimed was racist

Parallel of bringing back memories and the difficulty of living with that memory

Names are important

Baby Suggs, Sethe, Paul D, Stamp Paid

The significance of their names give the book a historical and mythical richness

Book is dedicated to "60 million and more"; the number of slaves taken from Africa

some people thought this was showing up the Holocaust

The house (124) emanates meaning

First sentence of each section help to structure the book

Part 1: "124 was spiteful"

she has four kids but the third is dead so the three isn't in the house number

three is a number with religions significance as well (ex. holy trinity)

Beloved is reborn in the water 

the fact that Beloved was already crawling at such a young age suggested that she was gift

Sweet Home also looms over the story

124 originally belonged to white people (abolitionists) who now rented it to Sethe

they're not trying to repress one bad experience but an entire life of pain

Sethe doesn't regret killing Beloved because she was trying to save her from a fate worse than death

her attitude is part of the reason people avoid her

In the original case of Margaret Garner, there was a debate over which she should be tried for murder or destruction of property

there were 28 days of freedom between when Sethe arrived at 124 and when the 4 horseman arrived

Paul D reminds Sethe that she has 2 feet, not four

reminds her that she's not an animal

To Sethe, she became a higher moral being by protecting her child

This is kind of a neo-slave narrative

Presentation: Postmodern Narrative and Mathematics, by Nathan and Abhishek

Why do people study math?

it produces definitive truth

ABC Conjecture: a famous unsolved problem in number theory relating + and x

In 2012 Shinichi Mochizuki published 600 pages of math claiming to have solved it

used many new techniques

an international team was organized to see if his work was true or not

In 2018, Sholze and Stix visited Mochizuki (who refused to leave Japan)

they said there was a gap in Mochizuki's proof (which he of course denied)

Mochizuki decided to publish it in the journal for which he was editor-in-chief

Most mathematicians don't believe the proof, but a cult group of Mochizuki's follower do

2 papers in the Annals of Mathematics prove contradictory things

neither has been retracted

One is more believed but very few people know which it is

Basic meta-narrative about scientific inquiry is deconstructed

instead of truth, we no meander among insubstantial claims

Scientific knowledge is imagined to progress constantly

but is this true if we don't have all the facts?

Math is loved for its aestheticization of the truth

Mochizuki's paper is a simulacrum of a proof

the idea and aesthetics of a proof without a definitive truth

These become subjective ideas of truth

Is this a postmodern era of mathematics?

April 21 – Dystopia or Paranoia? Markson’s Cracked Mirror

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

Course Recording

Class Notes:


influence of Faulkner and Woolf

the way the past weights on the present

2 great modernists fascinated by memory and time

Can a nation escape what it's done to itself?

It's left to us to sort out what this ghost actually is

When Beloved first arrives, the POV changes to third person omniscient

when she walks out of the water it's a mythological birth

very material prose to describe a very immaterial thing

It's a well-known truism that ghosts don't have lines on their hands

also reinforces how new she is

With the rebirth of Beloved, it's almost as if Sethe's water breaks again

there's a rebirth occurring

There's an attempt to leaver certain things open to different interpretations

an attempt to deny the supernatural-ness

maintains ambiguity

Beloved shows up after the carnival

right when Sethe seems to have found a new beginning

She shows up and reminds them of the transgressions of the past

The novel deals with not only women but also stolen masculinity

Presentation: it's postmodernism, by Jake

Pynchon, Paranoia, and Pomo'merica

Pynchon was born in 1932 in Glen Cove, NY

Worked construction with his dad

first published in his high school newspaper where he was eventually banned

Brief stint in the navy

his file burned in a fire

He's a known recluse

very few photos or interviews with him

gave his first ever interview earlier this year

Won the national book award in 1974 for Gravity's Rainbow

sent a comedian to accept the award in his place

there was also a mysterious streaker during the awarding

Married Melanie Jackson in the early 90s

names their son Jackson Pynchon-Jackson

Wrote letters to tabloids under the alias Wanda Tinasky

Lived in houses owned by his characters

His first novel, V, was published in 1963

won the Faulkner award

He hated The Crying of Lot 49

The crux of paranoia is "interpretive distress"

Uses the Freudian definition of paranoia that has to do with sexuality

Finding order in disorder

"reflex of seeking other orders behind the invisible" --Pynchon

universalizing paranoia

opposition by doubling

In Pynchon's work, there are many complex sentences that wrap around many plotlines before returning to the present

Pynchon's characters thrive on invisible paranoia

How did we get to PoMo America?

American idealism died in the 60s

April 23 – David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

Course Recording

Class Notes:


Beloved can be read as a ghost story

Denver arguably is the survivor of this novel

Sethe ends up sick and bed-ridden

Denver is isolated and lonely, but she's able to leave the house and become a functioning person as a result of Beloved's arrival

You can't escape the past except by moving through it

Sethe has her lie sucked out of her by the past

Denver is able to transcend it

Beloved is irreducible

Paul D is the one who impregnates Beloved

Paul D initially tells Sethe that he wants her pregnant, but Beloved is the one who gets pregnant (and then disappears)

Beloved takes the sins of slavery upon herself

Paul D sort of ends up with Sethe, but Sethe's end is very ambiguous

Presentation: Postmodern Architecture, by Colton and Aidan

Modernist architecture started in the 1910s

form follows function

stylistically reserved, austere


1920s-30s, Bauhaus was a German art school that spearheaded the modernist architecture movement

promoted minimalist style

PoMo architect Robert Venturi said "less is bore"

PoMo architecture reacts against the austerity of modernists

playful and attention seeking

buildings are works of art

Robert Venture was a pioneer of PoMo architecture

started working under 2 prominent modernists until 1958 when he started teaching at Yale

Guild House (1960) was the first prominent PoMo building

coined phrase" decorated shed" while leading students in research on the Las Vegas strip

Charles Moore

was an architecture professor at UC Berkeley

loud color combination

non-traditional materials

Frank Gehry

abstract geometric shapes made up of chrome panels

buildings that seem implausible

Often times those who praise architecture ignore the efforts of those who physically put the piece together

April 28David Markson, Wittgenstien’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006[1988]

Course Recording

Class Notes:

one character

monologue style

written sentence to sentence

pace is often compared to Wittgenstein's first novel

Wittgenstien worked with Bertrand Russell and Whitehead

Misleading use of language

constant corrections about what language says and doesn't say

Dystopian novel

end of the world, or so we think

Some people interpret the novel as being about loneliness and madness

foreground of the present

written in real time

no sense of linearity

jumping around from point to point

All the other characters are historical/cultural figures

obsession with ancient Greek culture

Presentation: Theme Parks and Post Modernism by Catherine and Melanie

PoMo conditions:

euphoria and intensities


orientation and disorientation


depthlessness of consumer culture


1884--first roller coaster is built in the US (Coney Island)

1955--opening of Disneyland

Feeling of euphoria on a roller coaster

Simulation of risk, danger, and pleasure

Parks now compete to have roller coasters that will attract the most people

Baudrillard explained that Disneyland is a major example of simulacrum

Pastiche of themed sectors in theme parks

allows guests to connect and feel like they're somewhere else

PoMo aspects of theme parks that disorient the senses

forced perspective


sounds according to land

Many of the attractions are connected to films

Culinary tourism with themed food

Vegas is also PoMo (a theme park for adults)

signs can be read from a distance in a far

casinos have no light or sense of time

April 30 – David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

Course Recording

Class Notes:

Confusion and ambiguity in language

theoretically a novel about only one person

She introduces a bunch of characters who are cultural and historical figures

Stories that occur over and over again

Bricolage: physical equivalent to pastiche

Is there a plot?

There is a very present tense that's in real time of her writing

present day things and the present of her mind going back in time

Is she crazy or really the only person left?

Her thoughts are all that she has left

she is all that is the case

She's the only case of consciousness left over

This is a book about skepticism

Her trauma may come from the deterioration of her family

Her child died of an illness and wasn't taken to the hospital soon enough

She has a lover too during her marriage

She has a lot of guilt about this and her son's death

she even mixes up all their names

Presentation: The Sokal Affair and Postmodernism: By EJ and Alex

Art is a constantly changing and reactive phenomenon

PoMo reacts against modernism

initially controversial, but then became the dominant ideology

Science Wars

conservatives disliked PoMo

thought it was too obsessed with relativism and ambiguity

Scientists were irritated at humanities scholars

Social Text

leftist academia journal at Duke University

summed up leftist academia

Alan Sokal--NYU Physics professor

said he was troubled by the decline of standards of intellectual rigor

experimented: would they publish a nonsensical article if it flattered ideological perceptions?

"physical reality is just a social construct"

Social Text published Sokal's piece, but later claimed that they thought it was suspicious when the truth came out

even exhibited cautious sympathy with Sokal

Connection with White Noise

moral relativism to Hitler studies

Heinrich is an excellent example of Sokal's parody

Parody of academia is itself PoMo

Sokal Affair shows a potential problem with PoMo

also a lack of standards in academia


Barthelme predicted the death PoMo

PoMo's subversive force has served its purpose and is no longer responsive to present cultural shifts

Irony is the main tyrannical force of PoMo

We see Cynicism in The Crying of Lot 49, Housekeeping, White Noise, Catch-22, etc.

Cynicism presents an opposing viewpoint of accepted ideals, but through overexposure--causes pessimism

Self-reflexivity dismantles classic ideas of narrative without expanding on the idea of the self

not a depiction of a person's identity

Will we return to sincerity as a reaction against PoMo?


May 5 – Final Class Wrap Up

Suggested Reading:

"Modernism, Postmodernism and Metamodernism: A Critique"

Course Recording

May [Date TBD] – Final Examination (Short Answers)

Further Reading 

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire


Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


William Gaddis, The Recognitions


Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus


Thomas Pynchon, V.


Joseph Heller, Something Happened


Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


Donald Barthelme, Forty Stories


John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse


Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor


David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest


Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions


Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose


Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves


John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman


Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman


Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried


Samuel Beckett, Molloy, Malone’s Death, The Unnamable


John Barth, The Floating Opera



Further Viewing





Donnie Darko


Inside John Malkovich


The Last Seduction


Red Rock West


Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind 

Blade Runner

Pulp Fiction


Blue Velvet




Waltz With Bashir


sex, lies and videotape






Act of Killing


Battle of Algiers




Chungking Express


Jackie Brown

© 2021 Mark Danner