Contemporary American Fiction

Just another weblog

“Day of the Locust”

Yamashita refers to Nathaneal West’s 1939 “Day of the Locust,” a classic novella that captures the juxtaposition of fantasy and gritty underbelly of Hollywood.  Here’s the trailer to the 1975 film:

Questions for pages 175-207 (Friday: Artificial Intelligence)

What is L.A. like?  Is it the same for everyone?

What does it mean to be on the ground?

What changes with the situation on the 110?  Is it authentic?  Parody?  Simulation?

What is the importance of the demand: “SPEAK ENGLISH NOW”?

What is the “border”?

Why are passports like Visa cards? (Page 204)

Questions for Pages 137-171 (Thursday: The Eternal Buzz)

In “You Give Us 22 Minutes” Buzzworm questions his “twenty-four hour attachment to the waves.”  How do characters feel connected to the world?  How do they feel its movements?  How do they affect them?  Can they?  Is it the same for all characters? 

What kind of characters get named?  What kind get counted?

In “Dusk – To the Border” Rafaela contemplates her decision to return to Mexico.  Where is “home” for her?

In “Time and a Half – Limousine Way” Buzzworm and Emi argue about the relationship between news and entertainment.  What is “news”?  Why do we covet it?

In “Life Insurance – L.A./T.J.” Yamashita describes Bobby’s work.  What about his work makes him American?

In “Live on Air – El A” Yamashita compares the Richter scale with the Nielsen ratings.  What do the two have in common?  Why do you think she collapses them?


Select at least least two passages from the text to support your answer/interpretation.  Then, explain why those passages support your answer/interpretation.

1. What is the significance of Yamashita’s representation of food in today’s reading?

2. How are Buzzworm and Manzanar different?

3. What is significant about Manzanar’s piece “The Hour of the Trucks”?

4. What does Emi mean when she says “Cultural diversity is bullshit”?

5. What is NAFTA?

“Poetry is Not a Luxury”

I’m posting a PDF of Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury


Ernest Becker

Lawrence mentioned the works of Ernest Becker as a possible inspiration for Delillo’s White Noise.  Delillo affirmed the influence in correspondence with critic Tom LeClair, one of the early advocates of Delillo’s work.  Becker’s work, The Denial of Death, was influenced by, among others, Sigmund Freud and Soren Kierkegaard.  Delillo alludes to the title of one of Kierkegaard’s most famous works, Sickness Unto Death, toward the end of the novel when Babette answers Jack’s question about how she feels, “You mean am I sick unto death?  The fear hasn’t gone, Jack.”  Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher who attempted to reconcile reason with faith.  Though he is considered a proto-existentialist, he ultimately believed that faith could console mankind’s despair.  Do you think there is a similar possibility in White Noise?

Thanks for pointing out the similarities, Lawrence.  See everyone tomorrow,


Syllabus Change Announcement

There will be no class on Monday, July 5th because the campus is closed for Independence Day.  The reading for that day will be due on Tuesday.  See the syllabus on this site if you have any questions.

Field Trip!

Remember that we’re meeting at the Museum of Jurassic Technology tomorrow:
9341 Venice Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232-2621
(310) 836-6131

You should arrive between 10 and 10:30.  Bring a notebook and pen to record your observations and responses.  We will be having tea at 11:15.

Sign Up Sheet

Hello everyone!

It was great to meet you all today.  I’m looking forward to a fun and intellectually challenging semester.  I’m posting the sign-up sheet for recommended readings to this post and on the Recommended Reading page. Click the link below to download:

Recommended Reading Sign Up

See you tomorrow,



“To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you – from the cradle to the grave and beyond – which it would be easy, fatally easy, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up – before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whisky, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity.”
-Christopher Isherwood, Exhumations