Contemporary American Fiction

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Full-text syllabus below or download English 14 Contemporary American Fiction Syllabus.

Contemporary American Fiction

English 14

Summer 2010

Professor: Shannon Herbert, Ph.D.

Monday-Thursday, 10:15-12:20

Drescher 203


Course Descriptions

This course is a guided tour through the post-war American literary landscape from suburbia to cyberspace.  Topics will include postmodernism, paranoia, mediation, sampling, borders/borderlessness, the blurring of fact and fiction, identity and performance, and issues of race, class, and gender.  Because Los Angeles is considered by many to be a quintessentially postmodern city, much of our reading will focus on Los Angeles, and we will take advantage of the city’s postmodern treasures.

Course Expectations

Students will be introduced to several key figures in contemporary American fiction.  Because it would be impossible to cover all important writers, students are welcome and expected to follow their interests, and develop research skills equal to their curiosity.  In addition to assigned reading and writing, each student will also be responsible to read one of the recommended readings and present it to the class.

Required Texts

Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron, Andrew Levy, Eds., Postmodern American Fiction

Don Delillo, White Noise

Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange

Course Assignments and Grading

Exhibit – 50 points

Research Project – 200 points

Research Presentation – 25 points

Presentation on Recommended Reading – 25 points

Attendance and Participation – 50 points

Quizzes – 50 points

Final exam – 100 points

Course Requirements

Regular Attendance.  Regular attendance is mandatory.  You will receive one point for each class.  If you are late for class, you will not receive the point for that session.  Please do not sign in if you are late.  Habitual lateness will affect your grade.

Success in this class will require active involvement in written and oral expression; thus, attendance is important.  After three absences for whatever reasons, except documented serious illness you are subject to being dropped from the class.

Please respect your fellow classmates and instructor when they speak by actively listening.

All cell phones must be turned off and kept off your desk and/or lap for the duration of the class period.  No text messaging and no online/web activity of any kind will be tolerated during the class period.  If you engage in any cell/texting/web activity during class-time, you will be asked to leave.

Reading Assignments

Participation.  Since discussions, group work, and peer review are essential components of this course, it is important that you complete the assigned reading before class and come prepared.  Read carefully, complete written assignments on time, and be ready to contribute actively.

Quizzes and Exams


There will be announced and unannounced quizzes to make sure everyone is reading the material.  You cannot make up quizzes. Arrive on time or risk missing quizzes.

Honor Code and Code of Academic Conduct

Honest and ethical students are protected in this class.  The SMC Honor Code and Code of Academic Integrity, both printed in the General Catalog, remind students of their responsibility to behave honestly and ethically. It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with these codes. 

I will vigorously pursue any suspected cases of plagiarism, cheating, or other violations of the SMC Code of Academic Conduct, whether completed or merely attempted.  Even a first offense of academic dishonestly will result in a score of zero on that exam/essay, and an Academic Dishonesty Report form will be filed with the Campus Disciplinarian.

Withdrawal Policy

You may drop this course and receive a refund at any time prior to June 24th.  The deadline to drop and receive a guaranteed “W” is June 28th.  After that day, you will not be able to receive a “W” should you choose to drop.  You are responsible for understanding the SMC withdrawal policy and applicable deadlines.

Students with Disabilities

I am happy to make academic adjustments for students with documented disabilities.  Please contact the Center for Students with Disabilities if this applies to you.  The Center for Students with Disabilities is located in Room 101 of the Admissions/Student Services Complex, located on the north side of Main campus, next to Admissions.  For more information, call (310) 434-4265 or (310) 434-4273 (TDD)

Course Calendar and Reading Assignments

Assignments are due on the date they appear.  Any changes will be announced in class.

Please note: I reserve the right to modify the syllabus or the course plan during the course if needed.

Week One – Exhaustion, Subversion, and Parody

Monday, June 22 – What is Contemporary American Fiction?

Tuesday, June 23 – Scrambling Codes: The Cut-Up Method

PAM, Introduction, ix-xvi

William S. Burroughs, Nova Express (excerpt), pp. 15-24

Recommended reading: “The Cut Up Method of Brion Gysin” (online)

Wednesday, June 24 – Paranoia

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (excerpt), pp. 4-14

Recommended reading: Ihab Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism,” pp. 585-594

Thursday, June 25 – Parody

Field Trip, Visit to Museum of Jurassic Technology

10:15.  Tea will be served at 11:30

Week Two – Postmodern Form

Monday, June 28  – Breaking Form

Donald Bartheleme. “See the Moon,” and “Sentence,” pp. 25-37

Tuesday, June 29 – Metafiction

Tim O’Brien, “How to tell a True War Story,” pp. 174-182

Wednesday, June 30 – Symbols and Culture

Kurt Vonnegut, The Breakfast of Champions (excerpt), pp. 84-93

Recommended reading: Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, pp. 631-637

Thursday, July 2 – Exhibition and Cut-Up Presentations

Week Three – Simulation & Science

Monday, July 5 –No Class – Independence Day Observed – Campus Closed

Tuesday, July 6 – Simulation & Keening

Don Delillo, White Noise, pp. 3-163

Wednesday, July 7 – Dylarama

White Noise, pp. 167-231

Thursday, July 8 – Fool’s Gold©

White Noise, pp. 231-326


Week Four – Other Voices, Other Forms

Monday, July 12 – Transmedia

Laurie Anderson, “Stories from the Nerve Bible, ” pp. 216-225

Watch Anderson links on Youtube

Tuesday, July 13 – “Otherness”

Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (excerpt), pp. 146-151

Recommended reading: bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness,” pp. 624-631

Wednesday, July 14 – Remediation

Theres Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée (excerpt), pp. 161-173

Thursday, July 15 – Border Crossing/Heteroglossia

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera (excerpt), pp. 183-192
Research Topic and Thesis Due

Week Five – Total Flow: Information Superhighways and Freeways

Monday, July 19 – Hyper-text

Mark Amerika, Grammatron (

About Grammatron (

Recommended reading: Hyper-Textual Consciousness (

Tuesday, July 20 – C’est L.A. vie

Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange

Research outline due

Wednesday, July 21 – Sampling

Tropic of Orange, 55-93

Recommended reading: Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” pp. 603-621

Thursday, July 22 – Jazz

Tropic of Orange, 97-134


Week Six – Reporting Back

Monday, July 26 – Passion™

Tropic of Orange,137-171
First draft of Research Paper due for Peer Review

Tuesday, July 27 – Authentic Parody

Tropic of Orange, 175-207

Research presentations

Wednesday, July 28 – Órale

Tropic of Orange, 211-268

Research presentations

Final paper due

Thursday, July 29

Final Exam


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