Syllabus (1.14.13)


This course assumes no prior knowledge of postmodernism, literary theory, or contemporary fiction, and it values “appreciation” and gut-level response along with critical interpretation. We’ll explore theories and practices of US postmodern fiction and develop an account of where US fiction stands in the early 21st century. The first part of the course focuses on the formal, thematic, and philosophical signatures of “high” postmodernism of the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to tracing the critical and creative development of postmodernism, we’ll question the category’s relevance. The rest of the course brings us into the 2000s. How has contemporary US fiction carried postmodernism’s legacy forward? How has it left it behind in favor of other innovations in storytelling? Is the term essential for post-1960 US literary study or can it be cast aside entirely?

To give our inquiry focus, we’ll look to our texts for accounts of how we come to know ourselves and our worlds. What instruments—including narrative—produce and undermine knowledge? Whose knowledge “counts”? What status do these novels accord to the following ways of producing knowledge: rationality and empiricism, the expert, feeling, embodied experience, place sense, religious belief and spirituality, memory, and media and technology?

This course aims to: introduce you to American fiction of the past 50 years and identify opportunities for research within the field; model methods of cultural interpretation; give you experience writing in different academic genres; and make you more comfortable sharing work for feedback. My goal is for you to learn, make discoveries, have fun, and produce the best work possible. Please meet with me if you have concerns about your learning at any point.


Books ordered for the University Co-op but available widely. If buying elsewhere, check the ISBN numbers for the right edition. Readings posted on Blackboard and on blog.

Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy (0618871713)

DeLillo, Mao II (9780140152746)

Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (9780345404473)

Gibson, Pattern Recognition (9780425192931)

Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (8190340328)

Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (0816611734)

Morrison, Beloved (1400033411)

Ozeki, My Year of Meats (9780140280463)

Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (006091307X)

Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (9780684824772)

Robinson, Gilead (978-0312424404)

Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story (978-0812977868)

Whitehead, The Intuitionist (0385493002)

Recommended for research purposes and available at bookstores and online:

Booth, Colomb, & Williams, The Craft of Research (3rd ed.)
MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd ed.)


Preparation + ParticipationThorough reading of all assigned texts and contribution to class discussions, writing exercises, and group activities are givens.
Contributions to class blog are also included in participation.
10 posts and 10 comments are due throughout the semester. Posts should be 250-350 words, comments ~100 words. Posts are due Saturday by 9pm, comments are due on Sunday by noon. Everyone should peruse at least the posts before class meets. 

You own the blog. Let your personality and thinking shine through. You can raise questions about the reading and try out answers to them; build on discussions we’ve already had; analyze passages, characters, plot, arguments, etc.; link to other materials that illuminate the day’s reading. No matter your approach, posts should address the readings for the next class.


Assign your posts categories and personalized tags that will help you identify your interpretive preoccupations.








10 times btw. M 1/28 & M 4/15

Blog Synthesis
Once during the semester, you will synthesize the conversation on the blog and give a ~10-minute presentation as a way to launch discussion. To synthesize:×     Pull out the common themes, points of agreement and disagreement, omissions, and/or most compelling questions for discussion.×     Point to key passages from the reading where these concerns come into focus and offer any comments you have on the debate.

×     End with at least 1 question emerging from the collective and 1 that’s particularly urgent for you.

×     You’ll then lead discussion for 15-20 minutes.

Sign up 1st week 15%
Book Review(Guidelines to come) Rolling deadline.Any time by F 3/1 25%
Final Project (Guidelines to come)
Components:×    Proposal (750 words) + Annotation of 5 sources, quotes, HRC materials OR Outline

×    Symposium Presentation (10 minutes, based on ~1200-word draft)

×    Research paper (6000-8000 words)


TH 3/28

M 4/29

F 5/10



*  = On Blackboard and blog

M 1/14                    Beginnings
*John Barth, “Frame-Tale” and “Title” from Lost in the Funhouse (1968)
*Barth, “The Literature of Exhaustion” (1967)
*Raymond Carver, “I Could See the Smallest Things” from What We Talk about… (1981)

M 1/21                    HOLIDAY—no class

M 1/28                    The Crying of Lot 49 (1965, 150p)
Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (xxiii-11, 18-31, 37-41)
*Brian McHale, from Postmodernist Fiction (1-26)

M 2/4                       Mumbo Jumbo (1972, 210p)
*bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness”
Jameson, from Postmodernism (1-54)

M 2/11                    Mao II (1991, 240p)
*David Harvey, from The Condition of Postmodernity (39-65, 113-18)

M 2/18                    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968, 240p)
*N. Katherine Hayles, from How We Became Posthuman (160-91)

M 2/25                    Beloved (1987, 320p)
*Walter Benn Michaels, from The Shape of the Signifier (1-19, 129-139)
*Jonathan Franzen, “I’ll Be Doing More of the Same”

F 3/1                        Book Review due (by email if not already turned in in class)

M 3/4                       Meet in PCL 1.124 for Information Literacy session with Kristen Hogan
The Intuitionist (1999, 250p)
*Lauren Berlant, “Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event”

M 3/11                    SPRING BREAK—enjoy!

M 3/18                    Pattern Recognition (2003, 350p)
*Phillip Wegner, “Recognizing the Patterns”

M 3/25                    Gilead (2004, 250p)
*Amy Hungerford, from Postmodern Belief (107-31)

TH 3/28                  Proposal + Annotations or Outline Due (by email to me & peer group)

M 4/1                       Fun Home (2006, 200p)
*Ann Cvetkovich, from Depression (1-23)
Peer Review of proposals

M 4/8                       My Year of Meats (1998, 340p)
*Julie Sze, “Boundaries and Border Wars”

M 4/15                    Super Sad True Love Story (2010, 320p)
*Lanier, from You Are Not A Gadget (1-39)

M 4/22                    No class. Meetings w/ professor

M 4/29                   “The Postmodern Novel and Beyond” Symposium

F 5/10                     Final Paper Due (by email)


Attendance is mandatory. If you must miss a class due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances, please let me know in advance.

Special note on religious holy days: By UT Austin policy, you must notify me of your pending absence at least 14 days prior to the date of an observed holy day. If you miss a class or an assignment, you’ll be able to complete the missed work within a reasonable time after the absence.

I do not accept late papers.


×   Services

Documented Disability Support

Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic accommodations online or at 471-6259 or 232-2937 (video phone).

Research Guide for English Literature introduces you to library and web resources for literary study, created by subject librarian Kristen Hogan.

Sanger Learning Center Writing Services offers writing assistance for graduate students. By appointment.

Harry Ransom Center holds the papers of DeLillo and Wallace, and there are minimal materials related to Barth, Dick, Gibson, Morrison, and Pynchon.

UT Libraries Workshops on everything from avoiding plagiarism to making arguments and organizing research notes.

×   Books on Reserve at PCL for Book Reviews (3-day loan)

Aubry, Timothy, Reading as therapy : what contemporary fiction does for middle-class Americans  | PN 3352 P7 A84 2011

Black, Shameem, Fiction across borders : imagining the lives of others in late twentieth-century novels | PS 153 M56 B62 2010

Chu, Seo-Young, Do metaphors dream of literal sleep? : a science-fictional theory of representation |
PS 374 S35 C49 2010

Chute, Hillary, Graphic women : life narrative and contemporary comics | PN 6714 C49 2010

Cohen, Samuel, After the end of history : American fiction in the 1990s  | PS 379 C58 2009

Elam, Michele, The souls of mixed folk : race, politics, and aesthetics in the new millennium | PS 231 R34 E43 2011

Grausam, Daniel, On Endings: American Postmodern Fiction and the Cold War | PS 374 P64 G7 2011

Kirby, Alan, Digimodernism : how new technologies dismantle the postmodern and reconfigure our culture | HM 851 K57 2009

McGurl, Mark, The program era : postwar fiction and the rise of creative writing | PS 379 M344 2009

Palumbo Liu, David, The deliverance of others : reading literature in a global age | PN 56 G55 P35 2012

Ryan, Judith, The novel after theory | PN 3503 R87 2012

Ty, Eleanor, Unfastened : globality and Asian North American narratives | PS 153 A84 T9 2010

Warren, Kenneth, What Was African American Literature?  | PS 153 N5 W348 2011

Wegner, Phillip, Life between two deaths, 1989-2001 : U.S. culture in the long nineties | E 169.12 W395 2009 

Bibliography for Further Reading

* These texts are particularly useful introductions or foundations to ideas we’re exploring in class.

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

*Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity

Hans Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern: A History

Zygmunt Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity

—, Postmodern Ethics

*Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards A New Modernity

Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Alex Callinocos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique

Hélène Cixous, “Sorties” in The Newly Born Woman

Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

—, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” in Writing and Difference

Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality: Essays

Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays in Postmodern Culture

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism

Jürgen Habermas, “Modernity versus Postmodernity” New German Critique 22 (1981): 3-14.

Ihab Hassan, The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature

*Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women

Ursula K. Heise, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global

*Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Modernism: History, Theory, Fiction

Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism

Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern

Helen Longino, The Fate of Knowledge

Trinh Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism

*Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (esp. “Introduction”)

Christopher Norris, The Truth about Postmodernism

*Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet

Peter Sloterdijk, A Critique of Cynical Reason

Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation

John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture

*Patricia Waugh, Metafiction

Cornel West, “Black Culture and Postmodernism” in A Postmodern Reader, eds. Hutcheon and Natoli

Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination of Nineteenth-Century Europe

*Cary Wolfe, What Is Posthumanism?

Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *