Note: All of the course texts are available in the CU Book Store. You aren’t required to buy the films (you can rent them and they will all be on reserve at the Norlin Circulation Desk. If you plan on working more extensively with any of the films (for the final project or one of the worksheets), it would be useful (but certainly not necessary) to have your own copy.
Description: A close study of significant 20th century literary works. We will be studying a variety of genres including fiction, poetry, non-fiction, graphic novel, and film. However, this course will not be a historical survey. Instead, through our study of various works, we will explore a series of issues and/or problems that have arisen during the modern and postmodern eras. The texts in this course will help us examine what it is to be human. And, then, we will turn to the concept of the posthuman, the evolution of humans and culture in the wake of industrialization, scientific exploration, and the expansion of digital technology.
Thus, a good part of our discussion will center around the following sorts of questions: What makes us human? What is our relationship as a species to the rest of the natural world? How have we evolved as a species and how will we continue to evolve? How is identity being transformed by technology and consumerism? What is becoming of our bodies in the wake of the internet and virtual reality? Is our physicality evaporating? Is technology ultimately a source of pleasure or pain? In our incessant push toward invention, what sorts of monstrous havoc are we wreaking upon ourselves and the world around us? Conversely, what sorts of wonders and miracles do evolution and invention beget? Finally, how do we relate to one another, how do we construct a politics, in this new era of the posthuman? We’ll also be spending a good deal of time considering our own relationship to the works of the course (and our own potential for transformation), exploring the real (psychological and physical) impact literature and film have on us. The subjects of the course will lead us through some difficult terrain (topics like monstrosity, genetic manipulation, bodily mutilation, dead bodies, etc.). And, thus, we will likely have to sludge through a little gore along the way, so if you are utterly squeamish you would probably prefer another section of this course.
Attendance and Class Participation: Since this is a discussion course, you have a responsibility to yourself and your classmates to show up for class--on time and prepared. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you are, in a very real sense, the primary text for this course. In addition to determining the directions we will go in each day, all paper topics, assignments, etc. will arise directly from your comments in class discussion. Because of this, participation will be a very large component of your final grade. Thus, it follows that more than three or four absences during the semester will directly affect your grade. If you are going to miss class, please let me know in advance either in person or via e-mail. Also, I’m required to say that students who miss the first three classes will be dropped from the course.
Office Hours: I have scheduled regular office hours and I’m also available by appointment. If you’d like to meet with me in person, I’d recommend chatting with me in advance to set up a time. I’m always happy to meet with you (to discuss the course or just to chat). This is the most effective way for me to give you individual attention and get to know you better. I encourage you to meet with me as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns. I’m also very easy to reach by e-mail. In fact, e-mail is (by far) the best and quickest way to contact me. You can send an e-mail with questions or comments to me at Jesse.Stommel@colorado.edu.
E-mail: The University now requires that every student have an active e-mail account that they check regularly. E-mail is an important component of this course. I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss crucial information related to the course.
Online Content: There are numerous links on this webpage that will take you to various assignments and readings that we will be doing throughout the semester. You can access e-texts of some of the readings via this web page--just click on the title in the schedule. My advice: if you make this web site your friend, you’ll have no trouble completing all the reading and assignments for the course. As we proceed, I will be uploading additional content, including more course notes, activities, and assignments, so keep checking for updates.
Collaboration: I encourage collaboration on any of the worksheets or on the final project. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point.
The Work of the Course:
• Class Participation. This includes your attendance, involvement in class discussion, in-class assignments, and small-group work. As I mentioned, this is (by far) the most important component of the course.
• Blog. This is essentially an offshoot of class participation. Throughout the semester you will be writing responses to the course blog. Some of these responses will be more structured (i.e. a response to questions I give to you), while many of them will be more flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of the text/film we are studying. Responses should be as collaborative as possible. In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum. Instead, ask questions of each other and use the other responses as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc. The length of each response isn’t as important as your contribution as a whole over the course of the semester. You are required to write at least 1-2 posts each week. While they are “officially” due on Sunday, I encourage you to post to the blog as early as possible during each week.
• Leading Class Discussion. You will be asked to help lead discussion at least one time throughout the semester. This is, by no means, a formal presentation. Rather, on the day you sign up for, be prepared to come to class with a few questions or topics related to the reading for that day. You’ll also want to bring at least one or two passages which you’d like the group to look at in detail. As you are leading class discussion, I will be mostly silent, moderating the discussions to some degree but primarily acting as a member of the group w/ my own questions, comments, etc. This activity will generally help shape the direction our discussion takes for the rest of the class period.
• Worksheets. As a tool to help us focus our discussion, there will be a number of short worksheets due during the semester (some of these are already on the syllabus, although more may be added). These worksheets will consist of a single question or a set of questions designed to get you thinking about various themes, conflicts, and issues at play in the works we’ll be discussing. Please refer to the schedule for worksheet due dates. You will submit your worksheet answer(s) via e-mail to me at Jesse.Stommel@colorado.edu. Please don’t use attachments, just the text of your answer(s) in the body of an e-mail. If you choose to collaborate on a worksheet, you must compose your answers together (i.e. “we think that...” or “we noticed...” rather than “I think...” or “I noticed...”), and make sure that you include the names of all collaborators in the “To” or “CC” field of your e-mail, so I can “reply all” to everyone.
• Final Project. The goal of your final project is to investigate one of the important subjects of this course. There will be two components of the final project: a creative component and an analytical component. The degree to which these two elements overlap is up to you.
The creative component can take any of a number of forms, including but not limited to fiction, film, video, photography, Powerpoint, painting, sculpture, poetry, screenplay, etc. The idea here is for you to do a bit of creative work yourself, investigating one or more of the subjects of the course, using whatever style/form/medium you find best suited to the task. For example, you might address ideas from the course through a series of still photographs accompanied by written captions. Or, you might write a short story that explores or complicates one of the subjects that arises in our discussion. We’ll consider more examples together as the semester proceeds.
The other component of the final project will be an analytical paper. The length of this paper depends on the nature of your creative work. For example, if you do an elaborate creative project, you might write a short analytical work, drawing connections between your creative work and one or more of the texts we’ve read. On the other hand, you might write a longer analytical paper about a particular text (or film we’ve watched), accompanied by a more simple creative project that helps illustrate your points.
Feel free to develop your project from one of your worksheets or responses, broadening its scope or reinventing it in some significant way. You may also collaborate on this project, if you’d like. A 1-page plan or summary of your final project will be due on June 19, so it is best to start thinking about and planning your project as early as possible. The final project is due on July 3. The final project takes the place of a final exam.
A Note on Grading: While you will be receiving a grade at the end of the semester, I will not be putting grades on individual assignments, but rather questions and comments that truly engage with your work rather than simply evaluate it. Throughout the semester, you will also be responding to your own work in a similar fashion. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to. I hope that this process will give you (and me) a partial liberation from letter grades, but if it ends up causing more anxiety than it alleviates, feel free to see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade in the class, your best strategy should be to attend class, join the discussions, do the reading, and complete all assignments.
Plagiarism: First, I will say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it is in your best interest to discuss the situation with me. Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words that we say and write? Is it possible to own an image? Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let me go out on a limb and say this: in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). However, even more, I encourage you to really make them your own—by playing, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very self-consciously about the way that you are influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.
Please Note: If you have specific physical, psychological, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please let me know early in the semester so that your learning needs may be appropriately met. If you have questions or concerns, you can also contact the Disability Services Office in Willard 322 (phone 303-492-8671). Also, please let me know if the observance of religious holidays conflicts in any way with class assignments, attendance, etc., and I will make appropriate accommodations.
Keep checking the schedule throughout the semester as certain readings and due dates may change. Instructions for assignments will be added as due dates approach. Click the links below for details.
WEEK 1: In the Wake of Industrialization
June 2 Introduction
June 3 Eliot, “The Waste Land” (38-51)
How to Read The Waste Land (ix-xxvi)
Worksheet #1 Due
June 4 Eliot, “The Waste Land” (Cont.)
Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Cummings, “Pity This Busy Monster”
June 5 Film: Metropolis
Worksheet #2 Due (June 5 or June 12)
June 6 Short Film: The Second Renaissance
June 8 Blog Response(s) Due
WEEK 2: The Beast is Already in Our Midst
June 9 McCarthy, The Road (3-106)
June 10 McCarthy, The Road (107-204)
June 11 McCarthy, The Road (205-287)
(Optional): “Posthuman Bodies”
June 12 Film: Dawn of the Dead
“Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”
Worksheet #2 Due (June 5 or June 12)
June 13 Film: 28 Days Later
June 15 Blog Response(s) Due
WEEK 3: The Postmodern Condition
June 16 DeLillo, White Noise (3-105)
“Postmodernism for Beginners”
June 17 DeLillo, White Noise (109-223)
June 18 DeLillo, White Noise (223-326)
(Optional): “The Image-world”
June 19 Film: Donnie Darko
Final Project Plan Due
Worksheet #3 Due (June 19 or July 2)
June 20 NO CLASS
June 22 Blog Response(s) Due
WEEK 4: Virtuality and the Cyber Self
June 23 Bradbury, “The Veldt”
Dick, “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon”
June 24 Short Film: La Jetee
June 25 Gibson, Neuromancer (pp. 3-95)
June 26 Gibson, Neuromancer (pp. 99-204)
June 27 Gibson, Neuromancer (pp. 205-261)
June 29 Blog Response(s) Due