English 4665/5665: American Literature from 1920-Present, Fall 2017

TR 3:30-4:45PM, Arts & Sciences 345

In Class Activities

1. "Thrust at the Viewer": Interpreting "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror"

As a class, we just did a close reading of a short poem, "Forties Flick." Now, let's break into small groups and interpret different sections of "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror." Groups will share their reading with the class, and the class will collectively create an understanding of the overall poem.


Here are the issues your group should discuss and be prepared to report to the class today or Tuesday:

  1. What happens in the section? What is discussed in the section?
  2. Select a significant 2-4 lines of the section and do a close reading of them.
  3. What does your section of the poem say about the nature of the self, the nature of representation, and the nature of self-reflection?
  4. Bonus question, if your group has time to discuss: How do Ashbery's poetics and conceptualization of subjectivity compare with other authors' aesthetic style and philosophy of self we've read so far, such as Shepard, Owens, and Pynchon?

Here are the group sections:

  1. As Parmigianimo did it, the right hand
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Affirmation that doesn't affirm anything. (68-70)
  2. The balloon pops, the attention
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow. (70-72)
  3. Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Out of the dream into its codification. (72-73)
  4. As I start to forget it
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    To get to sleep tonight, at least until late. (73-75)
  5. The shadow of the city injects its own
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Around a life: correctly, if you think about it. (75-76)
  6. A breeze like the turning of a page
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Of remembrance, whispers out of time. (76-83)

2. Beyond Crime, Dreams, and Sex: Interpreting Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School

For our first day of discussing Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School, let's break into small groups responsible for a certain aspect of the novel. Groups will share highlights from their discussion, and the class will collectively create an overall understanding of the novel. Here are the groups:

  1. Plot and Character: First, briefly summarize what happens in the novel. Second, compose a character sketch of Janey, making sure to comment on her fears and desires as well as her relationships with men.
  2. Narrative Technique: First, describe how the novel is put together, making sure to list all the genres that constitute it. Second, comment on the relationship between the form of the novel and the content of the novel.
  3. Sexual Politics and Patriarchy: Discuss the representation of sex, sexuality, and gender in the novel. Comment on issues of power and abuse.
  4. Materialism and Capitalism: Discuss the representation of class, corporations, and poverty in the novel. Comment on issues of economics and prostitution.
  5. Metafiction: Discuss the metafictional passages in the book. Comment on the function of The Scarlet Letter book report in the novel.

3. "Books demand limits": Barrett Watten's Complete Thought

Like Lyn Hejinian's My Life, Barrett Watten's Complete Thought is an example of Language Poetry that eschews narrative lyricism and instead privileges aphoristic fragments. Let's divide into groups and comment on the form and content of each of the four poems in the collection (a poem for each group) by addressing the following four issues:

  1. Describe the structure and form of the poem.
  2. Discuss what the poem suggests about the processes of reading, writing, and meaning-making. Select a line or two to illustrate your analysis.
  3. Interpret what the poem and the book as a whole suggest about the nature of thought in general and the theme of "complete thought" in particular. Select a line or two to illustrate your analysis.
  4. Discuss the poem's title and how it might tie into the theme of the poem.

Here are the four groups:

  1. "Complete Thought" (86-95)
  2. "Universals" (96-103)
  3. "Artifacts" (104-23)
  4. "Relays" (124-9)

Hurricane Irma Make Up

In order to make up for the class missed due to Hurricane Irma, you will either submit a thesis statement and outline for your next paper on Thursday, November 2 (due in the GeorgiaVIEW Assignment dropbox of the corresponding paper) or have a 15 minute paper conference. Failing either to submit the outline or to attend the conference will result in a one-third letter grade deduction on your next paper.





T, 10-31


1 Caroline Oleson


2 Ernie Montoya


3 Madeline Johnson


4 Britney Schwind



W, 11-1


6 Mikalea LaFave


7 Graham Gordon








11 Victoria Lara

R, 11-2


12 Alexandria Gibbons




14 Allie Owens


15 Emily Newberry

T, 11-7


16 Gideon Smith


17 Megan Raymond


18 Steve Savage


19 Ashley McGlathery


GeorgiaVIEW Posts

Undergraduate students sign up to write an informal response to a section of Thomas Pynchon's V. and post it to both GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Response and GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Discussion Board two days before we discuss the text in class.


The response should

Informal Presentation

You will also be responsible for a brief, informal presentation. The response presentation should summarize the section of V., share your impressions, and broach questions for class discussion.

Due Dates

  1. Your written assignment will be due in both GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Response and GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Discussion Board two days before we are scheduled to discuss the work. (Note: Summaries will be penalized one letter grade for each day, not class period, that they are turned in late. It is your responsibility to check the sign up schedule and complete the assignment on time.)
  2. Your brief, informal presentation will be due on the day we discuss the essay in class. This date is approximate for we will sometimes fall a day behind. (Note: Failing to present the article to the class without providing a valid absence excuse will result in a one letter grade penalty.)
  3. I will return your graded assignment to you in GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Response approximately one week after we discuss the article in class. Due to GeorgiaVIEW limitations, I am unable to return graded assignments to you unless and until you submit them to the Assignment dropbox.
  4. For example, we are scheduled to discuss pages 1-127 of V. on Tuesday, 8-30. Therefore, someone's written response will be due in GeorgiaVIEW by Sunday, 8-28. In class on Tuesday, 8-30, that student will informally present the main events and issues of the section. I will return the graded response to her the following week in GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Response. Due to GeorgiaVIEW limitations, I cannot return your graded paper unless and until you upload it to the Dropbox. Here's how to calculate your course grade.

Sign Up


Due Date

Oral Due Date



S, 9-3

T, 9-5

Chapter One

1 Hallye Lee

Chapter Two

2 Jessie Douglass

Chapter Three

3 Brittney Schwind

Chapter Four

4 Alexandria Gibbons

Chapter Five

5 Megan Raymond

T, 9-5

R, 9-7

Chapter Six

6 Graham Gordon

Chapter Seven

7 Victoria Lara

Chapter Eight

8 Gideon Smith

Chapter Nine

9 Madeline Johnson

T, 9-12

R, 9-14

Chapter Ten

10 Elizabeth Sheffield

Chapter Eleven

11 Bryann Fitzpatrick

Chapter Twelve

12 Emily Newberry

S, 9-17

T, 9-19

Chapter Thirteen

13 Careline Oleson

Chapter Fourteen

14 Megan Hoffman

Chapter Fifteen

15 Amy Strang

Chapter Sixteen

16 Allie Owens


17 Ashley McGlathery

Close Reading Paper and Presentation

Undergraduate students sign up in pairs first to analyze a brief passage from a work of prose, a 1-2 page scene from a written play, or a poem and then collaboratively write a formal 5-6 page paper and give formal 7-10 minute presentation. Your essay and presentation should 1) do a close reading of the passage and 2) interpret how the passage broaches the core conflict and overall theme of the larger literary work. Your single, collaboratively written essay should be driven by a thesis that argues the work's theme and logically organized by close reading of the text: unpack the tension and conflict, connotation and diction, idea and theme. Your well-organized presentation should clearly convey your ideas to the class, and each member should speak during the presentation.


Sign Up

Due Date



R, 9-21

Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror


R, 9-28

Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

1 Victoria Lara

2 Brittney Schwind

T, 10-3

Fornes, Mud or The Conduct of Life (students who sign up for one of these plays will have their Research Paper or Comparison Contrast Papers due on R, 10-12)

3 Hallye Lee

4 Elizabeth Sheffield

T, 10-17

Hejinian, My Life and My Life in the Nineties

5 Madeline Johnson

6 Caroline Oleson

T, 10-24

Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

7 Graham Gordon

8 Gideon Smith

R, 10-26

Woolf, The Colored Museum

9 Jessie Douglass

10 Emily Newberry

T, 11-7

Morrison, Beloved (101-96) (students who sign up for this close reading will have their Research Paper or Comparison Contrast Papers due on R, 11-16)

11 Alexandria Gibbons

12 Ashley McGlathery

T, 11-14

Morrison, Beloved (197-323)

13 Megan Hoffman

14 Amy Strang

T, 11-21

Graham, The End of Beauty

15 Allie Owens

16 Megan Raymond

Comparison/Contrast Paper

While the close reading paper requires undergraduates to practice attentive analysis of a key passage and the book review calls for graduate students to summarize and evaluate a scholarly book on postmodern literature, the comparison/contrast paper instructs all to analyze how one particular idea, issue, or characteristic functions both the same way and different ways in two works of contemporary American literature we've studied so far. For example, you could compare and contrast the metadrama of Shepard and Owens, the narrative disruption of Coover and Pynchon, the violence in Albee and Pynchon, the postmodern lyricism of O'Hara and Ashbery, the conspiracies of Pynchon and Reed. Or you could create an interesting comparison of your own.


Undergraduates should write a 6-8 page comparison/contrast paper on in class works only, but not ones written on in the close reading or research papers.


Graduates should write an 8-10 page comparison/contrast paper on one in class work and one outside class work (let the professor know the outside work at least one week before the due date), but not one studied in the presentation or research paper.


Research Paper

The close reading paper asked undergraduates to closely read a work and the comparison/contrast paper required undergraduates and graduate students to make connections and distinctions among two texts. The research paper will afford you the time and space to perform a sustained and sourced discussion of a significant issue in a work of contemporary American literature. Your thesis-driven paper should employ textual analysis and support its interpretation of the issue with scholarly criticism. Here is how to conduct literary research.

Undergraduate Students

Undergraduates will write an 8-10 page research paper on either a work read in class (but not one written on in either the close reading paper or the comparison/contrast paper) or a work not studied in class by one of the authors studied in class. The essay must incorporate at least 1 scholarly article from the syllabus and at least 5 scholarly articles from outside the course.

Graduate Students

Graduate students will write a 12-15 page research paper on either a work read in class (but not one written on in either the comparison/contrast paper or the annotated bibliography and presentation) or a work not studied in class but approved by the professor. The essay must incorporate at least 2 theoretical articles on the literary period of contemporary literature and at least 5 interpretive articles on the specific literary work. In order to prepare for giving conference presentations, graduate students only will compose a 250-word research proposal due on Thursday, November 16 and present a 15-minute version of their work-in-progress to the class and answer questions on Thursday, December 7, seven days before the final graduate research due date of Thursday, December 14. If warranted, graduate students should incorporate any pertinent ideas developed from the Q&A into their final essay.


Final Exam

In the take home final exam, undergraduates will write two thesis-driven comparison/contrast essays of their choice from a selection of four to six questions derived from topics generated by the class on Tuesday, December 5. Do not write about authors/works written about in previous formal papers, i.e., the close reading essay, the comparison/contrast essay, and the research paper. Do not use an author/work in more than one essay. Writing about texts previously written on will result in a one letter grade deduction. Not all works are appropriate for all essays. Choose works which afford adequate material to address the question at hand. Have a controlling idea, an interpretation, a thesis that bridges the works. Organize essays by argument and analysis. Make connections and distinctions among the works; compare and contrast the works' key ideas. Support your points with textual evidence and quotations; avoid plot summary. You will be graded on your interpretive understanding of the literary works as well as your ability to compare and contrast meanings and issues.


O'Hara, [Lana Turner has collapsed!], "A Step Away from Them," and "Rhapsody"

Coover, "The Babysitter"

Albee, The Zoo Story and Homelife

Shepard, The Tooth of Crime and Suicide in B♭

Owens, Emma Instigated Me

Pynchon, V.

Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Fornes, Mud and Conduct of Life

Hejinian, My Life and My Life in the Nineties

Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

Wolfe, The Colored Museum

Watten, Complete Thought

Morrison, Beloved

Graham, The End of Beauty

Foreman, The Cure and Lava

Chong, Deshima: A Poetic Documentary and I Will not Be Sad in This World


Here are the topics generated by the class on Tuesday, December 5:


Answer two of the following questions, created by the professor from the class's topics:


Annotated Bibliography and Presentation

Graduates students will research a work of literature on the syllabus, compose an annotated bibliography of at least 10 scholarly sources interpreting the text, and teach the work to the class, i.e., lecture and moderate class discussion, with some help from one of the articles on the work. One week before the presentation/teaching demonstration, graduate students must meet with the professor to go over their lesson plan. The citations in the annotated bibliography should be formatted to MLA style, and each annotation should be approximately 100 words long.


Due Date



R, 9-28

Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Ernie Montoya

T, 10-17

Hejinian, My Life and My Life in the Nineties


T, 10-24

Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

Mikaela LaFave

T, 11-14

Morrison, Beloved

Steve Savage

T, 11-21

Graham, The End of Beauty


Book Review

While the annotated bibliography and presentation require graduate students to research, evaluate, and teach a text, the book review compels you to read and evaluate a book of criticism on contemporary/postmodern American literature. After consulting with the professor on a suitable book (for instance a book from which our class is reading an excerpt, or another of your choosing), write a 8-10 page essay that summarizes the book's overall critical claim and then evaluates the thesis and methodology. Your essay should both appreciate and interrogate the book. Example reviews of varying lengths are available in Postmodern Culture.