Dr. Alex E. Blazer Course Site Syllabus
In Class Activities Selected Reading Criticism
Journal Presentation  
Paper 1 Paper 2 Paper 3


"Dying Is an Art . . ."

English 386 B: Literary Responses to Death and Dying

Winter 2007, M 6:00-8:50PM, 2147 AuSable Hall

In Class Activities

1. Practice Annotation

In order to prepare for the annotated bibliography component of the Group Project, you have read a journal article interpreting John Berryman's The Dream Songs and written a summary paragraph on that article. Today, you will share you annotations with your group. Break into your Berryman criticism groups, which are the same as your group project, and complete the following tasks.

  1. Share your individual annotations and then collectively compose an annotation that your entire group thinks best summarizes the journal article. Your group will present this annotation to the class.
  2. Select the sentence of the article that best summarizes the critic's interpretation.
  3. Pick a poem, perhaps but not necessarily mentioned by your article, that your group would like the class to discuss.
  4. Construct a timeline for your Group Project: divide the labor and set deadlines. Your group will give this timeline to me.

2. J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

The human organism is an atrocity exhibition at which he is an unwilling spectator . . . (14, author’s ellipsis)

  1. The Book
    1. Influence: How do William S. Burroughs' cut-ups from novels like Naked Lunch and Surrealist paintings like those of Max Ernst's The Robing of the Bride (39) and Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory (22) influence Ballard's fragmentary and nightmarish landscapes?
    2. Structure: What is the purpose and effect of collecting fragmentary paragraphs, so-called "condensed novels" into short stories? How does the form of the book follow and/or generate its thematic content?
    3. The illustrations and photographs: How do the pornographic/anatomical cross-section illustrations by Phoebe Goeckner interact with the short stories and add to their theme of media perversion? How do the photographs by Ana Barrado illustrate the issue of geometric, conceptual sexuality?
  2. Character: Do a character sketch of Travis.
  3. Media: How do film, television, news, celebrities, and billboards affect Travis's psyche?
  4. Conceptual Geometry and Sexuality: Why does Ballard consider sex to be abstract, geometric, and conceptual?
  5. Car Crashes and Polymorphous Perversity: According to Freud, what is polymorphous perversity contra genital sexuality? Describe the status of the automobile in America's sexual psyche.
  6. The Death of Affect: Why/How does are culture of media violence and sexuality destroy our real emotions?
  7. The Kennedy Assassination

Selected Reading

While you should read all the poetry of Berryman, Bell, Celan, and Rilke, here are the ones that we will probably focus on in class.


John Berryman, The Dream Songs

[Note: Read 384 first, then 1, 10, 21, and so on]

1 Huffy Henry / 3

10 There were strange gatherings / 12

21 Some good people / 23

29 There sat down, once / 33

34 My mother has your shotgun / 38

36 The high ones die / 40

40 I'm scared a lonely / 44

45 He stared at ruin / 49

53 He lay in the middle of the world / 60

74 Henry hates the world / 81

76 Henry's Confession / 83

77 Seedy Henry / 84

92 Room 231: the forth week / 109

121 Grief is fatiguing. / 138

127 Again, his friend's death / 144

129 Thing as a sheet / 146

130 When I saw my friend / 147

131 Come touch me baby / 148

136 While his wife earned / 153

143 —That's enough of that / 160

144 My orderly tender / 161

145 Also I love him: / 162

146 These lovely motions of the air / 165

147 Henry's mind grew blacker / 166

149 This world is gradually / 168

151 Bitter & bleary / 170

153 I'm cross with god / 172

156 I give in. /175

172 Your face broods from my table / 191

181 The Translator—II / 200

191 The autumn breeze / 210

196 I see now all these deaths / 215

212 With no relief to public action / 232

235 Tears Henry shed / 254

241 Father being the loneliest word / 260

259 Does then our rivalry / 278

266 Dinch me, dark God

268 Henry, absent on parade / 287

291 Cold & golden / 313

298 Henry in transition / 320

324 An Elegy for W. C. W., the lovely man / 346

325 Control it now / 347

327 Freud was some wrong about dreams / 349

331 This is the third. / 353

341 The Dialogue, et. 51 / 363

344 Herbert Park, Dublin / 366

355 Slattery's, in Ballsbridge / 377

359 In sleep, of a heart attack / 381

362 And now I meet you / 384

365 Henry, a foreigner / 387

370 Henry saw / 392

372 O yes I wish her well. / 394

380 From the French Hospital in New York, 901 / 402

384 The marker slants / 406

Marvin Bell, The Book of the Dead Man

#1 / About the Dead Man

#3 / About the Beginnings of the Dead Man

#5 / About the Dead Man and Pain

#10 / About the Dead Man and His Poetry

#14 / About the Dead Man and Government

#17 / About the Dead Man and Dreams

#18 / The Dead Man's Advice

#23 / About the Dead Man and His Masks

#27 / About the Dead Man and The Book of the Dead Man

#33 / About the Dead Man and a Parallel Universe

Marvin Bell, Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Volume 2

#34 / About the Dead Man, Ashes and Dust / 3

#35 / About the Dead Man and Childhood / 5

#36 / Drinking Glass, Pencil and Comb / 7

#42 / About the Dead Man's Not Telling / 19

#43 / About the Dead Man and Desire / 21

#48 / About the Dead Man and Diminishment / 31

#49 / About the Dead Man and the Elusive / 34

#51 / About the Dead Man and Taxidermy / 37

#52 / About the Dead Man's Contrition / 39

#62 / About the Dead Man Apart / 58

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

The Duino Elegies / 151

from The Sonnets to Orpheus / 227

Paul Celan, The Selected Poems and Prose

Preface / xix

Early Poems (1940-1943)

The Dead Man / 3

Darkness / 5

Nocturne / 7

[Winter] / 9

Nearness of Graves / 11

The Lonely One / 13

Black Flakes / 15

Poppy and Memory (1952)

Praise of Distance / 25

Late and Deep / 27

Corona / 29

Deathfugue / 31

[So you are turned — a Someone] / 43

Landscape / 47

From Threshold to Threshold (1955)

By Twos / 55

Assisi / 59

In Front of a Candle / 61

Nocturne Pursed / 69

Whichever Stone You Lift / 71

Speak You Too / 77

Speech-Grille (1959)

An Eye, Open / 117

The No-One's-Rose (1963)

[The word about going-to-the-depths] / 137

[Mute autumn smells] / 153

Psalm / 157

[What happened?] / 187

The Syllable Pain / 201

Breathturn (1967)

[The numbers] / 229

[To stand] / 237

[I know you] / 245

[No more sand art] / 251

[Ash-Aureole] / 261

[What's written] / 263

[Where?] / 265

Threadsuns (1968)

[The trace of a bite] / 287

[You were] / 297

[Dew] / 299

Light-Compulsion (1970)

[Wan-voiced] / 319

[Do not work ahead] / 325

Snow-Part (1971)

[Illegible] / 333

[To night's order] / 339

Homestead of Time (1976)

[The heat] / 357

[The Shofar place] / 361

[Nothingness] / 371

Uncollected Poems

[Pour the wasteland] / 387

[Don't write yourself] / 389


Speech on the Occassion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen / 395

The Meridian: Speech on the Occasion of the Award of the Georg Büchner Prize / 401


To prepare for the group presentation, we first learned literary methods at GVSU. Next, we'll practice annotating a scholarly article, available online.


First, read and take notes on the assigned article (below), paying particular attention to the questions it poses of Berryman's book of poetry, the issues it sees in the poetry, and the interpretive conclusions it makes. Then, write a 75-100 word annotation of the article that

  1. identifies the issue or question that the article is investigating,
  2. defines the article's thesis or main idea relevant to your work of literature (feel free to quote as well), and
  3. explains how the article helps your understanding of the work.

Bring your written annotation to class so we can work with them.


Article Students
Christensen, "John Berryman: Overview" All
Foster, "The Dream Songs: Overview" All
Wikipedia, "John Berryman" All

Barbera, "Shape and Flow in the Dream Songs"

Becky Krol
Amanda Leal
Elizabeth Whitley

Hefferman, "John Berryman: The Poetics of Martyrdom"

Megan Bowen
Gary Nye
Edward Jados

Phillips, "Balling the Muse"

Chris Carver

Brandon Hubbard

Erin Jannenga

Tiffani Wietfeldt

Cervo, "Camus' The Plague"


Barnsley, "The White Hotel"


Vanderwerken, "Pilgrim's Dilemma: Slaughterhouse-Five"

Contemporary Literary Criticism, "J. G. Ballard" All
Wikipedia, The Atrocity Exhibition All
Foster, "J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Senses: Perversion and the Failure of Authority" Each student should read 2 of the 4 articles.
Franklin, "What Are We to Make of J. G. Ballard's Apocalypse?"
Platzner, "The Metaphoric Vision of J. G. Ballard"
Pringle, "The Fourfold Symbolism of J. G. Ballard"

Reading Journal

Use the reading journal to determine key ideas, make tentative interpretations, raise questions, and prepare for class discussion. Do not summarize the plot; do engage the core issues of the text. The reading journal does not have to make a clear academic argument, but it should be coherent. Your key task in the reading journal is to cut to the quick of the text's core conflicts as you see them.

Week Date Reading Student
Week 1    


Week 2 M, 1-15


Gary Nye

DeLillo Chris Carver
Week 3 M, 1-22 Berryman


Week 4 M, 1-29 Bell


Week 5    


Week 6

M, 2-12 Blanchot or Rilke Amanda Leal
Week 7 M, 2-17 Blanchot or Rilke


Week 8 M, 2-26 Blanchot  
Week 9    


Week 10 M, 3-12 Blanchot or Celan Becky Krol
Week 11 M, 3-19 Camus  
Week 12 M, 3-26 Thomas Tiffani Wietfeldt
Week 13    


Week 14 M, 4-9 Vonnegut Edward Jados
Week 15 M, 4-16 Ballard

Megan Bowen


Group Presentation

The three goals of the presentation is for students to pose tentative readings of the text, conduct research, and lead class discussion; therefore, groups of two or three will write a two page preliminary analysis of the work that elucidates core conflicts, discusses key issues, and introduces general themes, an annotated bibliography summarizing scholarly criticism of the work, and discussion and debate questions. They will also deliver this material in a class presentation. The written and presentation components must be uploaded to Blackboard Discussion Board on the day your presentation is due (all in one file please). Note that Blackboard Group Pages affords group discussion board, collaboration (chat), email, and file exchange.

Note: The week before the presentation, the group is expected to provide the class with copies of the scholarly journal article or book chapter that they found most useful and illuminating.


Week Date Reading Students

Week 6

M, 2-12 Rilke, The Duino Elegies  
Week 8 M, 2-26 Blanchot  
Week 10 M, 3-12 Celan  
Week 11 M, 3-19 Camus, The Plague Megan Bowen
Gary Nye
Edward Jados
Week 12 M, 3-26 Thomas, The White Hotel Becky Krol
Amanda Leal
Week 14 M, 4-9 Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five Chris Carver

iffani Wietfeldt

Paper 1

The first part of our course is devoted to the relationship between death and creativity, artistry, purpose. Kafka's hunger artist, in nullifying himself, pushes himself beyond the limits of life; DeLillo's body artist merges mediation, mimicry, and mourning; Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych confronts It (the abyss), though perhaps (not) too late to make a difference in his "most simple and most ordinary and thereby most terrible" life; Berryman's dreamsongs flail with creative melancholia and generative loss; and Bell's dead man detaches and disconnects from the world even as he radically cuts back into it. The first paper is designed to allow you to explore a specific issue related to the general topic of art through death in one particular text. Examine a key idea, theme, issue, conflict, symbol, or motif from a text discussed in class; if doing poetry, feel free to either tackle a recurring image or issue across many poems or closely read a poem or two. The point is to write an essay that digs into a particular topic with the kind of rigor that was not afforded by class discussion. Take our class discussion on a specific issue as a starting point, and use your paper to conclude the analysis, to fully realize and work through the interpretive implications of the idea. On the one hand, this paper is testing to make sure you understand the general issue of the course so far while requiring you to delve into a particular issue, on the other hand.

Paper 2

While the first paper from the first section of our course asked you to analyze the relationship between death and creativity, the second paper from the second unit of our course asks you to read a poem or two by either Rainer Maria Rilke's elegaical and Orphic poetry or Paul Celan's Holocaust poetry through the lens of an essay or idea by writer and philosopher Maurice Blanchot. Like the first paper, examine a key idea, theme, issue, conflict, symbol, or motif from a poem or set of closely related poems; this time from the philosophical perspective posed by Maurice Blanchot. The twofold purpose of the paper is to compose an essay that digs into a particular poem or set of poems with the kind of rigor that was not afforded by class discussion and with Maurice Blanchot's critical worldview in mind.

Paper 3

While the first paper from the first section of our course asked you to analyze the relationship between death and creativity and the second paper compelled you to apply Blanchot's philosophy to Rilke or Celan's poetry, the final paper is a research paper that compels you to analyze and research a text and topic related to the subject matter of this death and dying course. Although I encourage you to choose an author/text not covered in class (a novel, short story, poetry, film, television show), you may write on an author/text covered in class but one that you did not use in your other two formal papers. Your research paper must incorporate 3-5 sources of literary criticism (books, book chapters, journal articles).