Dr. Alex E. Blazer Course Site Assignments Description
Materials Assignments Policies Schedule


"Dying Is an Art . . ."

English 386 B: Literary Responses to Death and Dying

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


Professor: Alex E. Blazer Phone: 331-3373
Office and Mailbox: 123 Lake Huron Hall Email: blazera@gvsu.edu

Office Hours: M 2:00-2:50PM,

W 1:15-2:50PM

Web: http://faculty.gvsu.edu/blazera/


Course Description


Learn to think with pain.

—Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster


This course uses literary texts to acquaint students with the variety of responses of different cultures to issues surrounding death and dying. In the first part of the course, from Kafka's hunger artist to DeLillo's body artist, from Berryman's mournful Henry to Bell's Dead Man, we will examine how the artist both is created by death and tarries with it in her work. In the second part of the course, we will analyze a particular dialectic between philosophy and literature through the lens of philosopher-author Maurice Blanchot. Finally, we will look at responses to disasterous events: a plague in Camus, the Holocaust in Thomas, the bombing of Dresden in Vonnegut, Columbine in Van Sant, and the Marilyn Monroe's suicide and the JFK assassination in Ballard. Note that this course is part of the Death and Dying Theme and its prerequisite is fulfillment of the freshman writing requirement.


Course Materials


required (GVSU Bookstore or Amazon.com)

Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Bell, The Book of the Dead Man

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

Berryman, The Dream Songs

Blanchot, The Station Hill Blanchot Reader

Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

Camus, The Plague

Celan, Selected Poems and Prose

DeLillo, The Body Artist

Rilke, Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

Thomas, The White Hotel

Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five


Assignments and Grade Distribution


group presentation, 10%

Groups of 2 or 3 will research and guide class discussion of an author.

reading journal, 10%

You keep a reading journal and share at least one entry with the class.

3 papers, 20%, 25%, 35%

You will write 3 papers—a 4-5 page paper, a 5-6 page paper, and a 7-9 page research paper.


Course Policies


Class Preparation and Participation

I expect you to come to class having read, annotated, and reviewed the assigned reading. Moreover, you should prepare at least two comments and two questions. We're going to be working with challenging works of literature; therefore, we'll all benefit from sharing our ideas and questions. If I feel that you're not participating because you're not keeping up with the reading, I will give a pop quiz.

Office Hours and Professor Email

I encourage you to stop by my office hours to discuss any aspect of the course, literature, or life. I'm happy to answer minor questions such as due dates over email, but I prefer face-to-face conversations for more substantive topics like papers and exams. Please use email etiquette.

Blackboard and Student Email

We will be using Blackboard for assignments and Netmail for class communication. It is your responsibility to update your passwords so you can use Blackboard and check your email for possible course related messages. I suggest that you forward your university email to your private email account (or vice versa) and review both my Blackboard Basics and IT's Blackboard Help.


There will be a one letter final grade deduction for every absence beyond two days. Therefore, missing three class periods will result in a one letter final grade deduction and missing six classes will result in automatic failure of the course. I do not excuse any class missed beyond the two days, even if you are ill or participating in extracurricular activities. Therefore, I suggest you use your two days both cautiously and wisely; and make sure you sign the attendance sheets. Habitual tardies or consistently leaving class early will be treated as absences.

MLA Style

Formal assignments should adhere to the Modern Language Association (MLA) style. Formal papers and take-home exams require MLA style while in-class exams, discussion board responses, informal writing, and peer review may be informally formatted. One-third of a letter grade will be deducted from a formal paper or take-home exam for problems in each of the following four categories: 1) header, heading, and title, 2) margins, font, and line-spacing, and 3) quotation and citation format. Before you turn in a formal paper, make sure your work follows MLA style by using the checklist on the MLA style handout.

Late Assignments

There will be a one letter assignment grade deduction per day (not class period) for any assignment that is turned in late. I sparingly give short extensions if you request one for a valid need; however you must make the request at least one day before the assignment is due. I will inform you via email if I cannot open an electronically submitted assignment; however, your assignment will be considered late until you submit it in a file I can open. I neither read nor grade assignments that are turned in more than five days late for whatever reason, be it extension or computer error. Failing to submit (or resubmit) an assignment that is worth 15% or more of the course grade within five days (not class periods) of its due date will result in automatic failure of the course. Failing to submit (or resubmit) a final exam or final paper within two days of its due date will result in automatic failure of the course.


Do not do it. Section 223.01 of the Student Code states: "Any ideas or material taken from another source for either written or oral presentation must be fully acknowledged. Offering the work of someone else as one's own is plagiarism. The language or ideas taken from another may range from isolated formulas, sentences, or paragraphs to entire articles copied from books, periodicals, speeches or the writings of other students. The offering of materials assembled or collected by others in the form of projects or collections without acknowledgment also is considered plagiarism. Any student who fails to give credit in written or oral work for the ideas or materials that have been taken from another is guilty of plagiarism." As a general rule, I fail plagiarized assignments, and so plagiarists usually fail the course as well.

Failure of the Course

There are three ways to fail the course: 1) failing to regularly attend class, 2) plagiarizing, 3) failing an assignment that is worth 15% or more of the course grade, be it from poor quality, lateness of submission, or a combination of poor quality and lateness.


The deadline withdrawing from a class is Friday, March 2 at 5:00PM.

Disabilities Support Center

If there is any student in this class who has special needs because of a learning, physical, or other ability, please contact the Disabilities Support Services (DSS) Program in the Advising Resources and Special Programs Unit at 331-3588.

Center for Writing

The Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors provides appointment, walk-in, and instant messenger assistance for planning, drafting, revising, and editing papers.


Course Schedule


Before reading each story, read a literary biography from the Literature Resource Center.

This schedule is subject to change, so listen in class and check online for possible revisions.


Week 1
M, 1-8

Part I: The Artist

Dickinson, [I've seen a Dying Eye] and [Death is potential to that Man] (online)

Keats, [When I have fears that I may cease to be] (online)

Creeley, [I am held by my fear of death] (online)

Plath, "Lady Lazarus" (online)

Kafka, "A Hunger Artist" (online)

Week 2
M, 1-15

Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych (online)

DeLillo, The Body Artist

Week 3
M, 1-22

Berryman, The Dream Songs (selected)

Berryman criticism

In Class Activity: Annotating Scholarly Criticism

Week 4
M, 1-29

Bell, The Book of the Dead Man (selected)

Bell, Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Volume 2 (selected)

Week 5
M, 2-5

No Class: University Closed (Snow Day)

Paper 1 Due

Week 6

M, 2-12

Film Screening: Hitchcock, Vertigo (128 minutes, script)

Note: Due to the length of the film, this class period will end at 8:50

Week 7
M, 2-19

Part II: The Philosopher

Blanchot, "From Dread to Language" (Station Hill 343-58)

Blanchot, "The Gaze of Orpheus" (Station Hill 437-442)

Rilke, The Duino Elegies (Selected Poetry 151-214)

Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (Selected Poetry 227-58)

Week 8
M, 2-26

Blanchot, "Literature and the Right to Death" (Station Hill 359-400)

Blanchot, "The Madness of the Day" (Station Hill 189-200)

Blanchot, Death Sentence (Station Hill 129-188)

Week 9
M, 3-5

No Class: Spring Break

Week 10
M, 3-12

Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

Celan, Selected Poems and Prose (selected)

Week 11
M, 3-19

Part III: The Event

Camus, The Plague

Camus criticism

Paper 2 Due

Week 12
M, 3-26

Thomas, The White Hotel

Thomas criticism

Week 13
M, 4-2

Film Screening: Van Sant, Elephant (81 minutes)

Week 14
M, 4-9

Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Week 15
M, 4-16

Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard criticism and discussion questions

Reading Journal Due

M, 4-23

Paper 3 Due