Lost in the Funhouse:
The Postmodern Identity Quest
English 261C (08109-1): Introduction to Fiction
Winter 2003, T/R: 11:30 - 1:18 PM, Denney Hall 312
"I don't know anything, JD. Nothing, nada. Remember
that. I . . . know . . . nothing. Never assume I know anything. Nada.
Nothing. I know nothing, not a thing. Never."
—Bret Easton Ellis, Glamorama
What is the function of fiction? What does fiction do for us,
and what does it do to us? This introduction to fiction course
will look at fiction through the lens of identity quests. We'll examine how
fiction takes its writer, its characters, and its readers on a journey in search
of psychological truths. We'll analyze how postmodern fiction in particular
resolves or, more often than not, fails to resolve the basic question and leaves
the subject open and the quest hanging. From Meatball's lease-breaking party
("Entropy") to Emma's descent into a poem ("Emma Enters a Sentence
of Elizabeth Bishop's"); from Ambrose's unresolved coming of age story
("Lost in the Funhouse") and Donnie Darko's tragic resolution, from
Howie's unnending trip up the escalator (The Mezzanine) to Victor's mind-numbing
journey through the world of glitterati (Glamorama), we'll analyze how
fiction exposes, engages, or covers up core metaphysical and psychological truths.
We'll investigate how the key elements of fiction—character, plot, setting,
and point of view—operate to bare the underlying existential realities
of the story. We'll use the course listserv to prepare for class discussion;
we'll keep a reading journal to encourage active, critical reading; we'll take
an essay exams to make connections between the texts; we'll prepare a group
preject that applies our reading techniques and research methods to a new text;
and we'll write a term paper to deepen our analysis of a particular work of
Atwood, Margaret, Surfacing (availble at SBX)
Baker, Nicholson, The Mezzanine (availble
Ellis, Bret Easton, Glamorama (availble at
Lessing, Doris, Briefing for a Descent into Hell (availble at SBX)
course packet (available online)
Barth, John, "Lost in the Funhouse"
Bishop, Elizabeth, poems
Daitch, Susan, "X =/ Y"
Gass, William H, "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth
"In the Heart of the Heart of the Country"
Moore, Marianne, poems
Pynchon, Thomas, "Entropy"
handouts and resources linked from the course website
recommended (available at SBX and Main Library Reserves)
Roberts, Edgar V., Writing about Literature,
Assignments and Grade Distribution
listservice response, 5%
To prepare yourself and the rest of the class for
class discussion, at one point in the quarter you'll respond to a work of fiction
via the course listservice <email@example.com>.
More instructions here: Listserv Response Sign-Up.
group presentation, 15%
To apply our analytical abilities, groups of three
or four will read, research, and finally teach to the rest of the class a text
outside the course reading list. More instructions here: Group
Project Prompt. Sign up here: Sign Up.
reading journal, 20%
To facilitate active reading, you'll keep a journal
that records your critical thoughts regarding the assigned texts. I'll post
prompts on the course website here to get you started. More instructions here: Reading Journal Study Questions.
midterm exam, 30%
In class, we'll answer two or three essay questions
which compel us to analyze the works of fiction through the lens of particular
elements of fiction as well as make connections among the texts we've read.
Review here: Exam Review.
final paper, 30%
The final paper should extend and develop a conversation
regarding an assigned text, compare and contrast two works based upon issues
broached in class discussion, or interpret a work of literature outside of our
reading list (subject to my approval). More instructions here: Final
Office Hours and 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 small questions
such as due dates over email, but I prefer face-to-face conversations for more
substantive topics like paper topics.
We're going to be working with challenging stories.
We'll all benefit from sharing our questions and ideas. The listserv is the
first step but only a first step; let's continue those discussions in class.
A bit of an internet addict myself, I recognize that the computers can be quite
tempting; however, refrain from using them during class lecture and discussion.
Finally, if I feel that the majority of the class isn't participating because
they're not keeping up with the reading, I will give a pop quiz which will be
factored into the journal grade.
There will be a one-letter final grade deduction
per class period for all unexcused absences beyond two. Arriving to class
more than 15 minutes late or leaving more than 15 minutes early constitutes
an absence. Athletic competition, jury duty, illness, and so forth will
be excused provided that you bring an official note within one week of your
return to class.
There will be a one-letter grade deduction per day
(not class period) for any assignment that is turned in late.
Don't do it. Using someone else's words, ideas,
or work without proper citation and representing it as your own is the most
serious of academic offenses. All cases of suspected plagiarism will be
reported to the Committee on Academic Misconduct.
Office of Disability Services
If you have any specific needs or concerns, please
feel free to discuss the issue with me during office hours. Students with
disabilities who need accommodations should be registered at the Office for
Disability Services (292-3307).
The staff of the Writing Center serve as readers
and responders to writing for English 110, English 367 and other university
disciplines. Besides giving feedback, these English graduate students
can help with other writing issues such as topic development, organization,
coherence, clarity, and self-editing. To make an appointment, call 292-5607
or stop by 485 Mendenhall Labs.
On the Monday after finals week, I will have your
final papers ready for you to pick up. Make arrangements with me to retrieve
your work, or I will discard it after two quarters.
*Note: Before reading a story or novel, read the author's critical biography
and the preliminary questions provided in the story's
For each focus on fiction, it is recommended that
you read the corresponding chapter in the Roberts text.
Susan Daitch, "X =/ Y" (course packet)
John Barth, "Lost in the
Focus on Fiction: Conflict
Research and the Web: The Web Source Search
to Search Terms and Wildcards (CCL)
Thomas Pynchon, "Entropy" (course packet)
Focus on Fiction: Character
Research and the Web II: Search Engines Redux (In-Class Assignment)
William H. Gass, "In the
Heart of the Heart of the Country" (course
Focus on Fiction: Setting
William H. Gass, "Emma
Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's" (course
Elizabeth Bishop, 10 Poems (course packet)
Marianne Moore, 6 Poems (course packet)
Focus on Fiction: Imagery
Research and the Web III: Evaluating
Research: Evaluating & Documenting Online Sources (CCL)
Margaret Atwood, Surfacing
Focus on Fiction: Symbolism
Focus on Fiction: Plot and Structure
Research and the Web IV: The Print Source Search
Research in the Literature Classroom
Doris Lessing, Briefing
for a Descent into Hell
Focus on Fiction: Point of View
Reading Journal 1-5 Due
Focus on Fiction: Tone
Group Presentation Prompt and Sign-Up
Baker, The Mezzanine
Focus on Fiction: Theme
Chambers, "Meditation and the Escalator Principle" (course
Reading and Annotating a Critical Article
Bret Eason Ellis, Glamorama
Composing a Web Page: Netscape Composer
Constructing Audiovisual Presentations: Microsoft Powerpoint
Final Paper Conferences
Lab Time for Group Presentations
Final Paper Conferences
Lab Time for Group Presentations
Group Presentations: Nicholson Baker, Vox
Margaret Atwood, "Fiction: Happy Endings"
John Barth, "Preparing for the Storm"
Group Presentation Web Component Due
Group Presentations: Bret Easton Ellis, Less than Zero,
Margaret Atwood, "Dancing Girls"
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
***meet in Lord Hall 19
Donnie Darko (Dir.
Richard Kelley, 2001)
Focus on Fiction: Fiction and Film
Reading Journal 1-10 due
||Final Paper due by 12PM