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


"Wrapped in Plastic": The Postmodern Detective

English 205.02: Literatures in English

Fall 2007, MWF 1:00-1:50PM, 226 Lake Superior Hall


Professor: Alex E. Blazer Phone: 331-3373
Office and Mailbox: 123 Lake Huron Hall Email: blazera@gvsu.edu
Office Hours: M 11:00-11:50AM and F 11:00-12:50 Web: http://faculty.gvsu.edu/blazera/


She's filled with secrets.


She's dead . . . wrapped in plastic.

Pete Martell in David Lynch's Twin Peaks

Course Description


In this course, we will learn how to critically write about literature by analytically reading and researching detective literature from the postmodern period. We will engage the seven major genres of literatureshort story, novella, novel, drama, poetry, film, and televisionin order to see how the techniques of literaturesuch as characterization, setting, plot, and point of viewcan be interpreted to reveal the core conflicts and the unstable truths of postmodern detective stories. Our investigation will begin with the first detective, Edgar Allan Poe's rational Dupin, and move to the elementary yet premier Victorian detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes before looking at American modernism's hard-boiled detective, Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. With a general understanding of the genre, we will delve into our primary subject: an analysis of how postmodernism plays with the rules so that the truth of the crime (and the reality of the self) becomes an epistemological and ontological uncertainty, as knowledge and being are destabilized, put in radical question, if not utterly annihilated, in the postmodern detective story. First, we'll trace the paranoiac conspiracy of Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49 and then journey into the mind (and world) blowing film Dark City by Alex Proyas and one-act play Suicide in Bb by Sam Shepard before seeing how metafictional surveillance hollows out the traditional detective in Auster's set of novellas The New York Trilogy. Nolan's film Memento reveals the absurd, Sisyphean existence of amnesiac, ahistorical humanity. Finally, Ai's poem series "Psychic Detective" will prepare us for dreamworld of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, in which the victim is wrapped in plastic and the killer warped in the unconscious. This course has four goals:

1) a critical understanding of the postmodern detective genre

2) close reading of the elements of the major genres of literature

3) literary analysis of individual works of literature supported by scholarly research

4) exploration, drafting, and revision in a writing process that includes both informal and formal writing

We will informal answer study questions to prepare us to write three formal papers, which will dig deeper into each work; and we'll do a group project in which we teach the rest of the class a new work of literature. I will guide class discussion, present concepts and modes of analysis, and assess assignments. I expect you to read and study the material, attend and participate in class regularly, turn assignments in on time, and approach assignments with intellectual curiosity, educational investment, and academic honesty. Note that this course's prerequisite is WRT 150 with a C or better, or the equivalent. This course fulfills a Supplemental Writing Skills (SWS) requirement as well as the Philosophy and Literature Foundation of the General Education Program.


Course Materials


required (GVSU Bookstore or Amazon.com)

Auster, The New York Trilogy

Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

Roberts, Writing about Literature, 11th ed.

required (online)

course packet and articles

recommended (GVSU Bookstore or Amazon.com)

Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th ed.

film and television to watch outside of class (Amazon.com, Blockbuster, Lakenet, Netflix)

Lynch, Twin Peaks (Seasons 1 and 2)

Nolan, Memento


Assignments and Grade Distribution


informal writing, 15%

Informal writing is comprised of responses to the reading and responses to the first drafts of your peers' papers. Approximately once per text, in class or out of class, you will write short, informal responses to a work of literature in order to practice writing about literature and work toward writing fully developed, interpretive papers. Groups of 3-4 will respond to their peers' first drafts for revision.

paper 1, 15%

In the first paper of 3-4 pages, you will rigorously analyze a key passage of a literary work, for example, how it highlights the core conflicts and themes of the text.

paper 2, 20%

In the second paper of 4-5 pages, you will discuss a point of debate in interpretation of a work of literature and then argue your reading of the work.

paper 3, 30%

In the final research paper of 8-9 pages, you will interpret a literary work of your choice, using at least 4 works of scholarly criticism to support your analysis.

group project, 20%

Groups of 4-5 members will analyze, research, and then teach the class a text via both audiovisual presentation and written component.


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 six days. Therefore, missing seven class periods will result in a one letter final grade deduction and missing ten classes will result in automatic failure of the course. I do not excuse any class missed beyond the six days, even if you are ill or participating in extracurricular activities. Therefore, I suggest you use your six 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. You can check your attendance online by looking for your course number and the last four digits of your student identification number.

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, October 19 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 me and Disabilities Support Services (DSS) at 616-331-2490. Furthermore, if you have a disability and think you will need assistance evacuating this classroom and/or building in an emergency situation, please make me aware so I can develop a plan to assist you.

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.

Supplemental Writing Skills

This course is designated SWS. Completion of WRT 150 with a grade of C or better (not C-) is a prerequisite. SWS credit will not be given to a student who completes this course before completing the prerequisite. SWS courses adhere to certain guidelines. Students turn in a total of at least 3000 words of writing. Part of that total may be essay exams, but a substantial amount of it is made up of essays, reports, or research papers. The instructor works with the students on revising drafts of papers, rather than simply grading the finished piece of writing. At least four hours of class time will be devoted to writing instruction. At least one third of the final grade in the course is based on the writing assignments.


Course Schedule


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


Week 1
M, 8-27


Detective Story (Encyclopedia Britannica) (online)

W, 8-29

Poe, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (online)

Roberts, Chapter 1 Preliminary

F, 8-31

Poe, "The Purloined Letter" (online)

Roberts, Chapter 2 Close Reading

Week 2
M, 9-3

No Class: Labor Day Recess

W, 9-5

Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (online)

Roberts, Chapter 3 Character

Informal Writing 1 Due

F, 9-7

Pyrhönen, "The Form of the Detective Narrative" (12-41 only) (online)

In Class Activity: Pyrhönen, "The Form of the Detective Narrative"

Week 3
M, 9-10

Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Roberts, Chapter 6 Setting

Paper 1 Prompt

Informal Writing 2 Due

W, 9-12

Hammett, continued

Roberts, Chapter 10 Symbolism and Allegory

F, 9-14

Hammett, continued

Pyrhönen, "Thematic Readings of the Detective Narrative" (online)

Week 4
M, 9-17

Hammett, criticism (online)

Informal Writing 3 Due

Developing a Thesis Statement (Dartmouth Writing Program)

W, 9-19

Postmodernism (The Columbia Encyclopedia) (online)

Gregson, "Postmodern Genres" (online)

Lewis, "Postmodernism and Literature" (online)

MLA Style

F, 9-21

Carlson, "Pigs and Angels: The Postmodern Private Eye" (online)

Pyrhönen, "The Form of the Detective Narrative" (41-8 only) (online)

Week 5
M, 9-24

Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1-63)

Paper 1 Draft 1 Due

W, 9-26

Pynchon (64-152), continued

Roberts, Chapter 5 Plot and Structure

In Class Activity: Pynchon's Plot

F, 9-28

Roberts, Chapter 7 Idea and Theme

Pynchon criticism (online)

Week 6

M, 10-1

**Due to peer response group meetings, regular class will not be held. You are only responsible for coming to your class on the day your peer response group meets.

Paper 1 Peer Response Due (Groups 1, 2, and 3)

W, 10-3

**Due to peer response group meetings, regular class will not be held. You are only responsible for coming to your class on the day your peer response group meets.

Paper 1 Peer Response Due (Groups 4 and 5)

F, 10-5
Screening: Dark City (first half 100 minutes)
Week 7
M, 10-8

Screening: Dark City (second half)

Group Presentation Sign Up

W, 10-10

Dark City discussion

Roberts, Chapter 17 Film

Paper 1 Draft 2 Due

F, 10-12

Dark City criticism (online)

Week 8
M, 10-15

Auster, City of Glass (The New York Trilogy)

Roberts, Chapter 4 Point of View

W, 10-17

Auster, Ghosts (The New York Trilogy)

Roberts, Chapter 11 Tone

Paper 2 Prompt

F, 10-19

Auster, The Locked Room (The New York Trilogy)

Informal Writing 4 Due

Week 9
M, 10-22

Auster, criticism (online)

Schmidt, "Introduction: The Condition of Postmodern Drama" (online)

Recommended Reading: Schmidt, "Theorizing Dramatic Form" (online)

W, 10-24

Shepard, Suicide in Bb (online)

F, 10-26

Shepard, continued

Ai, "Psychic Detective" series from Dread (online)

Week 10
M, 10-29

Ai, continued

Roberts, Chapter 8 Imagery

Roberts, Chapter 9 Metaphor and Simile

W, 10-31


Nolan, "Memento Mori" (online)

***Note: It is your responsibility to watch Memento, preferrably the two-disc limited edition, on your own before class. It is available to rent at Blockbuster, Netflix, and Lakenet or to own at Amazon, and anyplace that sells dvds.

F, 11-2

No Class: Professor at Conference

Paper 2 Draft 1 Due

Week 11
M, 11-5
No Class: Professor at Conference
W, 11-7

Memento criticism (online)

Paper 3 Prompt

F, 11-9

Roberts, Chapter 18 The Research Essay

Literary Research Methods

Paper 2 Peer Response Due

Week 12
M, 11-12

Screening: Twin Peaks (Episode 2)

***Note: Although in class we will watch excerpts from three episodes that highlight the postmodern detective, I advise you to watch as much of the series as you can over the course of the semester. As with Memento, the series is available to rent or own, and unofficial transcripts are available (online).

W, 11-14

Screening: Twin Peaks (Episode 3)

Hague, "Infinite Games: The Derationalization of Detection in Twin Peaks" (online)

F, 11-16

Screening: Twin Peaks (Episode 16)

Nochimson, "Desire under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality 'Twin Peaks'" (online)

Paper 2 Draft 2 Due (Optional)

Week 13
M, 11-19

Twin Peaks discussion

W, 11-21

No Class: Thanksgiving Recess

F, 11-23
No Class: Thanksgiving Recess
Week 14
M, 11-26

Individual Conference regarding Paper 3

Group Projects meeting time

Paper 3 Thesis and Sources Due

W, 11-28

Individual Conference regarding Paper 3

Group Projects meeting time

F, 11-30

Plath Presentation

Dick, A Scanner Darkly Presentation

Week 15
M, 12-3

Hitchcock, Vertigo Presentation

W, 12-5

Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange Presentation

F, 12-7

Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross Presentation


T, 12-11
Paper 3 Due by 3:50PM