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


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


Instructor: Alex E. Blazer Office: Denney Hall 324
Mailbox: Denney Hall 421 Office Hours: T/R: 1:30-2:30 PM
Email: Office Phone: 292-3754
Web: Departmental Phone: 292-6065


Course Description

"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 fiction.


Course Materials



Atwood, Margaret, Surfacing (availble at SBX)

Baker, Nicholson, The Mezzanine (availble at SBX)

Ellis, Bret Easton, Glamorama (availble at SBX)

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 Bishop's"

"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, 10th ed.


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 <>. 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 Paper Prompt.


Course Policies


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.

Class Participation

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.

Late Assignments

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).

Writing Center

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.

Student Work

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.


Course Schedule


*Note: Before reading a story or novel, read the author's critical biography in Contemporary Authors

and the preliminary questions provided in the story's link.

For each focus on fiction, it is recommended that you read the corresponding chapter in the Roberts text.


Week 1


Introductions, Syllabus

Susan Daitch, "X =/ Y" (course packet)


John Barth, "Lost in the Funhouse" (course packet)

Focus on Fiction: Conflict

Research and the Web: The Web Source Search

Introduction to Search Terms and Wildcards (CCL)

Search Engines (CCL)

Week 2

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 packet)

Focus on Fiction: Setting

Week 3

William H. Gass, "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's" (course packet)

Elizabeth Bishop, 10 Poems (course packet)

Marianne Moore, 6 Poems (course packet)

Focus on Fiction: Imagery

Research and the Web III: Evaluating Web Sources

Web Research: Evaluating & Documenting Online Sources (CCL)


Margaret Atwood, Surfacing

Focus on Fiction: Symbolism

Week 4

Atwood, concluded

Focus on Fiction: Plot and Structure

Research and the Web IV: The Print Source Search

Online Research in the Literature Classroom


Doris Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell

Focus on Fiction: Point of View

Reading Journal 1-5 Due

Week 5

Lessing, concluded

Focus on Fiction: Tone

Group Presentation Prompt and Sign-Up


Midterm Exam

Week 6


Baker, The Mezzanine

Focus on Fiction: Theme


Baker, concluded

Chambers, "Meditation and the Escalator Principle" (course packet)

Reading and Annotating a Critical Article

Week 7

Bret Eason Ellis, Glamorama

Composing a Web Page: Netscape Composer

Netscape Composer (CCL)


Ellis, continued

Week 8

Constructing Audiovisual Presentations: Microsoft Powerpoint

PowerPoint (CCL)

Final Paper Conferences

Lab Time for Group Presentations


Final Paper Conferences

Lab Time for Group Presentations

Week 9

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

Week 10

***meet in Lord Hall 19

Donnie Darko (Dir. Richard Kelley, 2001)

Focus on Fiction: Fiction and Film


Conclusions, Evaluations

Reading Journal 1-10 due

Final Paper due by 12PM