Well, it looks like University of Illinois Press has settled on a cover for my book Octavia E. Butler, coming out this fall:
…now how much would you pay? Act fast, because supplies are running out, etc. etc. etc.!
* Really exciting new anthology I just heard about: Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation.
* After Columbia: Deans often feign surprise at graduate student complaints, and claim not to notice the thousands petitioning them every semester. An n+1 roundtable on the recent NLRB decision.
* Just can’t win: Diversity training and mandates seem to have a backlash effect.
* The New York Times interviews N.K. Jemisin, the first black writer to win a Hugo.
* Still, if he ends up with 7 percent of the vote — as we’d expect based upon history and the current polls — the Libertarian Party will qualify for federal campaign funding in 2020, and Johnson will claim the highest share of the vote of any non-major party nominee in 20 years.
* Who works for the workers? Unions and bureaucracy in America.
* But as Coulter let slip, the rightwing pundit class is on the verge of losing its long-term hold on the actual conduct of politics on the ground. In other words, the conservative media elite is in precisely the same structural position that the nascent forces of the new right sketched out for the great liberal media conspiracy circa 1972: assiduously manufacturing consent to an audience that was rapidly moving on to other grand political narratives. That, comrades Hannity and Coulter, is what we cranky leftwing culture critics call the cunning of history.
* Protesting too much: HAARP’s new owner holds open house to prove facility ‘is not capable of mind control.’
* And an intriguing BET science fiction web series about slavery and time travel very few people seem to have known about (I didn’t!): Send Me. Thanks to Ayana Jamieson for the tip!
And here’s the Infinite Jest syllabus. This one turned out to be a surprisingly difficult puzzle to put together, just because I felt strongly that the book absolutely had to be finished by the class period before the class period before Thanksgiving (and later determined that we really needed a whole week to talk about the book just as a whole) — while I also felt (after the experience of the Tolkien class was so great) that it would be really good to have a slow start where we talked a bit about Wallace as a thinker and read some of his other work. This seemed especially urgent to me because of the fact of the suicide, which really does seem to risk retrospectively poisoning some aspects of the book and Wallace’s larger career (I’ve included the MLA panel we’re doing explicitly in the course as a last-day exercise, though I realized yesterday while prepping the course that I seem to have completely cryptomnesically ripped off Tom Bissell in my panel abstract — very embarrassing).
I decided early on that “beginning with the end” was the way to do this course, discussing the suicide openly and concretely at length at the very start of the class. My workshopmates in my Jesuit pedagogy seminar last semester very helpfully suggested some strategies for making the course a comfortable place to talk about some very uncomfortable things, and strongly suggested that I include an explicit content note in the syllabus (which as you can see, I did, a fairly lengthy one; I don’t think I’ve ever done one before, except in briefly offering the possibility of an alternate assignment for Lolita in a sophomore-level survey).
The result of all this is a syllabus that I’m pretty happy with and that I hope won’t be too demanding. I’ve thought a lot about not just trying to generate buy-in and a spirit of shared endeavor, but also how to make sure I don’t lose a ton of people along the way. In the end, with a MW class meeting trying to read a 1,079-page novel in nine weeks while leaving space at the beginning and end for other conversations about Infinite Jest, I decided I just couldn’t do much better than around 50-70 pages per class period for the long haul, especially in the back half. I hope the assignments and the structure of the course pull them through, and give them space to get something valuable out of it, even if (as seems inevitable) some number of them completely hate both the book and me by the end…
As before, full syllabus with course procedures and all assignments at the link, but here’s the day-by-day schedule:
|M||Aug 29||FIRST DAY OF CLASS
audiobook: “This Is Water” (Commencement Address to the Kenyon College Class of 2005) (in class)
|W||Aug 31||“Alas, Poor Yorick” monologue from Hamlet, Act V, sc. i [D2L]
George Saunders, “Informal Remarks from the David Foster Wallace Memorial Service in New York on October 23, 2008” [D2L]
Jonathan Franzen, “Informal Remarks from the David Foster Wallace Memorial Service in New York on October 23, 2008” [D2L]
roundtable discussion: How to Talk About Sad Things, Together
(after class) Mandatory D2L Post #1
|M||Sep 5||LABOR DAY—NO CLASS|
|W||Sep 7||David Foster Wallace, “The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing” (1984) and Afterword by Kevin J. H. Dettmar (2016)|
|M||Sep 12||David Foster Wallace, “Octet” (1997/1999)
Guest Lecture: Tom Moore
(after class) Mandatory D2L Post #2
|W||Sep 14||David Foster Wallace, “Octet” discussion continues
Infinite Jest forewords by Dave Eggers (2006) and Tom Bissell (2016) [D2L]
roundtable discussion: How to Talk About Literature, Art, Artists, Genius, Greatness, Pretension, Ambition, “Trying Too Hard,” Success, Failure, Annoyance, Fondness, Commitment, Honesty, Community, Solitude, Work, Intellectual Experiences That Might (or Might Not) Change Your Life, &c.
(after class) Mandatory D2L Post #3
|M||Sep 19||Infinite Jest through p. 17
brief primer: How to Read Infinite Jest [in class]
|W||Sep 21||Infinite Jest through p. 63||46|
|M||Sep 26||Infinite Jest through p. 127||64|
|W||Sep 28||Infinite Jest through p. 171||44|
|M||Oct 3||Infinite Jest through p. 226||55|
|W||Oct 5||Infinite Jest through p. 283||57|
|M||Oct 10||Infinite Jest through p. 342||59|
|W||Oct 12||Infinite Jest through p. 398||56|
|M||Oct 17||Infinite Jest through p. 450||52|
|W||Oct 19||Infinite Jest through p. 503||53|
|M||Oct 24||Infinite Jest through p. 589||86|
|W||Oct 26||Infinite Jest through p. 648||59|
|M||Oct 31||Infinite Jest through p. 711||63|
|W||Nov 2||Infinite Jest through p. 775||64|
|M||Nov 7||Infinite Jest through p. 845||70|
|W||Nov 9||Infinite Jest through p. 911||66|
|M||Nov 14||Infinite Jest through p. 981
|W||Nov 16||Samuel Cohen, “To Wish to Try to Sing to the Next Generation: Infinite Jest’s History”
N. Katherine Hayles, “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest”
OPTION #3 PROSPECTUS DUE BY TODAY
|M||Nov 21||Research Workshop with Heather James (Raynor)
Bring in the general topic you think you might want to write about, as well as some useful research questions.
* Infinite Jest pages per day (approximate) (not counting footnotes)
|M||Nov 28||OPTION #1 and #2 PROSPECTUS DUE TO ME ON D2L
Michael Pietsch, editor’s note, The Pale King (2011) [D2L]
David Foster Wallace, “Good Old Neon” (2001) [D2L]
|W||Nov 30||Lee Konstantinou, “No Bull: David Foster Wallace and Postironic Belief” [D2L]
Adam Kelly, “David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction” [D2L]
|M||Dec 5||Ed Finn, “Becoming Yourself: The Afterlife of Reception” [D2L]
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Infinite Summer: Reading, Empathy, and the Social Network” [D2L]
MetaFilter.com, “RIP, DFW” [Web]
The Howling Fantods, Wallace-L, etc.
|W||Dec 7||FINAL THOUGHTS: MLA 2017 panel: “Infinite Jest at 20” [D2L]
Bring in four copies of the prospectus for your final project.
LAST DAY OF CLASS
|W||Dec 14||FINAL PROJECT DUE BY 12:30 PM|
I’m teaching three classes this semester, ENGLISH 4615/5615 (“Infinite Jest”), ENGLISH 2010 (“Alternate History”), and HOPR 1953 (“Video Game Culture”) (one-credit, pass/fail, now with Pokémon Go!). I’m very excited about all three. The Infinite Jest course is one I’ve wanted to do for a very long time — I came up with the whole idea of adding the new 4615/5615 course number to the Marquette English just so I could do this course — and the alternate-history course has been puttering around in my brain as a pedagogical opportunity for just about as long.
I got a lot of help from folks on Twitter and Facebook with the alternate history novel course, both at the level of generating texts but also at the level of conceptualizing the course a little different so it could be more inclusive, and I’m really grateful for that. I was finally sold by Alexis Lothian on the idea that I was being silly by being resistant to stories like The Lathe of Heaven and “The Book of Martha,” for instance, and that the practical effect of that resistance was to make the class much whiter and much maler than it really needed to be. Now, the course is still pretty white and very male, but the genre itself is, and somehow or another that’s something I want to start to talk about as the semester progresses. The excellent suggestion of Karen Joy Fowler’s story “Game Night at the Fox and Goose” will really help me make that pivot, I think, as will In the United States of Africa (a great novel I couldn’t believe I forgot to include until it was pointed out to me I’d forgotten to include it, I think by Aaron Bady).
A few other things I was very sad to lose:
- I was originally going to do “an alternate history of an alternate history” thing to end the semester, Superman: Red Son, but it just didn’t make sense the way the course took shape. I held on to the idea way too long, and only cut the book two days ago. Sorry, bookstore!
- The whole original point of all this was to use the course as an excuse to teach The Years of Rice and Salt, a book I love which seems just too long too teach in any other context. And it still seems too long to teach (at least at the sophomore level). I had to give it up, and wasn’t able to include even any excerpts because I crammed in too much other stuff. Someday!
- Another thing that fell out of the course was a group presentation structure in which individual groups researched the actual history of the hinge point of each divergence and reported on it. I realized that with the newer, more expansive idea of the course this wasn’t going to work very well for at least half the books, and probably would have been reductive and overdetermined our conversations in practice, so it had to be abandoned as well.
- I really, really wanted to include a Ted Chiang what-if-religion-were-empirically-verifiable story like “Hell Is The Absence of God,” but, again, it seemed just a bit far too off the mark this time.
- I am, indeed, doing literally just one page from The Plot Against America, fulfilling my perverse desire to do so.
- There were many other great suggestions for books that I wasn’t able to use. A few that I really struggled over:
- Life After Life: a Replay-style reincarnation novel about World War I;
- Replay itself, which is just too time-travel-ish for this (though I’ve always really liked it);
- I likewise ruled out some other really good alternate-timeline stories because they were really time travel stories, from my puritanical perspective;
- Something longer from Butler, perhaps Wild Seed (again, just too far afield generically for what I’m hoping to do);
- Something truly (“merely”) generic, like Turtledove or Bring the Jubilee;
- Lion’s Blood, Atomik Aztex, The Indians Won, The Bird Is Gone, The Heirs of Columbus, etc. I was so hung up on the idea of doing The Years of Rice and Salt that it crowded out this space for me (and then I added In the United States of Africa instead, to take on this question from a different direction). Next time.
- Swastika Night, 1984, Handmaid’s Tale, Battle Royale: all good suggestions but didn’t hit the sense of “pastness” required by my conception of alternate history as a genre, as they were all future histories in their original moment of production;
- District 9: only (re-)occurred to me at the last second because I was talking about it to somebody in another context, and didn’t have time to do it because the syllabus was (again) too crammed with too much other stuff. Someone had suggested Born in Flames to me as well, which also would have been great.
- I also really wanted to play some board games like Twilight Struggle, Risk, Axis and Allies, and Chrononauts, but it seemed like it would be unwieldy and pointless with 35 students in the room. I think Civilization could scratch the same itch, though…
All right, with all those caveats, apologies, and thanks, here’s the week by week schedule (and full syllabus with all course procedures)! Three papers, the first two “traditionally scholarly,” the third one with a creative option, as well as a few creative micro-assignments here and there. If there’s anything more I should explain or you have any questions about the decisions I made, feel free to ask in the comments!
|M||Aug. 29||FIRST DAY OF CLASS
in-class writing exercise: “What If…”
|W||Aug. 31||class discussion: “What If…”|
|UNIT ONE: ALTERNATE WORLD WAR IIs|
|F||Sep. 2||Kim Stanley Robinson, “The Lucky Strike”|
|M||Sep. 5||LABOR DAY—NO CLASS|
|W||Sep. 7||Kim Stanley Robinson, “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions”|
|F||Sep. 9||FIRST PAPER GUIDELINES DISTRIBUTED
Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (discussion only; watch it on your own!)
criticism: H. Bruce Franklin, “Star Trek in the Vietnam Era” [D2L]
|M||Sep. 12||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 1-3|
|W||Sep. 14||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 4-6|
|F||Sep. 16||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 7-9|
|M||Sep. 19||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 10-13|
|W||Sep. 21||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (whole book)|
|F||Sep. 23||The Man in the High Castle (2015 Amazon pilot) (discussion only; watch it on your own!)|
|M||Sep. 26||Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds (discussion only; optional screening date and time TBA)|
|W||Sep. 28||Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds (discussion continues)
· review: Ben Waters, “Debating Inglourious Basterds” [Web]
· review: Michael Atkinson, “The Anti-Blockbuster” [Web]
· review: Lee Siegel, “Tarantino’s Hollow Violence” [Web]
· review: Jeffrey Goldberg, “Hollywood’s Jewish Avenger” [Web]
|F||Sep. 30||Lauren Davis, “Quentin Tarantino’s Spin Through Alternate History” [io9.com]
creative writing: Draft a short flash fiction [500-1000 words] or create an artifact, document, or image set in the 2016 of the world of Inglourious Basterds
Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (excerpt) [D2L]
|UNIT TWO: OTHER HISTORIES|
|M||Oct. 3||FIRST PAPER WORKSHOP
Bring in at least your introductory paragraphs, main claim, and an outline of your paper.
|W||Oct. 5||Sid Meier’s Civilization
videos: Civilization V timelapse gameplay videos [YouTube]
post: Trevor Owens, “Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is It Offensive Enough?” [Web]
thread: Lycerius, “I’ve Been Playing the Same Game of Civilization for Almost Ten Years. This Is the Result” [Reddit]
|F||Oct. 7||Sid Meier’s Civilization
criticism: Kacper Pobłocki, “Becoming-State: The Bio-Cultural Imperialism of Sid Meier’s Civilization”
|M||Oct. 10||FIRST PAPER DUE
SECOND PAPER GUIDELINES DISTRIBUTED
Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” [D2L]
|W||Oct. 12||Karen Joy Fowler, “Game Night at the Fox and Goose” [D2L]|
|F||Oct. 14||criticism: L. Timmel Duchamp, “Playing with the Big Boys: (Alternate) History in Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘Game Night at the Fox and Goose’” [Web]|
|M||Oct. 17||Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton|
|W||Oct. 19||Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
thinkpiece: Jennifer Schuessler, “Hamilton and History: Are They in Sync?” [Web]
interview: Rebecca Onion and Lyra D. Monteiro, “A Hamilton Skeptic on Why the Show Isn’t As Revolutionary As It Seems” [Web]
|F||Oct. 21||FALL BREAK—NO CLASS|
|M||Oct. 24||Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain, pgs. 1-66|
|W||Oct. 26||Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain, pgs. 67-119|
|F||Oct. 28||Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain (whole book)|
|M||Oct. 31||Abdourahman A. Waberi, In the United States of Africa (part one)|
|W||Nov. 2||Abdourahman A. Waberi, In the United States of Africa (whole book)
criticism: Justin Izzo, “Historical Reversibility as Ethnographic Afrofuturism: Abdourahman Waberi’s Alternative Africa”
|F||Nov. 4||CONFERENCES—CLASS CANCELLED|
|UNIT THREE: DREAMING OF DIFFERENCE|
|M||Nov. 7||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 1-4)|
|W||Nov. 9||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 5-6)|
|F||Nov. 11||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 7-9)|
|M||Nov. 14||SECOND PAPER DUE
FINAL PROJECT GUIDELINES DISTRIBUTED
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 10-13)
|W||Nov. 16||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 14-16)|
|F||Nov. 18||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 17-19)|
|M||Nov. 21||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (whole book)
Martin Puchner, “When We Were Clones” [D2L]
|W||Nov. 23||THANKSGIVING BREAK—NO CLASS|
|F||Nov. 25||THANKSGIVING BREAK—NO CLASS|
|M||Nov. 28||Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (chapters 1-4)|
|W||Nov. 30||Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (chapters 5-8)|
|F||Dec. 2||Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (whole book)|
|M||Dec. 5||Octavia E. Butler, “The Book of Martha”
creative writing: Imagine God comes to you with the same offer he/she/it brings to Martha. What one change would you make to the world, and why?
|W||Dec. 7||Octavia E. Butler, “The Book of Martha” (discussion continues)
creative writing: Draft a flash fiction [500-1000 words] or create an artifact, document, or image set in the world that exists sometime after the end of “The Book of Martha.”
Octavia E. Butler, “Afterword to ‘The Book of Martha’”
Gerry Canavan, Octavia E. Butler (excerpt) [D2L]
|F||Dec. 9||FINAL PROJECT WORKSHOP
LAST DAY OF CLASS
|F||Dec. 16||FINAL ASSIGNMENT DUE BY 12:30 PM|
* There’s really not much evidence here besides pure speculation, but this sold me on a Star Trek: Discovery season centered on “The Cage”‘s enigmatic Number One.
* Disability is everywhere once you start noticing it. A simple awareness of who we are sharing our public spaces with can be revelatory. Wheelchair users or people with walkers, hearing aids, canes, service animals, prosthetic limbs or breathing devices may seem to appear out of nowhere, when they were in fact there all the time.
* Syllabus for History 5305: “Ideas across Borders: Transnational Intellectual Studies in U.S. History.”
* Madley argues—and this is the core of his book—that California’s elected officials were in fact “the primary architects of annihilation,” and that they were funded and enabled by the federal government. Together, state and federal officials created what Madley describes as a “killing machine” composed of US soldiers, California militia and volunteers, and slavers and mercenaries (so-called “Indian hunters”) in it for the money. He argues that “it took sustained political will—at both the state and federal levels—to create the laws, policies, and well-funded killing machine that carried [this genocide] out and ensured its continuation over several decades.”
* In reality, the increase in the supply of highly educated workers will reduce the value of that labour – more graduates will mean lower graduate wages. Nonetheless, many students will increasingly be looking long and hard at business management courses even if they’d rather do art. If you incur a £40,000 debt, with regressive interest rates, you’re probably going to be thinking about your degree in narrow economic terms. This is the thing that Michel Foucault noticed about neoliberalism. It is a prospectus for social engineering masquerading as a social theory. And since the system will now reproduce social inequality in new ways, ratified by educational outcomes, the rich will be confirmed in their existing belief that they are uniquely talented and deserving. Those who lose out will blame themselves. That might, in fact, be what governments mean by meritocracy.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Martha, the alcoholic daughter of the dean, is married to George, an adjunct professor. She invites Nick, another adjunct professor and his wife over for a drink. But Nick has way too many papers to grade, and George can’t spare a minute away from his academic job search to socialize, anyway. A drunk Martha falls asleep on the couch as the credits roll.
Run Time: 5 minutes
With the Zika virus spreading to Miami Beach, federal health officials on Friday advised pregnant women not to visit a 20-block stretch of one of the country’s most alluring tourist destinations. They also told them to consider postponing travel anywhere in Miami-Dade County.
* “He said, ‘I don’t care what people think. I’m marrying you.’” How has this not been a movie already?
* The publication is highly significant, because it demonstrates that the notion of ageing as a treatable disease has moved from a fringe theory held only by a small percentage of researchers to a widely accepted notion being used as the basis for widespread research strategies.
* Even since I found out a few weeks ago that they’re making Bad Boys sequels, I’ve been unable to accept this isn’t a colossal hoax.
* I’m also morally opposed to this The Tick reboot, since you asked.
* At the U.S. Olympic marathon trials held in Los Angeles to choose the team for the Rio Olympic Games this year, 30 percent of the runners dropped out of the race due to the heat. “By 2085, only eight (1.5 percent) of 543 cities outside of western Europe would meet the low-risk category,” they wrote.
* “What It’s Like to Be a Celibate Pedophile.” These articles get posted every so often on various sites and they always seem like elaborate put-ons to me.
* A Dallas officer caught Adkins riding a bicycle without a helmet in September 2014. But the cop never should’ve written the ticket. Months earlier, the City Council had scrapped the bicycle helmet ordinance for adults. Adkins is 46.
Adkins didn’t know the law had changed until a reporter told him recently. At the time, he assumed he was indeed guilty. But he said he couldn’t come up with the money for the $10 fine. Now he has a warrant out for his arrest, which he can pay off for $259.30.
* What’s needed is some way to protect essential infrastructure investments from the vicissitudes of congressional politics and the cyclical ups and downs of the economy. There may be no ideal solution, but one thing that could help is resurrecting an old idea: the establishment of a separate capital budget for the federal government, with its own financing arrangements. If decisions about approving infrastructure investments were considered apart from the rest of the budget, they could be judged on their own grounds, and they would be insulated, to some extent, from spending cuts. It’s a strategy that other countries, such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, have used with some success.
* Who Killed Gawker? Elsewhere on the Gawker beat: Former Gawker Editor Lashes Out At Peter Thiel, Calls Freeze On His Checking Account ‘Ludicrous.’ With the Gawker Sale, What’s Next for the First Amendment?
* …with its flawlessly staged setting and piled-up homages to 80s movies, Stranger Things has performed a kind of time travel: it has reached back into my memories, Total Recall-like, and inserted characters who now seem as though they were there all along. Nancy, the nerd-turned-monster killer who can like more than one boy at once. Barb, the buttoned-up babygay whose best friend won’t let her be disposable. Eleven, the terrifying, funny, scared, brave, smart weirdo whose feelings could save the world.
* Anthony Weiner claims Huma Abedin was never supposed to appear in Weiner. This whole piece is breathtakingly sad, by the way.
* Just the headline nearly made me break down: A 4-year-old found beaten and abused said she thought her name was ‘Idiot,’ according to police.