Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Fall 2013 Courses at Marquette

with 9 comments

My courses next fall. The rest of the course descriptions from Marquette English are going up here.

1) 4560 The Contemporary Period in American Literature

101 TTH 3:30-4:45 Professor Gerry Canavan

  • Thematic TitlePostmodern American Fiction
  • Description: “Postmodernism,” writes Gilbert Adair, “is, almost by definition, a transitional cusp of social, cultural, economic and ideological history when modernism’s high-minded principles and preoccupations have ceased to function, but before they have been replaced with a totally new system of values. It represents a moment of suspension before the batteries are recharged for the new millennium, an acknowledgment that preceding the future is a strange and hybrid interregnum that might be called the last gasp of the past.” This course traces the rise of “postmodernism” in postwar American literature and culture, as registered in several seminal novels of the period. We will investigate the various meanings and uses of this strange, seemingly oxymoronic concept—what can it mean to find oneself living after the present?—as well as investigate literary and critical resistance to postmodern aesthetics.
  • Readings: Texts to be discussed will include Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962),Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), Octavia Butler’s Dawn (1987), David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999), and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000).
  • Assignments: two shorter papers, one final paper, in-class presentations, weekly responses

2) 4560 Studies in Genre: Science Fiction

102 TTH 2:00-3:15 Professor Gerry Canavan

  • Thematic Title: 21st Century Science Fiction
  • Description: This course will consider science fiction film, television, prose, and graphic narrative of the last decade. How have the creators of various science fictions commented on such contemporary crises as climate change, the financial collapse, undocumented immigration, 9/11, and the Iraq War? What is the role of science fiction in articulating these debates? What is the relationship between science fiction, politics, and culture in the contemporary moment? William Gibson has noted that “the sort of thing we used to think in science fiction has colonized the rest of our reality”; our task will be to investigate how and why we read science fiction in an era when, in the words of Kim Stanley Robinson, “we are now living in a science fiction novel that we are all writing together.”
  • Readings: Texts to be discussed may include such works as Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling,Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, China Miéville’s The City and the City, Children of Men, Avatar, Inception, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, WALL-E, Iain Banks’s “Culture” novels, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Ray Kurweil’s predictions of the coming Singularity, and recent work from J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon.
  • Assignments: two shorter papers, one final paper, in-class presentations, weekly responses

Written by gerrycanavan

March 5, 2013 at 11:54 am

9 Responses

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  1. I taught Fledgling last fall (in a course called American Studies: Myths and Paradoxes, about which you can read here if you’re interested). I’m curious how it goes for you. A few of my students really liked it; most of them found it puzzling. Then again, the context in which I taught it was very different, and significantly less natural, than you.

    And in what way is Dawn a postmodern novel? A great book, don’t get me wrong, but postmodern? (Unless you’re relying on McHale to argue that all SF is postmodern, in which case, why choose Dawn in particular?) If you wanted some SF, there strike me as more obvious choices — something from Delany’s Neveryon series, for instance, or Malzberg’s Galaxies, or something like that.

    Stephen Frug

    March 8, 2013 at 10:47 am

    • But I’m not writing a BOOK on any of those people, am I?

      …though I’m trying to include multiple entry points into the idea of the postmodern and postmodernity (one could make the same argument about the Morrison, for instance). DAWN gets us nuclearity and the end of history, it gets us queered bodies, it gets us decolonial and postcolonial thinking, it gets us the category of the environmental. It’s a bit more on the political/economic side than the formal experimentation side of things — postmodern, maybe, but not postmodernIST — but I’d definitely make the argument it’s appropriate for the syllabus.

      Try and stop me!


      March 8, 2013 at 11:37 am

      • Oh, and I’m not sure about Fledgling. Hearing that it didn’t teach well confirms my fear that it wouldn’t teach well.


        March 8, 2013 at 11:37 am

      • As far as Fledgling goes, I wouldn’t think your experience will mirror mine. I was teaching an interdisciplinary class about American values (it was for the unit on “Equality”), not a lit course on SF. It’s more natural in your context.

        For that matter, it didn’t teach *badly* — we had good conversations, and it brought out the themes I hoped it would. They just didn’t *like* it very much. (HWS isn’t much of a geek school, sorry to say.)

        Anyway, I look forward to seeing how it works for you.

        Stephen Frug

        March 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      • As for Dawn: not only would I not try to stop you, but I certainly hope I didn’t discourage you. I didn’t mean to disparage the idea; it really was just curiosity.

        Now that you explain it, I see where you’re coming from. Naturally, as a (Frederick) Jamesian, you take a very broad notion of the postmodern. Personally I find it more conceptually useful to stick to a fairly narrow notion of the postmodern. I think that post-colonialism, environmentalism, etc, are concurrent phenomena with the postmodern, but not usefully subsumed in it. But obviously tastes, purposes and interpretations differ on this point.

        Anyway, the argument is fairly made.

        Stephen Frug

        March 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      • And you’re writing a book on Butler! That’s totally awesome. Any details you can share?

        Stephen Frug

        March 8, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      • The book is for the new Modern Masters of Science Fiction series at University of Illinois Press. I’m in the very early stages…


        March 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm

  2. Incidentally, I think the label “what I found on the Internet” is particularly unconvincing for this post.

    Stephen Frug

    March 8, 2013 at 5:42 pm

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