Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

A Hypercontemporary Literature Syllabus! And More!

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The first week is already over and I realized I never got around to putting up my syllabi. I’m teaching two classes this semester, an all-Zoom revision of my Tolkien class and an all-Zoom survey of 21st Century Literature that I decided to focus on texts from more or less the last two years. (I also have an independent study on Gender and Sexuality in New Wave SF that’s been terrific; no formal syllabus for that one but we’re reading Le Guin, Russ, Delany, Tiptree, Lem, the Tarkovskys, all your faves.)

Thanks so much to everyone on Facebook and Twitter who flooded me with suggestions for the 21st Century course. In the end I was so overwhelmed by the possibilities I solicited suggestions directly from the students, which allowed me to craft a syllabus that was both inside and outside my usual wheelhouse, hopefully in ways that will be fun for both my students and myself. And we still get to be surely the first class in the world to study Ishiguro’s new book.

The syllabus doesn’t list the films they picked, but our class vote landed on Parasite and Soul for the last two weeks of class, an intriguing dialectic arraying the full possibilities of the human experience…

synchW1/27Among Us game and thinkpieces [D2L]
asynchF1/29Giorgio Agamben, “What Is the Contemporary?” [D2L]
synchM2/1PLAY/MOVIE: Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me (including bonus material) [Amazon Prime]
synchW2/3What the Constitution Means to Me discussion continues
asynchF2/5POEM: Andrea Gorman, “The Hill We Climb” [D2L] and online reactions 
synchM2/8SHORT STORY: N.K. Jemisin, “Emergency Skin” [Amazon Kindle]
synchW2/10SHORT STORY: Ted Chiang, “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” [online]
asynchF2/12Jemisin and Chiang sandbox assignment
synchM2/15COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part one
synchW2/17COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part two
asynchF2/19COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part three sandbox assignment
synchM2/22COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part three discussion
synchW2/24COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part four
asynchF2/26Haruki Murakami, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” [D2L]optional: Haruki Murakami, “A Shinagawa Monkey” [D2L]
synchM3/1Haruki Murakami, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” discussion
synchW3/3Hades [Steam or Nintendo Switch]
asynchF3/5Hades sandbox assignment
synchM3/8Hades discussion continues
asynchF3/12Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 1-16
synchM3/15Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 17-30
synchW3/17Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 31-45
asynchF3/19Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 46-60
synchM3/22Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 61-74
synchW3/24Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 75-90
asynchF3/26Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, whole book
synchM3/29Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future and responses
synchW3/31Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future and responses
synchM4/5Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchW4/7Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
asynchF4/9Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchM4/12Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchW4/14Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
asynchF4/16Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchM4/19CREATIVE NONFICTION: Zadie Smith, Intimations (first half)
synchW4/21CREATIVE NONFICTION: Zadie Smith, Intimations (second half)
asynchF4/23MOVIE or TV SHOW TBD
synchM4/26MOVIE or TV SHOW TBD
synchW4/28MOVIE or TV SHOW TBD
asynchF4/30MOVIE or TV SHOW TDB


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Gerry and Aaron return for a discussion of “EPICAC” (1950)! Join us for a meandering tour of automation, machine learning, feminism, suicide, the war machine, masculinity, STEM, and so much more…

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January 15, 2021 at 3:34 pm


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What’s that? There, in the back, behind the Christmas tree? Why, it’s a very special, two-hour episode of Grad School Vonnegut, guest-starring Matt Hauske & Hilary Strang from the Marooned! on Mars podcast! We talk Player Piano, automation, capitalism, revolution, utopia, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ministry for the Future, failsons, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, the Ghost Dance, and so much more…

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December 29, 2020 at 2:54 pm

Ye Old Link Roundup!

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GSV20: “All the King’s Horses”

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This week Gerry and Aaron’s guest is Cameron Kunzelman of the “Just King Things” and “Game Studies Study Buddies” podcasts! We talk Vonnegut’s 1951 short story “All the King’s Horses,” adaptation, chess, Go, games, game theory, the Cold War, the 90s, Stephen King, The Queen’s Gambit, esports, Pikmin 3, and finally taking down the Vonnegut Library! #FreetheGame #FreetheVonnegutBoardGame

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December 20, 2020 at 7:36 pm

It’s Been a Minute: Links!

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Gerry and Aaron’s whirlwind tour of the late Vonnegut reaches a resounding anti-climax in 1999’s God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, based on Vonnegut’s recurring WNYC segment Reports on the Afterlife! Our next novel is the very first one, Player Piano (1952)…

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December 12, 2020 at 1:08 pm


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December 5, 2020 at 9:25 am

GSV17: Timequake!

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November 21, 2020 at 11:11 am

Just Some Normal Friday Night Links on a Perfectly Normal Friday Night

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And a Very Merry Election’s Night’s Eve To You Too

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GSV16: Slaughterhouse-Five: The Graphic Novel!

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In a very special two-hour mega-episode extravaganza, Gerry and Aaron talk with ML Kejera (@KejeraL) about the new comic adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five by Ryan North and Albert Monteys! We sneak in some nice Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware talk too, and even talk a bit about the film. All this AND viewer mail!

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October 31, 2020 at 3:38 pm

Could This Be the Last of the Great American Linkposts?

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This has been a really difficult month/semester/year/decade and it’s causing me to rethink the way I do these linkposts. For the next bit of time, at least, I’m really going to pull back and try to highlight only those things that I really think deserve attention; for this one in particular that means tossing out basically everything going on with Trump and Biden and the political situation of the United States more generally. Suffice it to say: everything is very bad! And now, this:

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October 30, 2020 at 4:29 pm

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I wrote a bit about Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel and ecoterrorism over at LARB:

If you truly claim to represent the people of the future, Frank asks — people who have the exact same right to a livable planet that we do — doesn’t that mean you should be willing to kill in their defense? Not as a first choice, not as the only choice — but can you really take it off the table? “If your organization represents the people who will be born after us, well, that’s a heavy burden! It’s a real responsibility! You have to think like them! You have to do what they would do if they were here,” Frank argues. “I don’t think they would countenance murder,” retorts Mary, to which Frank replies, “Of course they would!”

The Ministry for the Future is thus a novel about bureaucracy, but it’s also about the possibility of a wide diversity of tactics in the name of a livable future that include fighting both inside and outside the system. Characters in the novel contemplate targeted assassination of politicians and CEOs, industrial sabotage of coal plants, intentionally bringing down airliners in the name of destroying commercial air travel, bioterrorism against industrial slaughterhouses — and they do more than contemplate them. How does it change what’s possible when we stop worrying so much about losing in the right way, and start thinking about winning in the wrong ways?

GSV 15: Mother Night!

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After a brief hiatus, Gerry and Aaron are back, talking Mother Night with Matthew Cheney, Assistant Professor and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State University and author of Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form and Blood: Stories! We are what we pretend to podcast, so we must be careful what we pretend to podcast…

Huge thanks to Matt for coming on and putting up with us! Editing it I thought this might be our smartest episode, but also the Vonnegut book that most aggressively confounded and defeated us.

We are regrettably coming very close to the end of the podcast: after Mother Night we have only four novels left. Here’s something like the final schedule, if you’re interested in keeping up:

16*. Ryan North’s Slaughterhouse-Five graphic novel (we talked for so long on this one this might honestly be a two-part episode)

17. Timequake

18. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian

19. Hocus Pocus

20. “All the King’s Men”

21. Player Piano

22. “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”

23. Galápagos

24. Final Episode Snake Draft, Deathmatch, and Celebratory Clambake

We specifically designed the podcast to fill time during the pandemic, so take heart that there’s only about nine or ten weeks left of this thing.

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October 16, 2020 at 8:20 am