Posts Tagged ‘Philip K. Dick’
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|
* Yet we still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project—bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort.
* Tor has an excerpt from Cixin Liu’s Death’s End, which is amazing (and which I’ll be reviewing for The New Inquiry, by and by).
* Just in the nick of time, the United States’ newly minted Solar Forecasting Center was able to convey the true cause of the radar jamming: a rash of powerful solar flares.
* Trump, Second Amendment people, and stochastic terrorism. Could this actually be rock bottom? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not two sides of the same coin but libidinally necessary for one another. The horror of Trump manages to create the ultimate liberal fantasy of post-partisanship, consensus and respect for the discourse.
* Coming soon to a university near you: We’re implementing new general education requirements without having first figured out how we want to deliver it or even what it is we’re trying to deliver, on a model where all the previous examples we can think of have failed.
* Justice Department to Release Blistering Report of Racial Bias by Baltimore Police. Should shock even the most cynical.
* Chicago Police Can’t Explain Why Their Body Cameras Failed At The Moment Of Unarmed Black Teen’s Death. I suppose it will always be a mystery.
* An unsettling thing happened at the Olympic diving pool on Tuesday: the water inexplicably turned green, just in time for the women’s synchronized 10-meter platform diving competition.
* Exceptionalism: More and more women are now dying in childbirth, but only in America.
* DCTVU Watch: This is a bad idea and they shouldn’t do it, though they will.
* And a friendly reminder to always look on the bright side of life.
* I had two short pieces come out this weekend: a review essay on Star Trek: Beyond at LARB and a flash review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child right here at WordPress.
* Point: Earwolf has a new Hamilton podcast, seemingly along the lines of The Incomparable’s but with higher profile guests. Counterpoint: You Should Be Terrified That People Who Enjoy “Hamilton” Run Our Country.
* Peak Thinkpiece? “Centuries ago, explorers like Columbus and Vasco da Gama played a real-life version of Pokémon Go.” When colonialism is a game. Pokémon Go: Who owns the virtual space around your home? Werner Herzog: Would You Die for the Pokémons? Would You Kill?
* The good news is, we’re all going to live. Here’s the bad news.
* 6 Human Activities That Pose The Biggest Threat To The World’s Drinking Water. America Has Never Seen a Hot Weather Outlook Like This. And an upcoming conference at Marquette: Public Policy and American Drinking Water.
* Zombie bacteria that awaken from old corpses might sound like the stuff of an “X-Files” episode. The premise is far from a complete fiction, however.
* Metaphors too on the nose: rise of the corpse flowers.
* Elsewhere on the zombie beat: The Walking Dead Comic Nearly Ended a Lot Sooner Than Anyone Expected. That’s sort of amazing, honestly.
* News you can use: How to land a passenger jet without any flight controls.
* This Rick and Morty clip reading from an actual trial transcript shows what how weirdly perfect the two voices work as a comedic duo, independently of any narrative context.
* I say the teach the controversy.
* The Syllabus as a Contract: How do you deal with clever students who find loopholes you didn’t intend?
* I grew up thinking journalism was just for rich white people. I was mostly right.
* They told me capital was a vampire, and man, they nailed it.
* Politics roundup! State roll calls: What RNC and DNC delegates want you to know. Electoral Map Gives Donald Trump Few Places to Go. Trump’s Likeliest Path to Victory May Be an Electoral College Tie. Bounce! Disability Rights at the DNC. Seven Minutes. The GOP’s Dilemma: How Low Can He Go? Why does it matter that Donald Trump is not a novelty? All the same, a pretty incredible chart. From the archives: Norman Mailer Goes to the RNC. How And Why Trump Will Try to Ditch the Debates. Donald Trump as a One Man Constitutional Crisis. An Anti-Trump Electoral Strategy That Isn’t Pro-Clinton. Revenge of the Ghostwriters. A Historic Dud. Obscene Media Spectacle. American Horror Story. Is Donald Trump OK? “Hegel remarks somewhere,” Marx wrote, “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” We are the 5%. And we’re still allowed to vote.
* And the kids are all right: Trump, Clinton more disliked by millennials than Voldemort.
* I was hoping the other magic schools wouldn’t have four houses. But just tell me which one is Ravenclaw and get it over with.
* Something happens to you out there: Astronauts and the Overview Effect.
…administrators have effectively developed a hidden curriculum that they exclusively control to further sideline the faculty. Never mind that the courses offered in this hidden curriculum focus on life skills and various types of political indoctrination related to race, gender, and ethnicity, subjects that the deanlets and deanlings are hardly qualified to teach. Add to this, speech, civility and anti-harassment codes, which administrators use with great effectiveness to silence faculty and student critics who interfere with administrative designs. These same administrators often rely upon outside agencies and licensure groups to discipline the faculty with outside assessment measures, threatening the faculty with the school’s possible loss of accreditation. Administrators often interfere with well-running programs, attempting to change their structure to the point of ensuring their failure.
* Banned instructor sues Inver Hills Community College, saying he was defamed. Just incredible.
* Political science department chair Eric Schickler said in an email that there was no longer a bond of mutual trust between faculty and the administration. He added that there were concerns among faculty that major donors were being steered toward supporting the Berkeley Global Campus project in Richmond rather than core campus research and teaching missions. “Shared governance requires a shared vision and shared trust between faculty and those at the top,” Schickler said. “Many of us believe that the chancellor’s poor decisions have eroded that trust to the breaking point.”
This is our first call for provocations that demand we go beyond familiar complaints and challenge ourselves to organize. Recent student-led uprisings at Missouri, Ohio State, Duke, Appalachian State, and UC Davis, among many others, open up possibilities of re-purposing university-based resources for radical movements. How can we take the relay from these uprisings to expand insurgent practices of studying-in-movement?
* And it looks like it’s that time of the semester again: “Should I go to grad school in the humanities?”
* Today in exciting political developments: Trump Selects a White Nationalist Leader as a Delegate in California. At least nothing else incredibly dangerous and destabilizing is happening!
* West Virginia is neither a secret socialist stronghold nor a racist fever-dream. It is one of several bleeding edges of a sharply unequal country, where people who never had much are feeling as pressed as they can remember ever being. Some are bigots. Many are not. Some, no doubt, find that Trump’s cocktail of arrogance and disgust, grievance and triumphalism, reassuringly resembles their own psychic survival strategies, blown up into world-historical dimensions. Others are voting for the socialist for the same reason they voted for the Chicago community organizer: a desire for a more equal society, born out of the lived experience of inequality. Maybe future organizing and leadership, like the decades-long fight that first built the unions and the Democratic party in the coalfields, will show that they are not alone in that. What West Virginia Is Saying.
* Sold in the room: Philip K. Dick Is Getting an Anthology Show, Courtesy of Bryan Cranston and Ronald D. Moore. Elsewhere in TV news: Locke & Key! Uh, Wheel of Time, I guess? Krypton, really?
* And elsewhere in PKD news: One of the TAs in an Artificial Intelligence Class Was Actually an A.I.
* How Do You Put Out A Subterranean Fire Beneath A Mountain Of Trash? Stop me if you’ve heard it.
* And oof.
* The one thing rich parents do for their kids that makes all the difference. The answer may shock you!
* This GIF of pre-CGI superhero jumps proves actors are just okay at jumping. The best thing on the Internet this year.
* The law, in its majestic equality: Poor People Don’t Stand A Chance In Court.
* Someone’s been watching too much Game of Thrones: “Ultimately, There Is No Narrative without Death.”
If those text reproduce ideology, and therefore reproduce empire’s projects of conquest, enslavement, and colonialism, then we can’t just say “nothing is intrinsically wrong.” We in fact have to be open to the notion that these texts are entangled in the most violent, destructive ideas in world history. That they are rooted in whiteness and what whiteness meant in those moments: the right to murder and steal and subjugate.
So, this is what I’ll be teaching in the fall.
I’m a little swamped this morning so I can’t do the longer post on the Alternate History course I’ve been meaning too, but I wanted to thank the people on Twitter and Facebook who gave me such good ideas for additional texts in the course and really helped me expand my vision of what was possible. I’ll have a post about that sometime in the next couple of weeks, I hope…
ENGLISH 2000: LITERATURE AND GENRE
Course Title: Alternate History
Course Description: What if Hitler had never taken power? What if the United States had never dropped the atomic bomb on Japan? What if the 9/11 terror attacks had been foiled? What if Gore had beat Bush? What if slaves in the American South had successfully revolted, or China had discovered the New World, or the Black Plague had killed 99% of Europeans instead of only 25%? What if cloning had been invented and perfected in the 1970s? What if Superman’s rocket ship had landed in the Ukraine instead of Kansas? Is history made by Great Men, or by social movements, or by technological progress, or by random chance? Does history follow some set of laws or rules, or is it all just a bunch of stuff that happens? This course will explore all these topics and more through dedicated exploration of the literary genre typically called “alternate history”: stories of worlds that are exactly like ours, until some historical event, big or small, goes another way…
Readings: This course will explore the alternate history genre through a wide variety of media forms including prose fiction, film and television, comics, and games, but major readings for the course will include Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Abdourahman Waberi’s In the United States of Africa, Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, among others.
Assignments: two 4-6-page papers; one 6-8-page final paper; online discussion forum; active class discussion; presentations
ENGLISH 4615/5615: TEXT IN CONTEXT
Course Title: Infinite Jest
Course Description: I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves.… We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. —David Foster Wallace
This course explores the literary, cultural, and intellectual legacy of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), widely considered by admirers and detractors alike to be among the most influential and important writers of his generation. In particular we will study his magnum opus, Infinite Jest (1996), twenty years old this year, a book which not only continues to speak with shocking relevance and delightful irreverence to our present, but which seems, in many ways, to have accurately predicted it. Slowly and carefully reading Wallace’s epoch-defining novel together will open up a window on the last twenty years of American life, letters, entertainment, and art, while the unavoidable shadow cast by his 2008 suicide will raise important questions for us about literary celebrity, biographical criticism, and the often troubled relationship between public personae and the real, lived lives of writers and artists.
Readings: David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest; coursepack
Assignments: seminar paper (12-15 pages); two “thinkpiece”-length “mini-papers”; online reading journal; active class participation; presentations