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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Summer 2008

E s377K • American Novel After 1920

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
84508 MTWThF
1:00 PM-2:30 PM
MEZ 1.120

Course Description

This course will be thematically focused on the collisions of worlds, real and fictional, and their representations in various genres of modern and contemporary American novels. Such an approach is inspired by critic Brian McHale, who argues in Postmodernist Fiction that the movement from modernism to postmodernism may be illustrated by the contrasting concerns of detective fiction and science fiction. Detective fiction is driven by epistemological inquiry, asking how we know the world, whereas science fiction undertakes ontological projects, focusing on different worlds and the clashes between them. This interest in genre will raise issues of the intersection of high art and low art, specifically the way that canonical American novelists appropriate the "low" genres of the popular novel to "high" artistic ends. In addition to analyzing the strategies of plot construction and representation of characters in these novels, we will inquire how these authors might have challenged or transformed the cultural status of these genres. We will read five classic novels from 1920 onwards, representative of five quintessentially American genres: hardboiled detective fiction (Chandler), the western (McCarthy), science fiction (Philip K. Dick), horror (H.P. Lovecraft), and Steven King's epic, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, which blends all of the above genres. Because each of these authors is working in the American tradition of these genres, inaugurated by Poe and other key figures, their work tends to highlight characteristic American concerns with freedom, innovation, and a quest for authentic selfhood. We will also explore the place of the contemporary novel in a larger transmedia landscape of graphic novels, films, and other media through which artists have adapted or transformed these narratives.

Grading Policy

Paper 1 (4-6 pages): 25% of grade
Paper 2 (4-6 pages): 30% of grade
Paper 3 (8-10 pages): 35% of grade

Class participation, including regular quizzes to make sure that you keep up with the reading, will account for the remaining 10% of your grade.


The Big Sleep (1939) Raymond Chandler
Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (1937) H.P. Lovecraft
The Man in the High Castle (1969) Philip K. Dick
Blood Meridian (1985) Cormac McCarthy
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982) Steven King


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