Readings in 20th and 21st-Century American Literature and Culture

L634 — Spring 2018

Wylie Hall 204
Days and Times
4:00-5:15 TR
Course Description

Topic: Things, Persons, History, Information: Pynchon; This course canvases a number of contemporary approaches to viewing and situating literature, while exploring a giant of late 20th-century American literature, Thomas Pynchon, in particular, what remains his masterwork, Gravitys Rainbow. Pynchons writings, especially Rainbow, have too often, and I think wrongfully, been taken as epitomizing the movement (or moment or concept or style) now known as postmodernism. Pynchons work not only thematizes history otherwise, it operates on numerous levels and broaches various problems, many of them anticipating present-day currents in theory. Along with configuring history in surprising ways (the historical facts of his fictions actually often being true), Pynchon investigates things and scientific objects, persons and their personhood, and the dividing lines and overlap between them, the last especially in his longstanding, albeit playful use of information theory. Accordingly, in this course, we will survey meditations on history, as well as things, objects, and persons (as found in Martin Heidegger, Graham Harman, Bruno Latour, and Frank Ankersmit), as well as on information (in such texts as Norbert Wieners The Human Use of Human Beings, Claude Shannons work on information theory, and in Claude Levi-Strauss's discussions of history, the pre-historic, and the role played by information in both). The course is conceived as a workshop, an experiment: one that delves into various debates in literary studies and elsewhere and finds how they may resonate with, or perhaps even be outstripped by the literary project Pynchon devises for himself between the years 1957 (when his story Entropy appears) to 1973, the year of Gravity Rainbows publication. In addition to sustained and informed class discussion, a final paper will be required, and perhaps one mid-course presentation. Instructor: Josh Kates

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