12 February 2007

Seminar in Contemporary American Fiction

Hi, All--

Quick update on the grad seminar. Encouraged by your support, I decided to fill the term with contemporary "experimental" texts (with a couple of early classes devoted to discussions of texts/traditions leading to present).

Here's our reading list:

Jeffrey DeShell, Peter
Shelley Jackson, Melancholy of Anatomy
David Markson, This is Not a Novel
Carole Maso, The Art Lover
Lance Olsen, Girl Imagined by Chance
Susan Steinberg, Hydroplane
Steve Tomasula, VAS: An Opera in Flatland
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion
Lidia Yuknavitch, Real to Reel

So far we've talked through Maso, DFW, and Markson. Jackson this week. We've dealt with some typical complaints (these texts are too difficult, elitist, etc.) and gotten into some fruitful discussions of both text and context (and where context is concerned, I'm lucky that a bunch of these students have already had some theory). Probably one of the luckier things for the class: the group, as a whole, seems to feel safe enough to not only admit what they don't understand but also speculate about the books in some pretty funky ways. Lots of playful consideration of the "links" in Markson, for example.

I only regret not including a hypertext novel, like Joyce's Afternoon.

I'm kind of tempted, now--since we're having such a good term--to offer a few, optional evening film screenings to complement the readings. I, unfortunately, only have a sense of a few mainstream films, like Adaptation, that might work. I'd appreciate any other suggestions.


Lance Olsen said...

I'm really glad to hear things are thriving in your class, Matt.

By way of interesting films, I might suggest the study in constraints, von Trier's Five Obstructions and the study in critifiction, Herzog's Grizzly Man. They seem to go well with the texts you're examining.

jdeshell said...

Dear Matthew,
I'm guessing you want contemporary films. . .have you seen 4, by
Ilya Khrzhanovsky? The screenplay's by a hot young Russian novelist, Vladimir Sorokin. Really weird and fun, beautiful too.

Ted Pelton said...

I intended also to suggest von Trier's Five Obstructions, which I've been using in an undergraduate General Education "Creative Expression" class.

Since that's already mentioned, let me suggest another von Trier film, Dogville. It combines a dismantling of representation in its very framework, an empty stage where things like walls and streets are drawn in rather than presented -- and it also provides a savage critique of American hegemony -- sort of like the Clash's "I'm so bored with the USA/But what can I do?" as rendered by a philosophical artist. Discussion of this can lead into several ways in which von Trier is influenced by movements in pomo fiction, particularly the Oulipo/chance strategies of creating limitations as a means for stimulating creativity, seen in either Five Obstructions or in the Dogme 95 principles. The rules of Dogme 95 -- a manifesto signed by a bunch of Danish filmmakers 12 years ago, including on;ly using available light, hand-held cameras, and no external sound -- are freuqently broken by these filmmakers, but are provocative for how we view any film, in much the same way we avant-fictionists try to lay bare strategies of representation in the making of our works.

Anonymous said...

Probably way too late and perhaps too old a film for your class, but what about "Last Year at Marienbad," seeing as how that film appears to be about a narrator who is (unsuccessfully) trying to convince the characters that they are in his narrative. For a more recent film, "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" starring Steve Coogan is fantastic. Also, "24-Hour Party People" and "American Splendor" fit in there, also. And "The Rules of Attraction" and probably anything by Luis Bunuel.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop now.

(Andy Farkas)