English 429B: Mid-20th-C. American Fiction
English 429B: Mid-20th-C. American Fiction
English 429B: Mid-20th-C. American Fiction
English 429B: Mid-20th-C. American Fiction

English 429B: Mid-20th-C. American Fiction

Fall 2011 (30 Students)

Course Site

The Syllabus


American Fiction Course (designed and taught for the University of Victoria’s Department of English)

Course Description

Although there are numerous ways of reading fiction from mid-20th-century America, this course will focus specifically on novels that somehow challenge an “expressive realist” approach to literature—an approach assuming that literature mirrors a shared reality first experienced and then purposefully represented by an exceptionally insightful (or genius) author. It is also an approach frequently subtended by ideological assumptions about common sense. For instance, the novel captures an inherent truth about the world. Or, the language of literature is transparent to readers, regardless of culture, outside of history. Or, authors (not to mention characters) are autonomous subjects, who freely express themselves through the word. Or, a novel should conclude with a sense of closure, some finality—a puzzle solved in order to proceed to the next one. The list goes on, but the ultimate aim of this course is to unpack challenges to expressive realism through a particular set of admittedly open-ended questions: Why interrogations of expressive realism in the mid-20th century, by whom, and to what effects? In the U.S. context of the 1940s through the 1970s, we might ask how literature intersects with representation, domestication, the Cold War, late capitalism, experiments with genre, and pluralities of various sorts. And beyond that, or even better yet: what kinds of critical practices not only brush against assumptions of common sense, but also affirm ambivalence (or simultaneous, contradictory meanings and implications) in the interpretation of literature, culture, and subjectivity? No small task, indeed.

Learning Outcomes for the Course

By the conclusion of this course, students should learn to:

Produce persuasive, analytic arguments that matter for academic audiences,

Purposefully read, analyze, and synthesize complex texts in order to generate and support academic argumentation,

Concisely articulate issues (e.g., social, cultural, economic, and aesthetic) common to the interpretation of mid-20th-century American fiction and explain why they are relevant to today’s audiences, and

Communicate the stakes of literary criticism and demonstrate an awareness of various strategies literary critics use to interpret texts.

What I Learned

This was the first literature course I taught at the University of Victoria, and—largely for that reason—it was a chance for me to acclimate to a new department and campus, gather a sense of student interests and investments, and teach a few novels for the first time. From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Aside from having some really engaging conversations about the novels we read, the students and I also occasionally brainstormed about the potential for blogs, collaboration, and multimodal composition in literature courses.

(All images on the left are screen shots of the course site and blog, which I designed.)