English 301: Criticism

Professor Joseph Conte

Spring 2007

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This version of Criticism will be devoted to the problem of postmodernism.  We struggle to find an appropriate definition for the period in which we live.  For some, postmodernity can’t be defined, or is so beset with a deep form of irony that no definitive statement about it could apply.  We can, however, address certain issues that arise in the debates on postmodernism.  Jean-François Lyotard argues that postmodernism is accompanied by incredulity, a new skepticism toward the grand narratives of Western culture, the Big Lies.  Fredric Jameson suggests that the style of postmodernism is nothing more than the hyperinflation of a consumer economy, the Big Buys.  Architecture critic Charles Jencks contends that all postmodern buildings—and by extension, the images we encounter in our environment—are “double coded,” with aspects of both a popular and an elite culture.  And of course there is irony.  As Umberto Eco says, it is no longer possible to say “I love you madly.”  It only possible to say, because romance novelist Barbara Cartland has already said it, “As Barbara Cartland says, ‘I love you madly.’” 

We will read from one anthology of essays on postmodernity, A Postmodern Reader, edited by Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon, supplemented by several essays from other sources.  But since our goal will be to "perform" criticism, we'll also read three novels that respond to the question of postmodernity directly or indirectly:  Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote, Paul Auster’s City of Glass, and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis.  In two intermediate-length writing assignments and a final research paper, we will try to ascertain the degree to which the theory and practice of postmodernism are related.

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Last revised on Thursday, November 30, 2006
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6 Joseph M. Conte.  All Rights Reserved.