English 357: Contemporary Literature

Professor Joseph Conte

Spring 2008

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Literary fiction has turned from narratives of personal revelation to encounters with transnational politics in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.  The “irrational exuberance” of hyper-capitalism that marked the turn of the millennium has ceded to what Don DeLillo calls “the ruins of the future.”  Once we thrilled to Cold War narratives that presented a simple binary opposition between the US and the USSR, the staple of popular spy novels and films.  Now we encounter in the work of novelists from various nations a new literary paradigm of transnational political forces in contention with one another.  No longer are the players, the issues, or the motives so sharply arrayed as if on a geopolitical chess board.

We’ll examine novels that respond directly or obliquely, personally and politically, to the cataclysm of 9/11, taking some pains to attend to the differing perspectives afforded from other national vantage points.  We’ll consider how multinational capitalism, for which the secular ideals of representative democracy are a thinly disguised “advance man,” contends with the threat of a transnational theocratic state, branding all anti-Western sentiment as fomenting border-crossing terrorism. And we’ll critique how the protestations of cultural exclusivity can be fashioned to override expressions of individual human rights.

As time permits we’ll screen two films that present oppositional views of the role of the United States in the transnational political drama, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) and Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005).

Readings may include the following novels, subject to availability and change without prior notice:

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Coetzee, J. M.  Elizabeth Costello (2003)

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DeLillo, Don.  Falling Man (2007)

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Houellebecq, Michel.  Platform (2002)

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Pamuk, Orhan.  Snow (2004)

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Updike, John.  Terrorist (2006)

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Spiotta, Dana.  Eat the Document (2006)

Course requirements include two intermediate length papers and a final research paper that will integrate non-fiction, cultural and literary critical sources.

 

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Last revised on Tuesday, January 15, 2008.
Copyright 2008 Joseph M. Conte. All Rights Reserved.