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					                        POSTMODERNISM AND CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE

Professor Richard Murphy. B320. T: x7453 (r.murphy@sussex.ac.uk)

Provisional reading list

Course Thematics
The course addresses the concept of postmodernism and examines its usefulness as a means of
understanding literature while also placing it alongside other contemporary cultural forms. You will be
encouraged to pursue your interests in all fields related to postmodernism, in particular film or art history,
as well as investigating the continuities with modernism as a whole. Key points of reference in the course
include the question of relations to realism, and to the modernist avant-garde (Bürger, Hal Foster,
Jameson, Baudrillard).
Also important here is a reconsideration of realism in conjunction with a new “passion for the Real”
(Zizek) in postmodernity, as seen in “Reality-TV” (Big Brother), documentary and pseudo-documentary
(W.G.Sebald‟s novel The Emigrants), or the “Vow of Chasity” of the “Dogme 95” directors (Vinterberg,
von Trier).
As regards the question of an avant-garde potential in postmodernism, we will examine the continuities
with the modernist avant-garde (linking Duchamp‟s Fountain to contemporary installation art with Tracy
Emin‟s My Bed). Related issues include definitions of postmodernism in terms of: the “postmodern
sublime” (Lyotard); the unrepresentability of the “events” (Zizek, Elsaesser, White); historiography and
“meta-history” (Hayden White); the ideological and critical functions of art (Benjamin, Marcuse);
cyberpunk and sci-fi (Blade Runner, The Matrix and William Gibson‟s Neuromancer trilogy); meta-
fiction (Ragtime) and self-reflexive art (Waugh, Currie).
An extensive course reader will be available.

Weekly Course Plan
There is much more material in the reading list than we can formally “cover” in the seminar discussions.
Nonetheless, please be sure to go through all the reading, because all the pieces will play a part in your
thinking about the topic. You will also find it useful if you can get through the reading assignments well
ahead of schedule.
This course plan is meant as a guideline rather than as a strict timetable, and the discussion of some texts
will often need to be carried over into the following weeks. We may decide collectively to add (or
substitute) texts as the course proceeds in order to keep the program as flexible as possible. I have left
space for this possibility, particularly in the second half of the course.

Week 2
INTRODUCTORY MEETING:
1. METAFICTION AND POSTMODERNISM
Reading and discussion of the following short texts:
Barthelme, “The Balloon”
Woody Allen, “The Kugelmass Episode”

2. POSTMODERNISM—KEY CONCEPTS
Introduction to the main themes of the class
Hutcheon, “Theorizing the Postmodern” Chapter 1 of The Poetics of Postmodernism



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Week 3
APPROACHES TO THE QUESTION: IS THERE A POSTMODERN LITERATURE?
MODERNISM AND POSTMODERNISM, KAFKA AND BECKETT
Please review: Hutcheon, “Theorizing the Postmodern”
Required reading:
Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”
Kafka, “Before the Law”
Beckett, Waiting for Godot (please be familiar with this or with the Malone/Malloy trilogy)
Lyotard, “What is Postmodernism?”
Lyotard, “Note on the Meaning of Post”

Week 4                   Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
MODERNISM, POSTMODERNISM AND THE AVANT-GARDE:
WHAT IS THE AVANT-GARDE AND DOES IT EXIST IN POSTMODERNITY?
Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Please buy this)
Hal Foster, “Postmodernism: A Preface” in: The Anti-Aesthetic
  Richard Murphy, Theorizing the Avant-Garde: Modernism, Expressionism and the
  Problem of Postmodernity

WEEK 5               READING WEEK

Week 6                   Gibson, Neuromancer
CYBERPUNK, CYBORGS AND SCI-FI
1. CONSTRUCTIONS OF SUBJECTIVITY IN POSTMODERNISM
2. JAMESON AND LYOTARD
Please be familiar with Blade Runner , and/or The Matrix
William Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic”
Brian McHale, “Towards a Poetics of Cyberpunk”
Jameson, “Beyond the Cave. Demystifying the Ideology of Modernism”
Jameson, “Reification and Utopia In Mass Culture”

Please review: Lyotard, “What is Postmodernism?” (See above)
Lyotard, “Note on the Meaning of Post” (See above)
D. Harvey, “Time and Space in the Postmodern Cinema” (See above)

Recommended reading in film:
Zizek, “„The Thing That Thinks‟: The Kantian Background of the Noir Subject” Copjec Shades of Noir
Scott Bukatman, Blade Runner (BFI Modern Classics)

Week 7                  DeLillo, White Noise
THE REAL AS SIGN: HISTORY, THE SUBJECT AND THE SIMULACRUM
Hayden White, “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact”
Hayden White, Interview (by R. Murphy)
S. Lash, “Postmodernism as a Regime of Signification”
Zizek, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” internet article [Published September 14, 2001 after Sept 11]



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Baudrillard, “The Evil Demon of Images/ The Precession of Simulacra”

Week 8                    W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants
POSTMODERNISM OR, THE RETURN OF THE REAL:
DOCUMENTARY, FICTION AND FANTASY IN POSTMODERNISM
Please view at least one of the Dogme 95 films (Festen, Celebration, Mifune, Breaking the Waves)
Recommended:
Manifesto of Dogme 95
(See also the Dogme website and the entire collection of essays in e-journal P.O.V. Volume 10 (=
www.imv.aau.dk/publikationer/point of view/Issue_10))
Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect”

Week 9                   Doctorow, Ragtime
REVISITING HISTORY: “HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTION”
Please review the discussions of Ragtime in Jameson and Hutcheon

Week 10                 Christa Wolf, The Quest for Christa T.
REPRESENTATION AND HISTORY:
DOCUMENTARY, FICTION AND FANTASY IN POSTMODERNISM II
Recommended Reading:
Vivian Sobchack, (ed) The Persistence of History (selections)
CONCLUSION. Review remaining or additional texts

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Postmodernism and Literature. Theories of the Avant-Garde
Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect”
Burger Theory of the Avant-Garde
Benjamin “Author as Producer”
Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra”
T. Docherty “Introduction (to Postmodernism)” Postmodernism, A Reader
Jameson, “Beyond the Cave. Demystifying the Ideology of Modernism”
Jameson “Reification and Utopia In Mass Culture”
Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Hal Foster The Return of the Real
Hal Foster, “Postmodernism: A Preface” in The Anti-Aesthetic
Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodernism
Brian McHale, “Towards a Poetics of Cyberpunk”
Lyotard “What is Postmodernism?”
Lyotard “Note on the Meaning of Post”
Marcuse, “Affirmative Culture”
Hayden White “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact”
Zizek, “The Obscene Object of Postmodernity” in Looking Awry
Zizek “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” [Published September 14, 2001 in response to Sept 11]




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II. Literary Texts with particular relevance to the course:
Tournier, The Erl-King
Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman
W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
Christa Wolf, Patterns of Childhood
Don DeLillo, Underworld

III. Postmodernism and Film
Recommended reading on related film issues:
Hutcheon, “Postmodern Film?” from: The Politics of Postmodernism.
D. Harvey, “Time and Space in the Postmodern Cinema” (On Wings of Desire and Blade Runner) in The
Condition of Postmodernity
Roger Cook, “Angels, Fiction and History” in Germanic Review, Ed. R. Murphy (On Wings of Desire)
J. Hill, “Film and Postmodernism” in: Hill and Church-Gibson eds. The Oxford Guide to Film Studies
S. Connor, Postmodernist Culture, chapter: “Postmodern TV, Video and Film” 158-183.
Degli-Esposti, “Introduction” in: Degli-Esposti (ed) Postmodernism in the Cinema
T. Docherty, “Introduction” Postmodernism, A Reader

Scott Bukatman, Blade Runner (BFI Modern Classics)
Brooker and Brooker, “Pulpmodernism: Tarantino‟s Affirmative Action” in Brooker and Brooker (eds)
Postmodern After-Images
Hutcheon, “Postmodern Film?” in: The Politics of Postmodernism.
Degli-Esposti (ed) Postmodernism in the Cinema
N. Denzin, Images of Postmodern Society
N. Denzin, “Blue Velvet: Postmodern Contradictions”
Elsaesser, “Specularity and Engulfment. Coppola‟s Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in Neale and Smith (eds),
Contemporary Hollywood Cinema
Elsaesser, “Subject Positions, Speaking Positions” in Sobchack (ed) The Persistence of History
Anne Friedberg, “The End of Modernity” in Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern.
Fred Pfeil, “Home Fires Burning: Family Noir” in Copjec ed.Shades of Noir
J. Hill. “Film and Postmodernism” in Hill and Gibson (eds) Oxford Guide to Film Studies
   D. Harvey, “Time and Space in the Postmodern Cinema” in The Condition of
   Postmodernity
   Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism
S. Lash, “Postmodernism as a Regime of Signification”
Roger Cook, “Angels, Fiction and History”
Forest Pyle, “Making Cyborgs, Making Humans: of Terminators and Blade Runners” in Collins, Radner
and Collins (eds) Film Theory Goes to the Movies
G. Bruno, “Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner “
William Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic”
   Vivian Sobchack (ed) The Persistence of History
   Hayden White, “The Modernist Event” in Vivian Sobchack (ed) The Persistence of
   History
Zizek, “„The Thing That Thinks‟: The Kantian Background of the Noir Subject” Copjec ed.Shades of
Noir



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IV. Films related to our themes
Wings of Desire
Paris, Texas
Blade Runner
Blue Velvet (Lost Highway; Twin Peaks; Mulholland Drive)
The Truman Show
Pleasantville
Festen (aka Celebration) (Dancer in the Dark: Breaking the Waves; Mifune; The Blair Witch Project)
Pulp Fiction
Hitler (Syberberg)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The Blair Witch Project
JFK
Brazil
The Shining
The Matrix; Johnny Mnemonic; Strange Days
Secrets and Lies
And possibly: Greenaway; Jarmusch; Beineix (Moon in the Gutter; Betty Blue); Almodovar; Jarman;
Delicatessen, Diva

   BIBLIOGRAPHY: SUGGESTED READINGS FOR RESEARCH PAPERS
   Docherty (ed.),             Postmodernism, A Reader
   Waugh, P. (ed.)             Postmodernism Reader
   L. Calhoone         From Modernism to Postmodernism
   Linda Hutcheon              A Poetics of Postmodernism
   Linda Hutcheon              The Politics of Postmodernism
   F. Jameson,         Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
   A. Huyssen          After the Great Divide
   Hal Foster (ed)             The Anti-Aesthetic
   Steven Connor       Postmodern Culture
   L. Appignanesi (ed) Postmodernism
   David Harvey        The Condition of Postmodernity
   Brian McHale        Postmodernist Fiction
Peter Burger           Theory of the Avant-Garde
A.Eysteinsson          The Concept of Modernism
   D. Fokkema          Literary History, Modernism, and Postmodernism
                       Richard Murphy                Theorizing the Avant-Garde:
   Modernism, Expressionism and the Problem of Postmodernity

NB. The secondary literature on these themes, authors and films is expansive. So please check the MLA/
Firstsearch database (via Sussex intranet or library) and contact me for specific advice on secondary
readings on the particular areas you are interested in working on.




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