Contemporary Literature

ENGL 140, Spring 2011

Photography and film, phonographs and radio, television and the Internet have all radically altered our relationships to media. This course traces sound as a strain of this technological revolution within contemporary literature. By focusing on writers since the 1960s whose experimentation with multimedia searches the outer bounds of language—where words become music—this course highlights a postmodern crisis at the axis of race, gender, and technology. Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon’s conspiracy-theory-misadventures portray paranoid reclusive rock stars and Beatlemaniacs’ frenzy. Jayne Cortez, Toni Morrison, and Nathaniel Mackey use jazz as a literary form to achieve, at times, what Ralph Ellison described as a “near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.” And Ntozake Shange and Paul Beatty point toward a literary style bred on hip-hop, but with roots in the Black Arts Movement. Novels and poetry will be supplemented by music and films (like Sun Ra’s Space is the Place) that defy classification.

Paul Beatty, Slumberland
Jayne Cortez, Jazz Fan Looks Back
Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street
Nathaniel Mackey, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate
Toni Morrison, Jazz
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf