Memory in the Contemporary American Imagination
It’s been said that American culture moves quickly and has a reluctant sense of debt to its past – DeTocqueville first noted it, as have many historians since. This course observes American fiction from the past twenty years which deliberately tackles memories, whether from nostalgic or regretful perspectives. One text is concerned with the Vietnam war – Tim O’Brien’s genre-bending The Things They Carried – while another attempts to reconstruct fractured lives after 9/11 (Don DeLillo’s Falling Man). We will also read Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland (an experimental debt to the 1960’s counterculture) and Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (a dynamic and humorous portrait of a Dominican-American family’s history). These short novels, in addition to several short-stories, will explore questions of memory and nostalgia from personal and societal perspectives, in addition to investigating the basis of what makes “good” fiction work: how narration and description and setting and plot and character add up to powerful and realistic evocations of feeling in contemporary American culture.
In addition to some in-class writing and a high expectation of class participation, this is a “W” credit, with 10-15 pages of writing (three papers), and revisions.