Experimental and Postmodern Fiction

English 492 | Washington State University | Fall 2021

Catalog Description

how WSU characterizes the course

3 credits. Advanced Topics in Literature, Criticism, and Theory. May be repeated for credit; cumulative maximum 6 hours. Seminar with term paper project; focused studies in literature and critical theory. Not open to graduate students. Typically offered Fall and Spring.

Additional Description

how Dr. Edwards characterizes the course

What makes fiction experimental or postmodern? This course asks students to engage representative texts from the avant-garde tradition of experimental and postmodern fiction in order to recognize and synthesize the characteristics of such literature. Each week, one brief reading from a representative text will be examined in conjunction with 1–2 critical concepts, articles, or essays. Students will propose and complete a seminar project that applies course topics and readings to a long or substantial text of their own selection. Experimentation and creativity in written responses are encouraged.

How the Course Will Work 

what we'll be doing

Each week, we'll read some portion of a short novel along with critical concepts or essays. We'll also write short responses each week, for a total of 10, of which at least two must be critical and at least two must be creative: in other words, I'll ask you to both create and critique pieces of fiction that embody, problematize, or represent aspects of what we understand as postmodern and experimental fiction. You will also propose and complete a semester-long written project that applies course topics and readings to a long or substantial text of your own selection, and for that project—and all work in the class—I encourage creativity and experimentation.


what we'll read 
required    final project options

Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

Renata Adler, Speedboat

J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl

Eugene Lim, Dear Cyborgs

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Ishmael Reed, Yellow Back Radio Broke Down

additional readings will be available through the WSU libraries


Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin 

Giannina Braschi, United States of Banana

Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives 

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

Mark Z. Danielewski, Only Revolutions 

Samuel Delany, Babel-17 

Don DeLillo, White Noise 

Joan Didion, Democracy 

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings

James Joyce, Ulysses 

Michael Joyce, afternoon: a story

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore  

Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince 

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow 

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead

Ali Smith, How to Be Both

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System 

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Assignments & Grading

what we'll work on and what it's worth
  • Discussion forums: 30% (lowest 2 dropped) 
  • Midterm Proposal: 10% 
  • Short essays: 20% (lowest 1 dropped) 
  • Participation: 15% 
  • Final project: 25% 

Discussion forums, during the week due, will require an initial post of 300–400 words and at least 2 brief responses to other people's posts. 

Short essays should attempt to revise, synthesize, and expand upon insights from the discussion forums, and should be 600–1000 words long. 

The final project requires you to select one long novel (500–900 pages or 200,000–250,000 words) to read from the list below and use library research to discuss how it intersects with the themes of the course. Pick one that you want to read and that will be engaging or fun or interesting or amazing, because you'll be working with it through the semester.

Tentative Schedule

our week-to-week activities
  • Week 1: Definitions and liminal texts. Modernism and the avant-garde.
  • Week 2: Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire. Narrative unreliability. Discussion Forum 1.
  • Week 3: Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire. Form and genre. Discussion Forum 2. 
  • Week 4: Renata Adler, Speedboat. Fragmentation and persona. Short Essay 1. 
  • Week 5: Ishmael Reed, Yellow Back Radio Broke Down. Genre and satire. Discussion Forum 3. 
  • Week 6: Short fiction: John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Rosario Ferré, Gertrude Stein, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tim O’Brien. Discussion Forum 4. 
  • Week 7: Midterm project proposals due. Poetics from Linda Hutcheon and Charles Bernstein. The literary manifesto as genre. 
  • Week 8: Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School. Trangression, politics, and capitalism. Discussion Forum 5. 
  • Week 9: J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition. Grand narratives; tone, distance, blunting of affect. Short Essay 2.  
  • Week 10: Eugene Lim, Dear Cyborgs. Simulacra; irony and the post-ironic. Discussion Forum 6. 
  • Week 11: Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl. Simulacra continued; parataxis and nonlinearity. Discussion Forum 7. 
  • Week 12: Short fiction part 2: Sherman Alexie, Philip K. Dick, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Russell, David Foster Wallace. Short Essay 3. 
  • Week 13: Wrap-up on avant-garde literature and digital technologies; criticisms of postmodernism. Workshopping final projects. 
  • Week 14: Presentations. 
  • Week 15: Presentations. 
  • Exam: Final projects due.