English R1B

Reading and Composition: Novel Spaces: Contemporary Fiction and the Internet

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2019 D'Silva, Eliot
MWF 10-11 237 Cory

Book List

Lerner, Ben: 10:04; Pynchon, Thomas: Bleeding Edge; Rooney, Sally: Conversations with Friends; Sudjic, Olivia: Sympathy

Other Readings and Media

All other materials—websites, videos, music and short fiction—will be made available on bCourses.

We'll read a few works of cultural theory—Jean Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition and Sianne Ngai's Our Aesthetic Categories— as well as selected excerpts from journalistic pieces and political speeches.


In 1981, Kraftwerk released their landmark album Computer World. Since the time they recorded it, politicians, economists and journalists have suggested that the digitization of society would change everything, producing a world of infinite information, where there are no stable values and the very idea of the self feels outdated. Are they right? And if the technological developments of the last few decades have radically altered how society works, then what are their literary and aesthetic consequences?

This course starts with a survey of social theory that describes the texture of today: the world in which the decision about whether to take an Uber is happening at the same time as the decision to ask someone to marry you, and instant messaging has established itself as the default mode of communication. After surveying the social trends that are driving the production and consumption of contemporary literature, we'll read a few novels in which the internet and social media are actively featured and interrogated. Our encounters with these texts will generate a range of wider questions: What can the novel do in relation to the worldwide publication of tweets and the forms of self-exposure enacted by social media? Has the constant, everyday act of self-presentation through screens become a novelistic subject? How are received ideas about novel reading—as an emotional identification between reader and character—related to the ways that the internet has complicated people's emotions with regard to each other, through the creation of slightly gruesome feelings to do with the overstepping of boundaries or displays of sincerity that turn out to be artificial?

Over the course of the semester, writing, peer-reviewing and revising short papers will ensure that students learn how to patiently develop arguments that reveal the fruits of careful reading, accumulated analysis and scholarly research.

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