English 203

Graduate Readings: Contemporary Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2020 Snyder, Katherine
MW 12-1:30 301 Wheeler

Book List

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi: Americanah; Atwood, Margaret: Oryx and Crake; Egan, Jennifer: A Visit From the Goon Squad; Hamid, Mohsin: The Reluctant Fundamentalist; Lerner, Ben: 10:04; McCarthy, Cormac: The Road; Nguyen, Viet Thanh: The Sympathizer; Watkins, Claire Vaye: Gold Fame Citrus; Whitehead, Colson: The Underground Railroad

Other Readings and Media

A packet of additional theoretical and critical readings by Amy Hungerford, Gordon Hutner, Mark McGurl, Pedro Erber, Giorgio Agamben, Fredric Jameson, Imre Szeman, Bruce Robbins, Andrew Hoberek, Kate Marshall, Ramón Saldívar, Marianne Hirsch, and Caren Irr, among others.


In reading contemporary fiction, we might do worse than to begin by asking "what is the contemporary?" This is partly a question about time: what is the scale, duration, and position in history of the contemporary? Is the contemporary best understood as a discrete historical moment, an ever-receding temporal horizon, or a cultural worldview, condition, or style? The "when" of the contemporary is inextricably bound up with the "where" of it: how do space and place (private and public, regional and national, global and planetary) determine what counts, or doesn't count, as contemporary?

In addition to considering how questions of the contemporary inform our seminar's slate of 21st-century U.S. novels, we will also consider some of the generic subtypes—climate change fiction; post-apocalyptic fiction, autofiction, post-9/11 fiction, the campus novel, the neo-historical novel, the "post-theory theory novel," etc.—that critics (and booksellers!) have used to impose order on the inchoate field of contemporary fiction. Do these categories confirm or collapse the long-standing hierarchical distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction? What do these critical lenses offer us? What do they obscure?

While taking on these open questions of periodization and genre, we will read broadly in criticism and theory to provide additional contexts for our fictional texts, addressing such issues as digital technologies and information networks; postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and meta-modernism; and lyrical realism and national allegory. Rather than attempting to develop a unified field theory of the contemporary, we will draw from many critical frameworks to see what they can do for us as contemporary readers of contemporary fiction.

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