Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Methods in the Study of Literature, Project 1/5, Literary Area and Reading List, September 25, 2008

This is the forty-seventh post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

If I had to pick one seminar at Kent State University as being the most important to my shifting my thinking and rigor into running gear, it would have to be Professor Tammy Clewell’s Methods in the Study of Literature class. Methods is the introductory class that all PhD students have to take. Each year, a different faculty member teaches this class, and I am glad that the planets aligned for me to take this class from Professor Clewell. My joy for taking this class derives from Professor Clewell’s laser-beam accurate and calmly delivered criticisms. She expected rigor in our work, but she delivered her appraisals and commentary kindly. There was no malace in her demeanor—only the daily expectation of meticulousness, demonstration of preparedness, and application of theory. Her candor about higher education and the challenges of scholarship were eye-opening and appreciated. I was very happy to take another class from Professor Clewell the following year and even more so when she agreed to lead my postmodern theory exam and join my dissertation committee. For all of her efforts teaching, advising, and advocating, I am eternally grateful.

This is the first of five Recovered Writing posts from Professor Clewell’s Methods seminar. Each post is one project from the seminar. They should be considered parts of a semester-long process of entering professional discourse. These are attempts at learning, arguing, and improving. The culmination of this work is the fifth project/post in this subseries—a publishable-length essay, “The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.”

In the first project, each student defined his or her specialization and created a reading list. Since this was at the beginning of my tenure at Kent State as a PhD student, my concentrations and reading list changed over time. However, it was incredibly useful to set a draft of this important framework down in writing at this point of my academic career.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Tammy Clewell

Methods in the Study of Literature

25 Sept. 2008

Project #1: Literary Area and Reading List

I am declaring twentieth-century American literature as the focus of my doctoral study at Kent State University. American literature produced during the past century is mapped onto a variety of movements and genres that serve as guides rather than absolute categories, because many authors inhabit more than one category and they are organic structures connected in many ways by multiple networks of history, technology, and culture. Significant movements include Modernism (Pound and Williams), the Harlem Renaissance (Wright and Hurston), the Lost Generation (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, and Dos Passos), the Futurians (Asimov, Pohl, Kornbluth, and Merril), the Beat Generation (Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs), New Journalism (Capote, Wolfe, and Thompson), New Wave Science Fiction (Dick, Ellison, and Delany), and Postmodernism (Pynchon, Reed, Vonnegut, and Gibson).

Within this network of literature, I make the best connection with Postmodernism and post-World War II Science Fiction including New Wave. New Wave began as a British SF movement with Michael Moorcock taking over the editorship position at New Worlds magazine in 1964. Noteworthy British New Wavers include Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, and J.G. Ballard. What’s important about New Wave is that it is the point at which SF matures. It is characterized by literary experimentation, incorporation of the soft sciences (e.g., psychology), breaking accepted social norms, and focusing on characters. In America, the movement’s touchstone is Harlan Ellison’s 1964 edited collection, Dangerous Visions. It included works by Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delany among many other SF authors from both sides of the pond. Other major American New Wave authors include Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Roger Zelazny. My interest in Postmodernism comes from the fact that it co-evolves with New Wave and the two movements share many similar themes and concerns such as post-capitalism and challenges to the individual.

I choose Philip K. Dick’s 1969 SF novel, Ubik, for the subject of a paper exploring the significance of this work in relation to a dialog with other works such as Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions (1973). The novel is about Joe Chip, a man with psychic blocking powers employed by a company that hires out such persons to protect corporate interests. Following an ambush on assignment, Chip is put into “half-life,” or cryonic storage, because his injuries are too severe for immediate repair. While in half-life, he is threatened by a predatory psychic also in half-life and the only protection is a ubiquitous commercial product called “Ubik.” Dick questions the nature of reality and the individual’s connection to reality through consumerism in Ubik. Additionally, he destabilizes the nature of reality for his characters as well as the reader.

This work, originally considered mere genre fiction, should be reexamined with greater seriousness. The author’s other works are in continuous print and there is greater recognition of his work thanks to the many filmic interpretations including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002), and A Scanner Darkly (2006), as well as the recent Library of America publication of Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (2007), which includes Ubik. Also, other SF authors have gained increased attention in recent years such as the inclusion of Ursula K. Le Guin in The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume E: Literature since 1945.   Therefore, Ubik deserves increased consideration and further analysis in order to situate it within the larger framework of literary texts and culture in which it is situated.

Twentieth-Century American Literature Reading List

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening (1899).

London, Jack. The Call of the Wild (1903).

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle (1906).

Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! (1913).

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland (1915).

Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval (1916).

Sandburg, Carl. Chicago Poems (1916).

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Renascence” (1917).

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburgh, Ohio (1919).

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. A Few Figs From Thistles (1920).

Cummings, E. E. Tulips and Chimneys (1923).

William, Carlos Williams. Spring and All (1923).

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby (1925).

Stein, Gertrude. The Making of Americans (1925).

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises (1926).

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927).

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury (1929).

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms (1929).

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying (1930).

Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth (1931).

Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! (1936).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men (1937).

Dos Passos, John. U.S.A. (1938).

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Wright, Richard. Native Son (1940).

Welty, Eudora. A Curtain of Green: And Other Stories (1941).

Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).

Hersey, John. Hiroshima (1946).

Lowell, Robert. Lord Weary’s Castle (1946).

Warren, Robert Penn. All the King’s Men (1946).

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).

Mailer, Norman. The Naked and the Dead (1948).

Merril, Judith. “That Only a Mother” (1948).

Pound, Ezra. The Pisan Cantos (1948).

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman (1949).

Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot (1950).

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye (1951).

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man (1952).

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood (1952).

Steinbeck, John. East of Eden (1952).

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Player Piano (1952).

Kornbluth, Cyril M. and Fredrick Pohl. The Space Merchants (1953).

O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955).

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems (1956).

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (1957).

Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch (1959).

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22 (1961).

Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle (1962).

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962).

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar (1963).

Bellow, Saul. Herzog (1964).

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast (1964).

Dick, Philip K. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965).

Ellison, Harlan. “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965).

O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965).

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood (1966).

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49 (1966).

Sexton, Anne. Live or Die (1966).

Ellison, Harlan. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967).

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968).

Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Dick, Philip K. Ubik (1969).

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969).

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Warren, Robert Penn. Audubon (1969).

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971).

Levin, Ira. The Stepford Wives (1972).

Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo (1972).

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Breakfast of Champions (1973).

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed (1974).

Delany, Samuel R. Dhalgren (1975).

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony (1977).

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff (1979).

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980).

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple (1982).

Mamet, David. Glengarry Glen Ross (1984).

Gibson, William. Neuromancer (1984).

DeLillo, Don. White Noise (1985).

Morrison, Toni. Beloved (1987).

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash (1992).

Powers, Richard. Galatea 2.2 (1995).

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club (1996).

Roth, Philip. American Pastoral (1997).

My Georgia Tech ENGL 1102 Class Description and Reading List for Spring 2012, “The Promise and Peril of the Digital Age Explored Through Science Fiction”

Martin Widmer’s “Tomb [V’]” (2007).
[UPDATE: I volunteered to teach three sections of ENGL1101 instead of three sections of ENGL1102 when the school made the request. This gives me an opportunity to immediately revise my ENGL1101 syllabus and try new things with my students!] In Spring 2013, I will be teaching three sections of ENGL 1102 (sections: P1, E, and M). For these sections, I will guide students toward completing and exceeding the desired educational outcomes with a class structured on the them, “The Promise and Peril of the Digital Age Explored Through Science Fiction.”

Building on the rhetorical strategies and WOVEN modalities introduced in ENGL1101, this class further develops students’ communicative and critical thinking abilities by guiding students through challenging research-based projects. The research focus of this class is on the promise and peril of the contemporary digital age. Science fiction is a uniquely suited genre for considering the digital age, because it is the only literature that is firmly situated at the intersection of science, technology, and culture. Furthermore, science fiction is a literature about the present in which it is written rather than its imagined future. With this in mind, recent science fictions comment on our present and our near future in simultaneously promising and troubling ways. Drawing on science fiction across multiple media (including novels, films, and video games) and using newly acquired tools of critical theory from cultural studies and the study of science and technology, students will develop a number of research-based projects individually and collaboratively that explore how science fiction informs and critiques the on-going digital age. All of these projects will culminate in or include a digital component (e.g., blog posts, Twitter essays, Storify curations, online videos, and Omeka archives). Also, students will learn how to use digital humanities technologies to inform their thinking and research.

Reading List:

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood, Anchor, 2004, 978-0385721677

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, Broadway, 2012, 978-0307887443

Neuromancer, William Gibson, Ace, 2000, 978-0441007462

River of Gods, Ian McDonald, Pyr, 2007, 978-1591025955

Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge, Tor, 2007, 978-0812536362

Online reading:

Little Brother, Cory Doctorow [available here]

Game List:

CYPHER: Cyberpunk Text Adventure [available here]

I am still developing the class syllabus and assignments. When these are completed, I will post copies in a subsequent post.

Winter Snows, Doubt, and Donna Haraway

Above, Yufang is standing next to our open garage door in the backyard with 12-14″ of snow filling our rather long driveway. She and I spent about an hour last night clearing off a path that I could back down in case we needed to go anywhere even though we stocked up before the storm arrived in NE Ohio. Needless to say, after clearing snow in the cold for over an hour, I made very good use of our cleared driveway to pick up Little Caesar’s pizza.

The nice thing about snow, which I believe I’ve commented on before, is that it is pretty and it makes you study. I will ignore the fact that it is a pain in the balls (or more accurately, back) to shovel snow.

Returning to one of the positive aspects of snow–its ability to make one study for lack of anything else to do (Legos and World of Warcraft are off the table at this point in the game)–I thought I would spend a few minutes talking about the worry that I have experienced studying for my PhD exams.

Since I began reading for my exams, I have increasingly found myself worrying about my ability to read everything on my three lists, but more importantly, worrying about finding, understanding, and remembering all of the VERY IMPORTANT BITS in the things that I have read. It doesn’t matter if it is literature, literary analysis, critical theory, or philosophy, I have a constant nagging concern that I may have missed something. This worry isn’t paralyzing my ability to continue reading, taking notes, and reviewing those notes, but it is something like a damned flying monkey clinging always to my back. I know it’s there, because my mind continually jumps to it, as a thought flitting through my vision, as I’m reading or doing other things such as reflecting on this worry in this blog post.

The worry that I feel is something that I’ve felt more strongly as I’ve read more and realized how little I knew or understood about a particular author, subject, or topic. Also, my essay blitzkrieg that I sent out at the end of last semester resulted in no acceptances (admittedly, there is still one out without any response, but I won’t hold out any hope at this point). Essay rejections are valuable for continuing to develop one’s craft as an academic and critical writer, but they cut the other way by undercutting one’s belief that they have done good work on what they believe to be a good idea. Despite my telling myself that I will produce work that is favorably reviewed in the future, it is without a doubt demoralizing to my self-confidence. Doubt, which I had (perhaps foolishly) not known before, is now a constant companion.

So the underlying problem that I am currently grappling with is doubt. Doubt about my abilities as a writer and professional academic. Doubt about my ability learn those important things from my readings, much less to incorporate all of the things that I have read into some kind of meaningful narrative or network of ideas, which I can draw on in the future (but more importantly for the time being on my upcoming exams).

Doubt is not an insurmountable obstacle, but it is a tiring one. I will take inspiration from Philippe Petit, someone who I believe cannot know doubt, and Miao Miao, who is very, very good at what she is without worry (see below, warming paws under my radiator), as I continue my reading.

Bodies That Matter, What Matters Ubuntu

On today’s docket, I am reading Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter, which I’ve read the introduction to before, but not the entire volume. As an experiment, I am going to read it standing up, not to get any better insight into her argument or enviable prose, but to get up and move around while I’m reading. It occurred to me this morning that I’ve spent a whole heck of a lot of time sitting down while I’ve been reading for my exams. Thus, I think it’s about time to get off my keister.

Between reading and standing, I’m reinstalling Ubuntu on my desktop. The installation got foobared about a week ago when I tried changing my account password prior to installing some updates. I don’t know exactly what precipitated the problem, but after rebooting from the updates, the OS would load the desktop image and mouse following login authentication and then nothing else. I could load the ctrl-alt-del screen, but that was all. Ubuntu is back up now, but I need to reinstall a bunch of apps.

Oh, and I did some polyurethane painting on a special surprise for Lyndsay and John this weekend. Stand up!

PhD Exam Reading List Progress Thus Far

I’ve been working my ass off preparing for my PhD exams, but the numbers are saying that I haven’t done as much reading as I had thought. After finishing Alan Wilde’s Horizons of Assent a few moments ago, I decided to crunch the numbers on the number of books that I had read on my reading list. Here’s how it shakes out:

Major Exam, 20th Century American Literature, 27/59, 32 remaining

Minor Exam, Postmodern Theory, 15/29, 14 remaining

Minor Exam, Philip K. Dick, 14/45, 31 remaining

Total read, 56/133, 77 remaining

I checked off 14 authors over the winter break between semesters (some of these ‘numbers’ include several short works by one author), and I am hopeful that having only one class to teach this coming semester will allow me the time and attention necessary to properly prepare myself for my exams (including my French language exam).

I would probably get a lot of reading done if I locked myself in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (interior pictured above) and asked Yufang to bring me a picnic basket everyday, which I suspect will contain a sleepy Miao Miao cat who ate all of my food! Admittedly, that’s too far away, so I’ll sequester myself in my office. I do, however, need to venture out now to take the trash out and get some sleep. Adieu.

Reading and Legos As the Snow Falls On

We’ve been experiencing a lot of lake effect snow up here in NE Ohio, so I’ve had no good excuse to avoid reading by going outside. In the past week, I’ve knocked out Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, a few Flannery O’Connor stories, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Oh, and I read Philip K. Dick’s Puttering About in a Small Land and wrote a review of it for SFRA Review.

As a bit of fun and in the interest in my growing enthusiasm for what I call “Lego studies,” I am continuing to build and customize my Lego models. Right now, I’m working on a customized version of the Lego 7190 Millennium Falcon. I will post more pictures soon of before and after, but the one piece that I need will allow me to have a better looking cockpit from the 4504 set. Here is a picture of the 7190 after some customizations but with the offending cockpit.

And the more attractive cockpit from the 4504 set:

Expect more updates to follow soon between readings!

Refreshing Reinstall and Another PKD Novel

I hadn’t done a full OS reinstall on my MacBook since I originally got it, so I decided last night to remedy the situation with a clean nuke-and-pave of MacOS X 10.6.2 Snow Leopard. As you can see from the screenshot above, I am back up and running with 10.6.2. NeoOffice and CS4 along with a handful of other software goodies are reinstalled, and my files are restored to their rightful places on my hard drive. One thing that I decided to do differently, that I had never tried before, was to encrypt my home folder with FileFault. I know that this can cause a real problem when something goes wrong, but I backup my files often enough that I hope it won’t turn into a nightmare if the FileFault system develops a problem. So far, I haven’t noticed any performance hit or problem by using FileFault, despite copying back many files to my internal SSD.

While everything was being done, I finished Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. I will read A Scanner Darkly next and then switch back to some postmodern theory.

More PhD Exam Reading List Progress

Despite having two classes to teach right now and daily life concerns, like getting my Toyota Corolla’s oil changed today, I made a noticeable impact on my PhD exam reading list. I followed up some poems by Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God with three Philip K. Dick novels this weekend: Martian Time-Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, and Now Wait For Last Year. It should be noted that Yufang’s excellent cooking significantly improved my productivity. Tomorrow, I’ll cook her ginger chicken after I am done teaching.

Hans Bertens’ The Idea of the Postmodern: A History


“Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say, ‘yes!'”–Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters

“Jason, when someone asks you if you know pomo, you say, ‘yes!'”-Not Hans Bertens

Well, nothing really funny happened while I was reading postmodern theory, but I did have a small epiphany when I finished reading Hans Bertens’ superb history of postmodern theory. I realized that I should have read this book at the beginning of the Summer when I was reading other postmodern theory. Bertens lays out the major arguments, he charts the connections and conversations, and he comes down pragmatically on who is important and whose time has past in regard to the major debates. I feel very foolish for not starting with a broad overview of the field, and it is probably due to my attempt at working through the conversation beginning with Ihab Hassan that I decided to turn to a history of the discourse rather than continuing the way that I was.

So, the bottom line is that you should begin with Bertens if you’re easing your way into postmodern theory. It will save you some time and help you be more strategic with your reading.