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Edward Mendelson has defined the "encyclopedic narrative" as possessing several traits: a significantly longer than average length, an extraordinarily complex narrative that can sometimes involve several hundred characters, and a wealth of references to popular culture, both current and past. We're going to read four such texts this semester. Why bother? Each of these four big honking books seeks to define contemporary U.S. culture with a scope that no average-length novel can muster; consequently, each of these novels is seen as its author's masterwork.* Reading any one of them is an accomplishment; reading all four in one semester is something to brag about. We'll accompany each with a smattering of criticism, but mostly, we'll attempt to fight our way through these books together. Perhaps because of the collective portrait of our culture that these books attempt to create, reading them in a group is infinitely more satisfying than reading them alone.

Cross Cultural Big Novels


Can anyone think of any big novels that aren't American? In light of our discussion of future books to read, I've realized that everyone we've discussed is an American. I know one could easily say that Americans who have grown up with all the rhetoric of bigger is better and frontiers might be more naturally drawn to the big novel format, but I have a hard time imagining that one doesn't exist.

I thought briefly about my favorite book, 100 Years of Solitude. I haven't read it in two years or so, but I want to re-read it in the light of the big novel. I don't think that it fits a lot of the criteria for an encyclopedic narrative- that is, it is more of a cross-generational description than a capturing of a particular snapshot in time where the world changed, but at the same time, many aspects of the book are in line with big novels. For instance, magic realism seems like a very useful tool for a big novel, and the end, while somewhat conclusive, is also an unraveling in some ways. I know the book is somewhat a reinterpretation of the bible, but I don't see why that would preclude it from fitting in this role.

Now that we've read them all...which one was your favorite?

Gravity's Rainbow
10% (1 vote)
20% (2 votes)
Infinite Jest
40% (4 votes)
30% (3 votes)
Total votes: 10

wrap up

So we're wrapping up in class tomorrow, and I'm trying to anticipate how we might pull all the books together. I think that the whole idea of World War II as a focal point for post modern novels is a cool one to discuss, but what I really want to know is what is POST post modern? Is Cryptonomicon post post modern in its linearity? And why are the critical texts of post modernism all so long?

the adult marijuana addict


I'm writing my paper now and I was wondering if we ever came to the conclusion as to who the adult marijuana addict was? (I think we may have speculated that it is Hal) This section goes from page 17-27. It's about a man who is waiting for a woman to come with marijuana so he can hunker down in his house for weeks. He has gotten tons of cartridges to watch on the teleputer. My question is, if it is Hal, then why aren't his emotions screwed up?

Grandma Waterhouse

I loved this portion on 641 where Randy is describing his grandmother, Mary Smith, wife of Lawrence Waterhouse. "the world of physical objects seemed to have been made solely for the purpose of giving the men around Grandma something to do with their hands; and not, mind you, for any practical reason, but purely so that Grandma could twiddle those men's emotional knobs by reacting to how well or poorly do it." I thought this was hilarious, but it also reminded me of the discussions we've been having about gender. She has the last word here and it seems like she has the power, but it seems like this paragraph is talking about insignificant stuff.


We were talking today in class about the way that the book portrays everything as some type of code. There is the way that we percieve people, which Enoch Root theorizes is not who that person actually is but rather who we have catalogued that person as. Lawrence imagined that there were people across the ocean who were reading the waves of the ocean that had changed due to footprints he'd made in the sand. On page 670, Randy uses the phrase, "The most cigarettes" which meas nothing to other people, but to Avi and Randy, who understand it, it is a shortened version of the phrase, "We could end up in prison married to the guy with the most cigarettes." I really liked this use of code because Randy and Doug use predetermined words that they use to stand for other things, but we rarely see our everyday conversation as a type of code.

Grace days


Is anybody else using their grace days for this final essay? I am so swamped with work and I have a project due on Wednesday also. Oh man. For some reason, I feel kind of guilty about using them, but I really want to turn my paper in on Friday. I'm just wondering if anybody else is experiencing this maniac week, also.

update on blog grades

Given the general second-half-of-spring-semester insanity, and given the complexity of the accounting system that I was using to track blog grades (which took into account both original posts and comments on a week-by-week basis), I've totally fallen down on the blog-grade-tracking job. It's going to take me HOURS to go back and reconstruct the necessary information for the weeks I've missed, I fear. But for those of you who have some concern about your blogging grade, worry not: the numbers you were getting at the beginning of the semester were a sort of guidepost, and one that doesn't necessarily translate in any direct way into raw grade. I'm going to assess your blog performance holistically in determining that portion of your grade, looking at, over the course of the semester, how regularly and actively you participated in discussions here and at how substantive those discussions were. If you have any questions about this, by all means feel free to contact me.

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