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.

*Actually, this is no longer true of Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which has arguably been replaced by The Baroque Cycle, but as it would take us most of the semester to get through the Cycle's three volumes, we'll just pretend like Cryptonomicon remains "it."


Blog (20%): Each of you will maintain a blog specifically devoted to this course, and will post in it regularly, using that space as an ongoing portfolio of your reading responses (which will make up at least one post weekly), thoughts about the course discussions, links to material relevant to the course, drafts of writing done for course papers, and anything else you'd like to contribute. This part of the course also requires you to keep up-to-date on your fellow students' blogs, and to comment frequently on their posts. The point of the blog is the free exchange of information they produce and the social relationships they foster; you'll only get as much out of this part of the course as you put into it. Your grade for this segment of the course will be determined by the quality of your participation in the blog; some portion of that quality has to do with quantity, but I'm not going to name a number of required posts for the semester. Instead, what I want you to think about are the consistency of your posts each week, your engagement with the ideas you're writing about, your generosity in reading and commenting on your peers' posts, and so on. You'll receive a blog grade each week; I'll post those grades to Sakai for your information.

Class Facilitation (20%): Working in pairs, you will lead the class at one meeting; you should begin the class with a brief, polished presentation of LESS THAN 15 minutes, and then guide our discussion of that week's reading. Your presentation and facilitation can take any direction or format that interests you; ideally, I'd like you to discuss your plan with me before your chosen date. More information to follow.

Papers (50%): You have two options for your longer papers this semester: either (a) you can write one 6- to 8-page paper due at midterm and one 12- to 14-page term paper due at the end of the semester, for a total of 20 pages, or (b) you can combine the two into one 20-page term paper. If you opt for two papers, your midterm paper will perform a careful close reading of some aspect of one of the texts we have read to that point in the semester, with reference to the relevant criticism. In either case, your term paper will involve substantial research and will make a complex, well-defined argument about the novel you choose to explore. You will submit a proposal for the term paper several weeks in advance of the paper itself; shortly before the paper itself is due, you will submit a draft to a peer reviewer. You must declare whether you will follow option (a) or (b) one week before the midterm due date. All papers must use proper MLA format. Late papers will only be accepted by prior arrangement. More details to follow. (Option (a): midterm paper, 20%; term paper, 30%. Option (b): term paper, 50%)

Attendance and Participation (10%): As our work here will revolve around discussion, your participation and preparedness are indispensable, and will be graded. You will be permitted one unexcused absence; each additional unexcused absence lowers your final grade one step. Moreover, chronic late arrivals will not be tolerated; for every three late arrivals, one unexcused absence will accrue. Attendance at the screenings is likewise required. Finally, be aware that presence without preparedness does not count. Do the reading. And a word to the wise, on that note: don't get behind; it'll be really hard to catch up.


My grading policy is pretty straight-forward, and comes in two parts:

The grade of B+ is yours to lose. Here are ways that you can lose it:

1. Miss more than three days of class. I know you all have a lot going on, but this class is your job this semester, and I want you to take it that seriously. You each have one day of vacation and two days of sick leave -- that is, one day that you can miss for whatever reason, and two days that you can miss with an official medical excuse. Use them wisely. Further absences will affect your final grade in unpleasant ways.

2.Show up late to class more than twice. It drives me absolutely bonkers when people walk into class after it's already begun (and if I'm talking, even if just to make preliminary announcements, class has begun). It's both rude and distracting. Get to class on time; every three late arrivals will add up to one unexcused absence.

3. Turn your assignments in late. You each have three grace days to use as needed. For instance, if the term paper proposal is due on a Monday, but you have a big exam on Monday, you can use a grace day and turn that proposal in on Tuesday. Please note, however: a "day" is twenty-four hours long, and ends at 5.00 pm. If you don't turn the proposal in until Wednesday morning, that's two grace days. Any lateness beyond these three grace days will count against your grade. Please note that because these grace days are freebies, I will give no extensions. Don't even ask.

4. Don't take the blog seriously. The blog assignment is a key element of the course. The blog is taking the place of formal, print-on-paper reading responses, and it's also a space in which you can feel free to explore your ideas about the class material in whatever way most appeals to you. There is no particular quantity of posts that will get you a decent grade on the blogging requirement. However, not posting regularly, not displaying a real engagement with the material, and not reading and commenting upon your classmates' posts constitutes a failure to take the blog seriously.

5. Fail to do the reading. Much of our in-class work is built around discussion, and you cannot participate fruitfully in a discussion if you aren't prepared. Read carefully, take notes on the reading, post your responses on your blog, and participate in class discussions. With respect to which:

6. Fail to participate collegially in class discussions. You don't need to speak every day. And you absolutely must not monopolize the discussion. But both never speaking and appearing to overly enjoy the sound of your own voice constitute a failure of collegiality. Our discussions are a group endeavor, meant to help each member of the class reach the greatest possible understanding of the material.

7. Turn in a weak, ill-thought-through, unpolished, dull, pointless, or generally mediocre paper. Need I say more?

8. Give a scattered, unpolished, unengaged, or OVERLY LONG presentation. Again, 'nuff said, except about the length question: I'm dead serious about this. I will stop you when time is up, and if I have to stop you, your grade will suffer. Practice your presentation, and time yourself carefully.

9. Plagiarize. Academic dishonesty in any form will result in automatic failure of this class. Period. If you have any concerns about what constitutes academic dishonesty, refer to your student handbook, or ask me.

The grades of A- and A must be earned. Here are ways to earn them:

1. Produce excellent papers. What constitutes excellence? Doing more than simply completing the terms of the assignment. An excellent paper is sophisticated, nuanced, engaging, and insightful. It is technically polished and free of any kind of errors. It shows evidence of a substantive, thoughtful engagement with the course materials. It is, above all, interesting, designed to draw the reader into full engagement with its content and its form.

2. Maintain an excellent blog. Make me look forward to visiting your blog often, and stimulate thoughtful conversation in your comments.

3. Participate excellently in class. Excellence in class participation means not simply speaking frequently, but contributing in an active and generous way to the work of the class as a whole, by asking questions, offering interpretations, politely challenging your colleagues, and graciously accepting challenges in return.

4. Deliver an excellent presentation. An excellent presentation is one that is focused, organized, engaging, and to the point. It has what my predecessor, Brian Stonehill, used to refer to as "heart, smarts, and sparkle."


The following required books are available at Huntley:

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (new edition only, please -- ISBN 0143039945)
Don DeLillo, Underworld
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon (trade paperback strongly preferred -- ISBN 0380788624)

The following books, also available at Huntley, are recommended:

Steven Weisenburger, A Gravity's Rainbow Companion, 2nd edition
John Duvall, Don DeLillo's Underworld
Stephen Burns, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

Other required readings will be made available online, as indicated in the schedule.


W Jan. 17 Introduction
M Jan. 22 Gravity's Rainbow, 1-150
Mendelson, "Gravity's Encyclopedia"
W Jan. 24 Gravity's Rainbow, 151-250
LeClair, from The Art of Excess: "Introduction: Excess, Mastery and Systems" and "Prologue: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow"
M Jan. 29 No class: Prof. Fitzpatrick out of town
W Jan. 31 Gravity's Rainbow, 251-400
M Feb. 5 Gravity's Rainbow, 401-550
W Feb. 7 Gravity's Rainbow, 551-650
M Feb. 12 Gravity's Rainbow, 650-784
Lynd, "Science, Narrative, and Agency in Gravity's Rainbow"
W Feb. 14 Underworld, 1-100
M Feb. 19 Underworld, 101-300
W Feb. 21 Underworld, 301-400
Option (a) or (b) declaration due
M Feb. 26 Underworld, 401-600
W Feb. 28 Underworld, 601-700
M Mar. 5 Underworld, 701-827
Fitzpatrick, "The Unmaking of History: Baseball, Cold War, Underworld"
Midterm paper due
W Mar. 7 Infinite Jest, 1-100
M/W Mar. 12-14 No class – spring break
M Mar. 19 Infinite Jest, 101-300
Term paper proposal due
W Mar. 21 Infinite Jest, 301-400
M Mar. 26 Infinite Jest, 401-600
W Mar. 28 Infinite Jest, 601-700
M Apr. 2 Infinite Jest, 701-900
Annotated bibliography due
W Apr. 4 Infinite Jest, 901-981
Hayles, "The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest"
M Apr. 9 in-class term paper workshop and general catching of breath
W Apr. 11 Cryptonomicon, 1-100
M Apr. 16 Cryptonomicon, 101-300
W Apr. 18 Cryptonomicon, 301-400
Term paper draft due to peer reviewer
M Apr. 23 Cryptonomicon, 401-600
W Apr. 25 Cryptonomicon, 601-700
Commented drafts due back from peer reviewer
M Apr. 30 Cryptonomicon, 701-910
Hayles, "Performative Code and Figurative Language: Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon"
W May 2 Conclusion
Term paper due