Final Paper Assignment Questions

millennium virus
Fall 1999 ¥ E494
Modern American Fiction
Millennium Virus: "American" Apocalyptic Novels & Films
Tues. & Thurs. 9:30 To 10:45am in Chemistry/Geology 302 aka the Asbestos Amphitheatre
Professor William Nericcio

Time is running out! A new century is at hand. So naturally now is the perfect time to reflect back on our fabulously decrepit Twentieth Century and to review some of its more outrageous, compelling and disturbing novels and films. This class will pay close attention to those "American" works that concern themselves with psychological, cultural and personal chaos--hence the catchy term "Apocalyptic" in our title. The works we will consider include Nathanael West's Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts, Tomás Rivera's ...y no se lo trago la tierra, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Eduardo Galeano's Century of the Wind, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Gilbert Hernandez's The Blood of Palomar, and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove among others. The twentieth century has witnessed an explosion of film culture as image technologies exploded changing the way we conceive of literature. Owing to this turn of events, our class will exercise its intellectual licence and freely examine the relationship between literature and film. Also note that our class uses the term "American" in the strict sense. As such, our authors are as likely to have arrived on the planet in Toronto or Cartagena as they are Kansas City or New York City. The class is open to ALL majors, fulfilling your General Education Foundations II, C Humanities requirement. The only true prerequisite however is an open mind, curiosity and imagination.


Attendance, Participation & Quizzes

The point of this class is to work together, the idea being that we convert our boring, ugly classroom into a chaotic, unpredictable and exciting intellectual laboratory. Missing class, you miss as well the whole point of the adventure. Unlike other professors you may have encountered here at SDSU or elsewhere, I do take attendance and do expect you to attend class each day prepared to do battle. Battle? I mean you will enter our "gorgeous" classroom having read what I have asked you to read and having written what I have asked you to write.  If you are a dedicated slacker, or your idea of a good time is sleeping in till noon on Thursdays, you might want to drop this section of E494. Quizzes will become a regular feature of our class if, and only if, students shows symptoms of high-school level indifference or Neanderthal-like preparation of the day's assignment. In other words, the more university student-like your dedication, the less quizzes you have to endure and I have to grade. I think that some of the best work we will accomplish this semester will occur in our classroom discussions and debates. As such, attendance is crucial. The bottom line? You are welcome to miss three classes for whatever reason you deem necessary: broken limb, STD flare-up, melancholia, sexual rejection, hangover. Spare me the excuses--that is, if you have missed less than three classes, don't bother calling me to let me know what is up. Do understand though that for every absence over and above three (3), your course grade will drop one whole level: an "A" student with four absences will receive a "B"; a "C+" student with 5 absences will not pass our course. The good news? If you are a C+ student with perfect attendance, you'll very likely receive a B or B-. I am ridiculously kind to dedicated undergraduates.

Writing Requirements

You will author one 3-5 page essay during the course of the semester. This essay will be typed, double-spaced and proof written carefully. You will always have a choice of essay topics and will never be forced to write an essay on a book or topic which bores or annoys you to death--unless, of course, you are a masochist and prefer to waste your time writing about things that mean nothing to you. We will likely also have a couple of in-class PANIC-INDUCING CHALLENGES. These will be based on your informed readings of the required texts.

Final Exam and Course Grade

On the last Thursday of regularly scheduled classes, we will have our comprehensive final exam. It will cover all the books, films and art we covered during our adventurous semester. Your final course grade will be based on Class Participation (includes attendance, quiz-grades and marks on in-class essays) 45%; Essays 30%; and the Final Exa 25%.

Office Hours

My office hours are each Tuesday from from 11:15 to 2:45 in Adams Humanities 4117. Do please make the time during the semester to drop in and introduce yourself--the less we are strangers to each other, the more comfortable all of us will be in our strange sciencelab lecture room. Also contrary to SDSU legend, speaking to a professor in office hours is not an act of "kissing ass," as I have heard reported to me more often than I want to think about. Office hours are an ages-old University ritual of intellectual development where both student and professor chat and talk about questions and topics that were not addressed in the lecture hall context. If my office hours are inconvenient, call me 594.1524 to schedule an appointment. My e-mail address is, but I ask that you only contact me in this manner in the event you cannot talk to me in person--though I am no Luddite, I still prefer a conversation with a person rather than a machine.

day to day schedule

Tuesday, Aug. 31

Welcome to the end of your American century! Today we will go over your course syllabus in excruciating detail.  Bonus: no quizzes, tests or reading for today.  Out.

Thursday, Sept. 2

Read Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West. Satirical, irreverent, nasty and dark, West's vision of the United States--of its media, its theology, its misogynistic sexuality, its virulent and collective neuroses--plunges readers into our American dark side. Receive IMAGINATION CHALLENGE #1.

Tuesday, Sept. 7

WRITING SEMINAR DAY--we will not meet as a class today.  Use your extra time to write a killer IMAGINATION CHALLENGE and read as far ahead as you can, finishing Miss Lonelyhearts and beginning The Day of the Locust.  As you read, read carefully: WEST is NO EMPTY headed patriot.  No cheerleader for the United States, his parables attempt to reveal the dark side of the good ol' USA

Thursday, Sept. 9

Turn in your IMAGINATION CHALLENGE #1.  In class we will continue and conclude our discussion of Miss Lonelyhearts.  Also, please read the first 4 chapters of West's Day of the Locust.  Having skewered East Coast journalists, West moves west to California for this literary exposé on Hollywood. But brace yourself: this is no E! or Entertainment Tonight version of tinsel town.

Tuesday, Sept. 14

Over the weekend you will have finished Day of the Locust and walk into our lovely amphitheater/chemistry lab ready to chat about West, about his vision of America, about if and how either of his books relate to the Apocalypse, etc.

Thursday, Sept. 16

Read the Stanley Kubrick profile in your VIRUSREADER.  In class we will begin screening Stanley Kubrick's magnificent meditation on Cold War era American culture, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love the Bomb(1964). The sub-title is key to understanding some of the deeper elements of the film.  As you watch the film, consider the relationship between Kubrick's work and West's. Kubrick, one of the Bronx's finest sons will leave the US and move to England, becoming our most important and influential American cinematic exile

Tuesday, Sept. 21

In class, we complete continue screening film; also, read the first 100 pages from Eduardo Galeano's Century of the Wind.  Galeano, an Americano from Uruguay began his writing career as a journalist and editorial cartoonist, and some of these tendencies live on in his 'fiction.' Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a new vision of an amazing and violent century.

Thursday, Sept. 23

We will complete our discussion of Kubrick and begin our analysis of Galeano. Read the next 50 pages from Galeano's Century of the Wind. Pay close attention to the way that Galeano strategically positions his brief vignettes, profiles, biographies, screenplays, and scenarios. Is there a relation between the form of this book and it s content?

Tuesday, Sept. 28

Continue your reading of Galeano's Century of the Wind, reading the next 75 pages As you read consider the differences between Galeano's writing and Time Magazine or Century of the Wind and, say, a history book on the US and Latin America: while both Galeano's work and the mainstream press's and historian's narratives traffic in 'facts,' the end result is marvelously different.

Thursday, Sept. 30

Finish Century of the Wind.  In class, we will consider the relationship between literature and film, the United States of America and Latin America, Kubrick and Galeano and assorted other combinations.

Tuesday, Oct. 5

Heavy, but enjoyable reading rains down upon your head as Paranoia reigns in our seminar room We turn to the work of Thomas Pynchon and The Crying of Lot 49.   Read to the end of chapter 5, page 145 in this brilliant short novel.  Pay close attention to all references to art and/or painting in the book--they are a key part of the puzzle.

Thursday, Oct. 7

Finish reading Pynchon's novel. In class, we will conclude our discussion of Pynchon's work and begin to relate it to others we have encountered this semester.  In addition to our discussion, we will go over the major ESSAY assignment factsheet in class today--the essay is due Friday, November 19, 1999 at 12noon at my office 4117 Adams Humanities.

Tuesday, Oct. 12

Poetry Week: but it's probably like nothing you've read or seen before. Read the collection of work by Martin Espada, Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hand.  Think long and hard about the word "rebellion" as you read.  Consider the range of meanings that can attach to the term, and chart the way they appear in the collection

Thursday, Oct. 14

Read your book of poetry by the Taco Shop Poets--our class is on the move today; We will venture to the Experimental Theater on campus for a performance by TSP.  TSP will sign their work after the performance; with a reception at Monty's right after the class. SINCE YOU GUYS ASKED FOR IT, HERE IT IS!  THE TACO SHOP POET'S WEB SITE IS AT:

Tuesday, Oct. 19

Reading for today: devour the two section/seasons of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye: Autumn and Winter, up to page 93 in the Plume/Penguin edition. The chaos and catastrophe of a very personal and a deeply cultural apocalypse is chronicled in this striking first novel by one of our nation's greatest living writers.

Thursday, Oct. 21

Continue reading Morrison's opus up to page 131.  Do pay close attention to the way that Morrison structures this novel--even the margins of the text vary from chapter to chapter!

Tuesday, Oct. 26

Read to the end of the SPRING section of The Bluest Eye.  We will consider the question of race and ethnicity as it relates to the US in the 20th century.

Thursday, Oct. 28

Finish reading  Morrison's disturbing tale of desire, emotional catastrophe and hope.  The Eye is not the same as the  "I" and yet their relationship is key to an understanding of this novel, and, perhaps, this century.


Tuesday, Nov. 2

In class, we will begin to screen Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece, Apocalypse Now( 1979).  Come to class having read the first  41 pages of Gilbert Hernandez's Blood of Palomar--WARNING: this novel deals with ultra-adult subject matter; if you feel you want a substitute assignment, do not hesitate to visit me in office hours.

Thursday, Nov. 4

We will continue to screen Apocalypse Now even as we will continue to read and not discuss Hernandez's Blood of Palomar (pages 42 to 75).  As you watch the film look for stylistic similarities and differences between Coppola's and Hernandez's style and narrative technique.  FILM is not the equivalent of GRAPHIC NARRATIVE, and yet there is also a kindred conversation between the two.

Tuesday, Nov. 9

Today we will complete our screening of Apocalypse Now and begin our discussion of Coppola's film.  Please finish reading Blood of Palomar though we will not be able to discuss it in great detail today.

Thursday, Nov. 11

Rea d the chapter on Coppola in VIRUSREADER. Both Blood of Palomar and Apocalypse Now explicitly deal with the image of the apocalypse; how do we begin to comparatively interrogate how that relates to what Galeano calls our Century of the Wind.

Tuesday, Nov. 16

Read The Road to Los Angeles by Oliver Mayer in your VIRUSREADER.  Also read the David Siquieros profile also included in your VIRUSREADER.  As you read consider the relationship between art, culture and politics in this short play.

Thursday, Nov. 18

Oliver Mayer is in the house today as we go to the Experimental Theater for a reading, presentation and discussion with the author of The Road to Los Angeles.   The author will be available to sign his work immediately after class.  Reception with the author at Monty's after the performance. ESSAY DUE TOMORROW

Tuesday, Nov. 22

Thursday, Nov. 25

Tuesday, Nov. 30

We end the class by returning to a striking year in the life of a gifted and disturbed American child.  Read Tomás Rivera's y no se lo trago la tierra.

Thursday, Dec. 2

We will conclude our discussion of Rivera's masterwork.

Tuesday, Dec. 7


Thursday, Dec. 10

Final Exam and PARTY.

bye adiosciao!

William A. Nericcio
Associate Professor
English and Comparative Literature
San Diego State University