The Novel, Live!

English 277-01

Professors Moses and Ferraro are reuniting to read with you recent novels-- greatest hits, as it were, of contemporary fiction.  By our professedly campy title we mean several things.  The authors in play are still living; indeed, a couple of them are planning to visit, sweet.  You may not have heard of the novels we are featuring, up-to-date though they be, but we guarantee that each and every one is exquisitely, even terrifyingly alive--earthy and ecstatic, funny and fantastic, knowing and wise.  And what happens in the classroom, a give-and-take among teacher-students-teacher and student-teachers-student, will be unlike anything you have experienced, intellectual theater that not only interrogates but, at an analytic level, re-enacts the storytelling at hand.  This is not a beta-test or a laboratory experiment, but the thing itself: each novel and their accumulative force, live!   

In all probability, we will venture into the back of beyond, where Natives and Empire Builders confront one another on the razor’s edge of civilization and those who would not wield power must find a way to persist; we will deal with what really happened on the Mississippi of Huck's time (The horror! The horror!), and with what might have happened on the Napoleonic continent of revolutionary Europe if a cross-dressing Venetian courtesan had gotten into the war; and we will hang with a seventeen-year-old convent virtuoso who puts the moves (no other way to put this) on Christ.  So too, we will follow certain genders around the delectable bend, ethnicities in discomforting formation, and the comic escapades of a movie-making, movie-made “idiot savant” whose autodictatic self-reflexivity puts Tarantino to shame.  And while we’re at it, we’ll ponder the meaning of love and the end of the world.  Likely candidates include: Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy; Jeanette Winterson, The Passion; Jon Clinch, Finn; Steve Erickson, Zeroville; J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians or The Life and Times of Michael K; Joan Chase, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia.  We will choose the final 7 or so novels with newcomers to English especially in mind.

An introduction, in sum, to the pleasures of sustained reading in the age of virtual contact: the visceral texture it offers, the analytic trenchancy (including capacity for contradiction) it demands, the conversation it solicits, the writing it engenders, and the kinship of word and thought it ultimately inspirits.