The problem of how to begin has challenged and stimulated novelists
at least since Laurence Sterne, not satisfied with starting with
Tristram Shandy's birth, begins his story at the moment of his
conception. Like that famous instance, the openings of postmodern
novels are often startlingly inventive, and they often reveal
much about the author's intentions, postmodern concerns, and even
the nature of fiction and the novel. They are also a convenient
topic of study, since we can usually grasp them on their own.
It's true, of course, that our understanding of an opening will
often be enriched by further reading, but the author nevertheless
knows that we must be able to make sense of the opening before
we have read anything else.
I have placed on our course site a collection of interesting openings from postmodern novels. Read at least a few of them, and, if you want more material, read the openings of our textbook novels and/or of any other handy postmodern novels. (For the purposes of this assignment, you can take "opening" to mean anything from the first sentence to the first chapter, depending on what you find to be useful for each book. You may either trust your judgement on whether a novel is postmodern, or you can ask me.) Then write a paper of at least 800 words (not counting headers, documentation, or other paraphernalia) on the subject.
It could, for instance, be an analysis of a single example (although you must discuss it as an opening). It could describe one strategy for opening a postmodern novel, drawing upon several examples of this strategy. It could be a sampling of strategies (although you must work these into a coherent essay with a reasonable thesis). Or it could be a general consideration of the nature of the postmodern novel opening, adducing one or more examples.
You need not use any documentation for the openings in your account or in our textbooks. I don't recommend looking for secondary sources this time, since your time is tight, and you wouldn't find much about these openings anyway. You can write this essay working just from the openings themselves with no documentation at all. If, however, you want to use other books (additional novels, studies of the novelists, theory of fictional form, or whatever), follow MLA procedures for fair use and documentation. MLA form is complex and demanding; if you just assume that you know how it works, your grade will suffer badly. Follow the rules in the Third Edition of the MLA Style Manual (not the Second Edition, and not MLA Handbook, which is intended for undergraduate work) to the letter.
The highest grades will go to the papers which are most convincing, most imaginative, most logical, most thorough, and most effectively written. Edit your work carefully; this is, after all, a graduate English course, and papers with basic writing errors will not pass regardless of their content. So will papers of 799 words or fewer.
Email the paper to me, preferably as a Microsoft Word attachment, no later than 5:00 PM on June 13. If you don't have Microsoft Word, you can almost certainly save your file, within whatever program you use, as an RTF (Rich Text Format) file, in which case you should send me that file as an attachment. If you are using a program such as Works or WordPerfect, tell the program to save the file as RTF, and the resulting file will have the .RTF extension. If you can't figure out how to do this, get help before the due date. Do not submit a file in any other format, such as the native format of Works or WordPerfect, and do not send me in-line text pasted into your email message. If you use a list of works cited, include it within the main file, not as a separate file.
Return to Home