English 295 - Postmodernism and the Culture of Cyberspace

Vanderbilt University

Professor Jay Clayton
Fall 1996
MWF 1:10-2:15
Tolman 222


What is cyberspace and how does it relate to the literature, movies, music, art, lifestyles, politics, and sexuality of the postmodern world?  The word "cyberspace," coined by the science fiction writer William Gibson in 1984, refers to the virtual world created by communication over the internet.  Debates about this new mode of experience swirl around questions of pornography on the internet, hacking, race and gender stereotypes, First Amendment rights, freedom of information, and copyright.  Literary scholars argue about how computers will transform research, textual editing, models of reading and writing, and the nature of literature.  Novelists and film makers attempt to imagine the future of a wired society, while corporate culture strives to cash in on the World Wide Web.

This course will explore the emerging culture of cyberspace through readings of cyberpunk fiction; novels about the boundary between human and artificial life; movies that use cyborgs and virtual reality to speculate about the role of technology in society; hypertext fiction, which must be read on the computer and attempts to banish linear sequence; critical writing about the future of the internet; and literary theory, including works on the nature of postmodernism, the definition of cyberspace, and the future of criticism, scholarship, and editing in an age of hypertext.

No computer expertise is required.  Although there will be frequent assignments requiring access to the World Wide Web, the techniques for using the net will be explained for those who have no previous experience.  Each student will construct his or her own Web page; the class will have its own interactive computer bulletin board; and all writing assignments will be turned in and graded by email. Computer illiterates and rank beginners are encouraged to sign on.



Student Projects

Mandy Albright - Laugh of the Medusa Page

Brian Boling - De La Soul Page

Myka Carroll - Adrienne Kennedy Page

Kirby Hopkins - Walker Percy Page

Kevin O'Donnell - Codex/Archive Theory

Amanda Restifo - "Nuts in the Chutney"

Kim Stoiber - Star Wars Page

Miki Wallace - Home Page

Semester Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

Aug. 28 (Wed.) - Class procedures
Aug. 30 (Fri.) - Entering Cyberspace (microcomputer lab, Garland Hall)

Week 2: Humanists in Cyberspace

Sept. 2 (Mon.) - Reading: John Unsworth, "Not Your Average Fool: The Humanist on the Internet"
Sept. 4 (Wed.) - Reading: Michael Heim, "The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace," from The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (New York: Oxford UP, 1993), 82-108
Sept. 6 (Fri.) - (microcomputer lab, Garland Hall)

Week 3: Cyberpunk--Origins

Sept. 9 (Mon.)

Sept. 11 (Wed.) - Reading:

Sept. 13 (Fri.) - (microcomputer lab, Wilson Hall)

Week 4: Replicants and Cyberpunk

Sept. 15 (Sun.) - Viewing: Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (1992)
Sept. 16 (Mon.) - Surfing: 2019: Off-World (Blade Runner Page)
Sept. 18 (Wed.) - Reading:

Week 5: Cyborgs and Biopolitics

Sept. 22 (Sun.) - Viewing: James Cameron, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Sept. 23 (Mon.)

Sept. 25 (Wed.) - Reading:

Sept. 27 (Fri.) - Reading: Allison Fraiberg, "Of Aids, Cyborgs, and Other Indiscretions: Resurfacing the Body in the Postmodern."   (No class meeting--attend Patricia Meyer Spacks lecture on Monday, 4:10-5:00, Wilson 126)

Week 6:  Gender in Cyberspace

Sept. 29 (Sun.) - Viewing: James Cameron, Aliens (1986)
Sept. 30 (Mon.)

Oct. 2 (Wed.)

Oct. 4 (Fri.) -

Week 7:  Hypertext: An Introduction

Oct. 6 (Sun.) - Viewing: Lawnmower Man
Oct. 7 (Mon.) - Reading:

Oct. 9 (Wed.) - Reading:

Oct. 11 (Fri.) - Workshop: Construct a practice web page(microcomputer lab, Wilson Hall).  In Netscape 3.0 Gold, click on the "File" menu, then choose "New Document."  From the popup menu that appears, choose "From Wizard."  Read directions, then press "Start." Complete as many of the steps as you have time for.  If you want to go to another web site while working on yours, click "File," then "New Web Browser."  This will open a second copy of Netscape, which you can browse at your leisure, looking for URLs or images to copy.  Save your web page twice: once to your folder on the Wilson Lab server, then again on a floppy disk.  Bring the disk to class (with your name on it) Monday.

Week 8: Hypertext Theory/Fiction

Oct. 13 (Sun.) - Viewing: Lawnmower Man II
Oct. 14 (Mon.) - Reading:

Oct. 16 (Wed.) - Reading: Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl.  From the Title Page, follow the link to Sources.  Then, after returning to the Title Page, follow the link to Phrenology and complete all the links that open out from this page.  Feel free to browse any of the other paths.  You should also work with the four different map utilities until you understand how they work.

Oct. 18 (Fri.)

Week 9: Hypertext Reading/Writing

Oct. 20 (Sun.) - Viewing: Atom Egoyan, The Adjuster (1991)
Oct. 21 (Mon.) - Reading: Interactive discussion of Patchwork Girl.  Bring laptops to class.
Oct. 23 (Wed.) - Reading: Jean Baudrillard, "The Ecstasy of Communication" (Reserve Room)
Oct. 25 (Fri.) - Oral report: Preliminary description of hypertext writing project.

Week 10: Hypertext Reading/Writing

Oct. 27 (Sun.) - Viewing: Terry Gilliam, Brazil (1985) - Garland 101 (note changed movie location)
Oct. 28 (Mon.) - Conclude discussion of Patchwork Girl.  Bring laptops to class.

Oct. 30 (Wed.) - Hypertext Design. 

Nov. 1 (Fri.) - Hypertext workshop (Wilson Hall computer lab)

Week 11: Hackers

Nov. 3 (Sun.) - Viewing: Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects (1995)
Nov. 4 (Mon.) - Reading: Larry McCaffery, "Introduction: The Desert of the Real," in Storming the Reality Studio
Nov. 6 (Wed.) - Reading: Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier - "Preface to the Electronic Release," "Introduction," and "Part 1: Crashing the System"
Nov. 8 (Fri.) - Reading day: Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier "Part 2: The Digital Underground"

Week 12: Hackers

Nov. 10 (Sun.) - Viewing: Pulp Fiction
Nov. 11 (Mon.) - Reading: Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier "Part 3: Law and Order"
Nov. 13 (Wed.) - Reading: Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier "Part 4: The Civil Libertarians" and "Electronic Afterword to The Hacker Crackdown, New Years' Day, 1994"
Nov. 15 (Fri.) - Hypertext workshop

Week 13: Stuart Moulthrop--New Frontiers in Web Hypertext Fiction

Nov. 18 (Mon.) - Javanese

Nov. 20 (Wed.) - Hypermedia with Java

Nov. 22 (Fri.) -

Thanksgiving Vacation (November 23 - December 1)

Week 14: Living in an Information Order

Dec. 2 (Mon.) - Reading: Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2
Dec. 4 (Wed.) - Workshop (Wilson Hall computer lab)
Dec. 6. (Fri.) - Workshop (Wilson Hall computer lab)

Week 14 (cont.): Conclusion

Dec. 9 (Mon.) - Workshop:  Resource page and draft of hypertext project due.  (Wilson Hall computer lab)

Final due dates of course materials

Dec. 13 (Fri.) - Comments on class hypertexts due.  Post comments on the class newsgroup.
Dec. 19 (Thurs.) - Final version of hypertext project due.

Send email to claytojb@ctrvax.vanderbilt.edu

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last modified 12/10/96