ENGL 3116 Topics in Advanced Theory: Postmodernism

About the Course

In this course you will read some of the major literature of postmodernism, along with key essays in theories of the postmodern. The way postmodern literature and cinema explores the tensions between the dream of utopia on the one hand and the specter of apocalypse on the other will be one of the chief themes you investigate in this course. Other themes will include the phantasmagoria of contemporary culture and the society of the spectacle, the emergence of radical new forms of consciousness and technology, and the ways in which our culture imagines and negotiates with the Other through such categories as war, gender, race, the alien, the machine, and the posthuman. Finally, you will consider the question of what it means to be human and whether being human poses an inherent conflict with modernity itself

As you will see on the syllabus, there are ten units for this course, including two novels, two non-fiction memoirs, two films, three theory essays and a selection of poems, along with a midterm, and a final examination. To complete a unit, click on that section of the syllabus and read through my introductory material before you begin reading the assignment. Each unit includes a brief introduction to the reading, questions to think about while you read, and a list of specific passages to focus on. Working through these materials will prepare you to compose your answers for the writing assignments that appear at the end of each unit. You will write a 1-2 page essay for each section. In your essays, refer to relevant material in the introductions, quote specific passages that support your analysis of the text, and include citations to any additional research you might do (for example, other web pages on the play or on related topics that you read). Once you have written and proofread these essays, follow the instructions for emailing them to me. The links on the syllabus to units Five and Ten represent the midterm and final exams which are essentially longer versions of the response papers. These pages also contain study guides to help you prepare for each examination.


  • As you work through the following units, you will learn about the distinguishing features of postmodern theory, culture, literature, and film. The general aim of this course is to improve your critical reading, thinking, and writing skills
  • To be able to read with understanding
  • To become proficient at identifying and critiquing the nuances of postmodern prose and poetry
  • To enhance his/her analytical writing skills through frequent composition of essays which assert and defend an interpretation of a specific text

Grade Breakdown

  • Each unit is worth ten percent of the course grade. When calculating your final grade, I will take into consideration any improvement (or lack thereof) as you progress through the units. You will receive a letter grade for each unit. These grades translate into the 4.0 number scale.

Required Text

Dispatches, Michael Herr

Neuromancer, William Gibson (novel)

White Noise, Don DeLillo (novel)

“The White Album,” Joan Didion (from The White Album)

Blade Runner, Ridley Scott (film)

The Matrix, The Wachowski Brothers (film)

You do not need to purchase the films unless you want to. You will also need to read the following poems, which can be found in The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover:

Robert Duncan, “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow”

Allen Ginsberg, “America”

Denise Levertov, “The Jacob’s Ladder”

Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died”

Instructor Bio

Patrick Pritchett earned a PhD in American literature at the University of Colorado. His dissertation, Writing the Disasters: The Messianic Turn in Postwar American Poetry,” examines the crisis of language after Auschwitz and turn to Jewish tropology by poets invested in saving the remnants of a modernist idiom. He is the author of several books of poems, including Burn – Doxology for Joan of Arc, and the chapbooks Reside, Lives of the Poets and Antiphonal.

His poems have appeared in New American Writing, Shiny, Bombay Gin, New Review of Literature, Hambone, Colorado Review and The Modern Review, among others. Scholarly articles include pieces in the volumes Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Politics of Place and Ronald Johnson: Life and Works. Essays and reviews on modern and contemporary poetry have been featured in American Book Review, Rain Taxi, English Language Notes and Jacket.

A former story analyst and script editor in the film business, where he worked for James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, and HBO, Pritchett teaches an online course in postmodern theory and literature at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has also taught literature and creative writing at Naropa University, Northeastern and Boston Universities. Currently he is a Lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University.

Email: patrick.pritchett@colorado.edu

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1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
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Boulder, Colorado