The University of Iowa
Phone: (319) 335-0454
Brooks Landon is a Professor in the University of Iowa English Department, where he teaches courses on contemporary literature, including science fiction, and a Prose Style course devoted entirely to the many forms sentences can take. He is currently fascinated by the apocalyptic turn in contemporary postmodern fiction, and has become something of an expert in forms taken by our current fascination with zombies, devoting a course, “Dead is the New Alive” to the question: Why do we apparently need all these zombie stories? His postmodern fiction course, “Masters of Disaster,” focuses on the many kinds of non-zombie apocalypses that have recently appeared in literary fiction. His Prose Style course is built around his book, Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds Sentences We Love to Read. Landon earned his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and has been at Iowa since 1978.
A User’s Guide to Postmodern Fiction
Postmodernism means many different things in many different contexts. Postmodern architecture is not the same as postmodern fiction and postmodern fiction comes in more flavors than a well-known ice cream purveyor has flavors. Postmodern fiction comes after modern fiction, but modern fiction still gets written. Postmodern fiction is a reaction against modern fiction, but still shares many of its concerns and characteristics. Postmodern fiction is a mess. And, whatever it was, it’s almost certainly over, possibly replaced by a sensibility that is post 9/11.
For purposes of this talk—but without relying too heavily on critical jargon, I’ll consider postmodernism largely in terms of Lyotard’s description of it as a resistance to meta-narrative (“big” narratives that claim to explain everything, such as religion or Marxism) and of Jameson’s description of it as a “cultural dominant” (an attitude or atmosphere that pervades everything). More specifically, I define postmodernism as the culture of the easy-edit, a time when science and technology allow us to change just about anything. And I define postmodern fiction as fiction that rises from or responds to postmodern culture.
It’s probably more accurate to speak of postmodernisms than of a single postmodernism and its almost certainly more accurate to speak of postmodern fictions than of a single postmodern fiction. So, I’ll be talking about a fair number of novels that approach postmodern concerns from a fair number of different angles—books by familiar authors such as David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo, as well as books by younger and lesser known authors such as William Gibson, Jonathan Lethem, Chuck Palahniuk, Mark Leyner, and Max Brooks. My goal will be to create a broad context in which readers can more specifically place some of their own favorite authors and have a better idea of what they are up to.
Building Better Sentences: A Quick and Dirty and Pretty Much Grammar-Free Guide to More Effective Writing
Best-selling and critically acclaimed American novelist Don DeLillo has written: “This is what I mean when I call myself a writer. I construct sentences.” And Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham has written: “I’m still hoping to write a great sentence. If I do, I’ll let you know.” I think I know what both writers are trying to get at with their stark focus on the sentence, and I think I can show how attention to a very few ideas can help anyone write better sentences. So, this is a talk about all the important ways sentences get longer–and shorter. Whatever we can learn about how they work, what they do, how we can think and talk about them in ways that will help both our own writing and our understanding of the writing of others. Our concern will be with stretching our sense of options–all the things a sentence can be and/or do—not a trudge toward grammatical correctness and avoidance of errors, but a dance with language, a celebration of the gift of style.