simulat{ed/ing} 'americans'

Literary Permutations of Subjectivity in
the Televisual Age of Sex and Race

ENGL 625 Sched # 21143 OR MALAS 600B Sched # 21885 | 3:30-6:10pm, Tuesdays | Storm Hall-316W  Professor William Nericcio







Issues of simulation (and stimulation, of a sort) will be our primary terrain in this rambling tour of American cinema, literature, graphic narrative, and more. For some reason, and on more than one occasion, literary titans with an American background, or an "American" background, have authored works focused on issues of simulation and dissimulation, miming, aping, copying, mirroring, etc. These narratives of mimesis are also at once mimetic narratives, echoing/shadowing/mirroring prior narratives. For instance, you don't have to be Jorge Luis Borges (see "The Circular Ruins" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius") to understand that literary history is a grand symphony of mimicry and mocking--that Melville's Moby Dick, is, in some ways, a rewriting of the Old Testament (the Old Testament, itself, being but a treasure trove of revised Assyrian mythologies--and god knows who they lifted their tales from).

In this review of largely 20th century American literary classics and curiosities, we will focus on all sorts of mimetic acts, from the exposes/enactments/embodiments of Hollywood that drive Nathanael West's imagination in DAY OF THE LOCUST, and Billy Wilder's fancy in SUNSET BOULEVARD to the recreations of Latin America and the U.S/Mexico border that fuel Gilbert Hernandez's HUMAN DIASTROPHISM, and Alex Rivera's SLEEP DEALER, to the meditations on human surrogacy afoot in Craig Gillespie & Nancy Oliver's LARS AND THE REAL GIRL and Ira Levin's STEPFORD WIVES.  Always already, we will lurk in/at/on/with the uncanny valley.

Is our seminar a literature class focused on mass culture? Or is it a mass cultural studies class dabbling in literature.  That, in the end, will be up to you and your own parallel researches as your contributions to the seminar are essential to our success.

So our class is a hybrid, a chimera, a mutt.  And it is a mutt in more ways than one as we are an institutional body subject to the forces of the mestizaje (and not just because your professor is Chicano).  We are also an intellectual creature with mixed DNA because some of our students come from the Department of English and Comparative Literature at SDSU, while the rest come from MALAS, the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences--LITheads and MALASheads, conspiring intellectually under the same covers. (The snapchats should be awesome!). And we also have other brilliant lurkers in our group--Journalism/Media Studies, Sociology, and even some lurking magnificent undergraduates who have a thirst for graduate school!

Our friends from bring their expertise with books, with storytelling, with literary criticism to the party, while our denizens bring their interdisciplinary superpowers to the table--that along with their willingness to boldly conjoin several disciplines simultaneously in a single bound! Each enclave will bring talents, experiences, and expertise to the mix in a way that will benefit all of us gathered here.

Studying American Literature using tactics gleaned from critical theory and interdisciplinary studies is nothing to sneeze at. On the surface it is what it proclaims itself to be--an intellectual project that shuns any strict allegiance to any one field, any one set of practices and conventions. The popularity of interdisciplinary studies across the academy has been fueled by the avalanche of innovation led by post-structuralists including: Jacques Derrida (Philosophy), Michel Foucault (Intellectual History), Edward Said (Literature and {later} Post Colonial Studies), Jacques Lacan (with Frantz Fanon, and later, Luce Irigaray) (Psychoanalysis), Andy Warhol, Michael Basquiat (Art), Marshall McLuhan (and later, Stuart Hall) (Media Studies/Cultural Studies), and Gayatri Spivak (Marxist Criticism) {just to name a few}. Interdisciplinary and cultural studies are practices that reward the eclectic, wandering mind. In interdisciplinary studies, the periphery is rich, and the margins reveal themselves as the best places to investigate cultural phenomena. 

Because of the particular training of your ringleader, our readings during the course of the semester will foreground issues of great debates presently roiling the corridors of academe, so that race, gender, sexuality, and 
politics will drive many of our discussions--that said, the floor will be open to other approaches/other “texts,” and graduate students in our seminar should feel empowered to share books, films, essays, and the like that embody the best of cultural and interdisciplinary studies.

Agents of intellectual evolution and change, graduate students who engage in espionage focused on simulated and simulating Americans, we will be treated to an ever-evolving tapestry of practices and phenomena, peering over the shoulder of one practitioner here, gleaning new insights from another researcher in another field (and another focus) there, English & Comparative Literature and MALAS graduate students (and their peers/comrades/partners-in-crime) from other fields will find themselves re-inventing themselves and their intellectual scope each week, and in the end, are all the stronger.

This graduate seminar is listed both as an English American Literature seminar (Engl 625) and a MALAS cultural studies seminar (MALAS 600B), and is open to graduate students in all fields and disciplines--graduate students in Theatre, Film, Art, Women's Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Anthropology are invited to consider adding this class to their Spring 2015 roster of courses; advanced undergraduates should write if they are interested in auditing a seminar or two.

Seminar Logistics

How to succeed in our introduction to cultural studies/interdisciplinary studies seminar...

n English & Comparative Literature or MALAS graduate seminar--the closest you can get to doing doctoral level work in the humanities at SDSU--is a pretty serious thing.

Or, better put: it can be a pretty serious thing.

 But not serious in the "heart-attack" sense of "serious"; more like serious in the "great, now i have to be accountable for my intellectual range, preparation, and imagination" sense. Our expectation, of course, is that you will enter each seminar session having carefully completed the assigned reading for a given day--if you do not intend to keep up with the readings, why be part of the adventure? 

But you should also know that our desires far outstrip our expectations

Our desire is that you will have both prepared the material by doing the reading, but that you will also have “prepared” the material as if you were the professor for the class--this is, in fact, what sets your work as a graduate student apart from your previous work in undergraduate classes.  That means doing the reading, surveying recent research in the field of said work, looking up published reviews and scholarship that focus on said work, and preparing questions (both discussion questions and close-reading-related questions) to share with your professor and your colleagues. When we are undergraduates, it is easy, perhaps, to sit in the back of the room and listen. And while you can still get away with this as a graduate student, you must also consider that said silence does your colleagues a disservice. Promise me (and promise yourself) that you will use the time we have together to share the amazing contours of your imagination!

Graduate Seminar Presentations  (or "you are the professor")

Graduate Student presentations are not mandatory for this class--however, if you spy an upcoming work on the reading list and you want to deliver a 20 minute presentation that will benefit your development as a scholar, write me at and give me a headsup about your wishes! Yes, this will bless you with "extra-credit" which MAY be of use when it comes time to determine your grade.

Seminar Paper

This being a "graduate seminar," it is expected that you will produce an amazing piece of rhetorical excellence in the course of the semester--a seminar paper or essay. To that end, you will submit to me on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in our seminar at the Blind Lady Alehouse (see below), a well-researched, nicely crafted, exquisitely-honed critical essay anywhere from 15 to 20 pages; note that this is the final day of class and we will be having an in-class colloquium/party where you will share your findings in well-honed/crafted 5 minute oral presentations (think of it as doing standup, with smarts!)  The essay should be typed, double-spaced, and carefully proofread. It should not have any special cover page or plastic cover--a staple or paper clip in the upper left hand corner is fine.

What will this beautiful essay be about? That's the fun part! Let us first consider the obvious: you are a graduate student. What does that mean? It means that you are a scholarly apprentice of sorts. You are one in a long line of individuals who aspire to scholarship--someone who aims to produce an exegesis of the first order.  Like it or not, one of the things that will determine whether or not you have what it takes to get past the gates at the ivory tower is your writing. It used to be that writing for literary journals was an extended exercise in pain and self-abuse. But the field is changing and so are its journals. That is the easy part.

How will you go about imagining this essay? Please have your essay derive or be based in large part on a text, author, director, theme, genre which is part of the required material for our class; moreover, I am also open to you conceiving of your submission to me as a draft chapter from your master's thesis, or a possible submission to critical journal.

Footnote vs. endnote? MLA style vs. Chicago style vs. APA style?

These controversies have been solved for you in advance. As part of your assignment, I want you to immerse yourself in the variety of journals now publishing essays in , literature, film studies, cultural studies, comparative literature and contemporary studies in comparative cultures. You may complete this immersion here at SDSU's Love library, at USD, or UCSD.

Some pretty good journals include: american literature, boundary 2, critical inquiry, social text, pmla, south atlantic quarterly, camera obscura and cinema journal.

Think of your essay, then, as an exercise in role-playing--any question you might have about format, tone, styles, footnoting tactics and the like will be answered by the editorial policy of the journal you select as your guide. Do please submit with your seminar essay, a copy of one essay from the journal you have selected that represents to you the BEST that journal has to offer. Also, if you can find it, include a xerox of the page in the journal where they tell prosepective contributors how to format their submissions.

Do note that our library has great, full-text, online journal archives like project muse and jstor--if you are off campus, you may have to log-in through the SDSU Libweb server reference index to access these invaluable index. If you have any question as to the appropriateness of a journal just give me a call or pull me aside and ask me.

What can you write on? Well, just about anything. I imagine the best exercise will be to throw all your books and notes on a table, think about what are some of the provocative issues that have stayed with you during the term and then head off to the library and those endless stacks of scholarly journals. By the time you’ve paged through all those journals and get back to your books and notes, you’ll have a firmer grasp on the goals of your analytical adventure. You’ll also probably have a headache--welcome to academe.

Seminar Paper Prompts

I don't usually give out essay prompts to graduate students--the reason for that is simple: graduate students should be pursuing their own line of research, building on the required readings for the class, but also, then, voraciously researching hunches/ideas that appeal to THEIR intellectual sensibility. However, I realize that not all graduate students in an MA program are ready for that level of engagement, so I will provide here, for your entertainment and delight, a short list of seminar paper prompts:

1. Technologies of Identity
Research and author an essay focused on the connections between technology and identity in two of the works we have read this term--feel free to add in a third text/film from outside the seminar if you feel it strengthens your thesis.

2. The Pathos of Self-Creation and Self-Loathing
Contrast the writing of Gertrude Atherton and Billy Wilder in Black Oxen and Sunset Boulevard. While the two works may be read to have a lot in common, there is also space to see these classic works of fiction and cinema as decidedly oppositional projects.

3. The Simulated Self/Psyche
Explore the consequences of self-invention in the works of Nathanael West, Oliver Mayer, and Toni Morrison.

4. The Violent Mirror
One of the consequences of simulation is that human psychology gets warped in the process--explore this premise in three works we have surveyed this term.

5. American Literature/Film and Race: Ethnic Studies and the Pathology of Verisimilitude.
Using the work of Boucicault, Nericcio, and Morrison, author a meditation on the vicissitudes of race and ethnicity in their works.

6. Monstrous Beauty
Contrast aesthetics, the branch of philosophy concerned with beauty, with the grotesque, which may be thought of a science of the ugly or as a philosophy of the weird/strange, in the works of Palahniuk, West, and Hernandez.

7. The Best Prompt of All
Design your own thesis! Bring a typed, one-paragraph proposal for your thesis with a tantalizing working title to class on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

office hours
First thing to do? Ignore this sign on your left!

My office hours are on Tuesday afternoons from 1pm to 3:15pm, before our seminar, and by appointment, in Arts and Letters 273 (though you may find me in AL 283 from time to time)--do please make the time during the course of the semester to come on out and  introduce yourself and be a real, living, breathing, person--
the social dimension of intellectual life is key to your development as a graduate student and, believe it or not, it will make it easier for you to emerge as a dynamic agent of our seminar. My phone number here at SDSU is  619.594.1524, but the best way to make sure you get ahold of me is to send me an email: My office is pretty easy to find, it's at the end of the hall to your left after you enter the Arts and Letters building 2nd floor, ground-level entrance.  Click the image opposite  to see what awaits you!




billy wilder


craig gillespie and nancy oliver

alex rivera

orson welles


dion boucicault

gertrude atherton

ira levin

nathanael west

oliver mayer

gilbert hernandez

toni morrison

william nericcio

chuck palhniuk


FIRST CLASS | Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If you are on this web page, then you are enrolled in Simulated Americans, an American Literature/Cultural Studies seminar that shows up as either ENGL 625 or MALAS 600B on your registration, depending on what 'flavor' you chose.  Whatever your registration designation, no worries, it's all the same class for everyone.

So welcome--it has been awhile since I taught a graduate seminar, Fall 2012, to be exact and I am excited to be back in the saddle.

Our class is going to feature tons of great novels and cinema, but it being a graduate seminar, you might also want to get doused with some critical theory!  If that is the case, you might want to read a little bit from Jorge Luis Borges, maybe "Narrative Art and Magic." and, of course, you must sample Jean Baudrillard;  Critical Theory is important, but not always essential for our work this semester--I will look to you to bring theoretical works that move you to seminar for sharing; I can hit you with more, too, (Archive Fever, anyone?) if you demand it.

Today you will walk into the seminar room having read Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West, aka Nathan Weinstein.  As you read, think about West's take on "simulation," on parroting, aping--the mirrored/mirroring activities that we imagine to be unique and personal--Shrike is a monster, in every sense of the word! The more you read his little novella, the more you'll understand the depths of West's imagination when it comes to simulated "Americans."


SEMINAR 3 | Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Seminar 3 has been cancelled; apologies to all students!  Use the time to catch up on your readings of West and Atherton.

SEMINAR 4 | Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seminar 4 finds us going back in time to the wild 20s--with Atherton's novel, BLACK OXEN, we are taken to a world that precedes West's novels, but that reveals as well the foundation for some of his more disturbing revelations.  The novel also prepares us, looking forward, for Billy Wilder's SUNSET BOULEVARD, another text featuring a female protagonist disturbed by passing time, obsessed with the damning consequences of aging.  Please bring to class a one-page (250 word) piece of writing that engages with a direct quote pulled from the reading.  What to choose? Focus on the one passage that you would isolate as the most pivotal (or provocative, or mesmerizing, or confusing--your call) and then explore why it functions in this way for your reading of Atherton's opus!

SEMINAR 5 | Tuesday, February 24, 2015

As a supplement to Atherton, we plunge into the abyss of tragedy, comedy, reverie, nostalgia and just plain genius that is Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder--if you wish to get ahead, as you have no reading this week, throw yourself into Dion Boucicault's THE OCTOROON in preparation for Seminar 6.

SEMINAR 6 | Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Read the introduction, two 'hallucination galleries' and any chapter you please other than that from Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the 'Mexican' in America.  In class, we will screen SLEEP DEALER by Alex Rivera--a meditation on borders, real and virtual in and between the United States and Mexico.  You are also expected to attend this event on Thursday where you can meet and hang with the Director, Alex Rivera!

click to enlarge:

SEMINAR 7 | Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What is a play by a Irishman who made his fame (and infamy) on the London stage, doing in an American Literature Graduate seminar? Has all hell broken loose? Am I playing havoc with the canon?  No, it's just that THE OCTOROON was the CATS of its day, the LION KING of its epoch! --a smash hit on the American stage.  Extra-credit to any individual or group of individuals who do a scene from the play for the class!!!!!  We are doing the play this week in my undergraduate Eyegasm seminar--the assignment there is specifically for that class, but you may find it to be useful also!

SEMINAR 8 | Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Race, gender, and ethnicity are all at the forefront of OLIVER MAYER's writings.  For seminar today, prepare two of his plays, BLADE TO THE HEAT and YOUNG VALIANT (and as much of the support material in THE HURT BUSINESS as you can stomach/devour).  Our class will feature a discussion of both works AND a guest lecture by University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne PhD candidate (and SDSU English Alum) Noel Zavala (more here). Zavala's lecture, "Rainbow Blades and Ringside Machismo: Latino Masculinity (a Tale of the Tape)," will open the class, followed by a Q&A, and then, after break, a general discussion of Mayer's literary combo.

click to enlarge

SEMINAR 9 | Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Read the Rita Hayworth and Touch of Evil Chapters in TEXTMEX--in class we will screen Orson Welles's magnificent mediation on the U.S. Mexican border, TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) and have an open ended discussion of Latina/o figuration/simulation. Prompts for your seminar paper appear below this rather amazing picture of Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh! (click to enlarge)

SEMINAR 10 | Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Break--don't simulate, stimulate!  Have a great week off! Whether this is in your future...

or this (more typical for graduate students)...

SEMINAR 11 | Tuesday, April 7, 2015

We are back from the break, well-rested and ready to rock! We enter our lovely, high-tech, low-ceilinged cell seminar room having read Ira Levin's novella, THE STEPFORD WIVES. Levin's meditation on delusion-fueled, male fantasy-driven manufacture gets us set for the home stretch of our tour of simulated/ing Americans--though published in 1972 (and insprired by Levin's experiences in Wilton, CT, during the 60s) is evocatively contemporary! No spoiler alert, but do pay close attention to the professions of the men's community association members.  As you read, be sure to find, highlight, print out and comment upon what you view to be the most provocative passage in the novel--go ahead and author this piece as a mini-writing assignment to turn in at the end of class (please don't let this piece of writing go longer than 2 to 3 pages, I just want a taste of your prose). This way,  I can mark and return your work to you before the big paper and you can have a sense of how I grade--with each prof in the Department having their own peculiar set of editorial proclivities, you will be less in the dark about my own semantic/rhetorical eccentricities.

SEMINAR 12 | Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I know, I know--we voted! And this is ... 'Merica... but graduate seminars are a tyranny at times and this one will be no different!  So, for class next week, I would ask you to carefully prepare both

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison...

and the first half of:

HUMAN DIASTROPHISM by Gilbert Hernandez

... the Frida Kahlo/Gilbert Hernandez chapter from Tex[t]-Mex is optional!

SEMINAR 14 | Tuesday, April 21, 2015

With Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk delves into our America now--one generation after the raucous narrative cacophany of Pynchon, decades past the bilous black satire of Vonnegut, years after the cynical seering wisdom of DeLillo, Palahniuk's nauseous, nauseating meditation on our particular strain of Uncle Sam's narcissism is enough to make us look away, make us stop reading--but we won't, of course. Like a train wreck, like a Kardashian meltdown, we cannot look away, cannot tear ourselves away from a spectacle that is as mesmerizing as it is terrifying, our ubiquitous asylum of invisible monsters.

SEMINAR 15 | Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Our colleague Julie Kitterman opens the class with a performance piece.  Next up?  LARS AND THE REAL GIRL falls into our laps and opens our eyes with Nancy Oliver and Craig Gillespies moving allegory of love, loss, and more.  We watch, mouth agape, as Bianca moves into Lars's life and ends up overwriting an entire community. At some level, we know that "Bianca," Lars's beloved is a prosthesis, a proxy, a placebo--but she is more as well.  As the film unfolds we come to relearn (for the first time?) the depths of the American simulacra--we simulate as we are simulated, ape even as we mirror, and in the process come to a better understanding of what it means to be in the 21st century.

A doll, our tutor to ontology? Something like that, and more!

SEMINAR 15 | Tuesday, May 5, 2015

No class. No party!  You get an extra week to write a killer essay!

SEMINAR 16 | Tuesday, May 12, 2015 LAST SEMINAR (OPTIONAL)

Class colloquium/party--as this class is after the regular class period, your participation in this gathering is optional, but I hope you come anyway.  Class will be held in the side room of the BLIND LADY ALE HOUSE/Restaurant in the heart of Normal Heights, a few miles from campus.  Come as early as 3pm, if you wish; by 3:30 we will go around the room as you share a 250 word/1page version of the essay you are turning in as the culmination of your work this semester!  The first few drinks and food will be on the MALAS program, so don't miss out on the wisdom, camaraderie, and fun!
3416 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116   |  (619) 255-2491