spring 2020    |    sdsu.edu     |    literature.sdsu.edu        dr. william nericcio

e will move at light speed in space, time, language, region, and culture—from 1865 and the Civil War to 2020 and the Border Wall; from “America” as Uncle Sam’s bastard child to the “United States” as only a small part of the Americas proper. And we will consider issues, ideas, and debates across the spectrum of American literary studies and American cultural studies . The final roster of authors and books is “in the works,” as they say, but the class will be sure to include the magisterial musings of Toni Morrison, the fractured consciousness of Salvador Plascencia, the hilarious and painful revelations of Kurt Vonnegut, and mucho mas more—also likely to make cameos? Twain, Dickinson, Faulkner, Baldwin, Steinbeck and others.

But just what is this seductive American nightmare?

We are, after all, doused in the verbiage of the "American Dream" from cradle to crave, but what would be its counterpart, its nemesis, its other? Finding all this out (or getting lost trying) is part of the project of the class.

We begin outside the United States inspired by the jottings of  noted post-colonial critic, Homi Bhabha, who, in speaking of the relationship between territory and storytelling, asks us to imagine "Nation and Narration" as a kind of conjoined organism--in Bhabha's view (and in this regard he mirrors/anticipates what comes to be known as New Historicism here and abroad) there is a direct connection between the tales a nation tells about itself (and distributes and disseminates) and the peoples populating that land.
So what might look like on the surface as a chronological summary of American literature from the 1860s to the present also emerges as a form of historical and psychoanalytic time travel as we relive (through the prism of delicious writing) vital, compelling, and evocative episodes from Uncle Sam's hidden, unconscious closet!

For instance when it comes to the area of comedy, is there something real that links the vision of Twain, Vonnegut, and (moving into the present) Steven Colbert? Can we identify an aesthetic or cultural through-line that fuses the semantic sketches of an Emily Dickinson and a Toni Morrison? What about Nathanael West, Orson Welles, and Raoul Peck (see below).

Needless to say, our American seductive nightmares will not be limited to the strictly literary, as we will also carefully consider American acts of imagination and cunning that are artistic (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Gilbert Hernandez), cinematic (Orson Welles, Raoul Peck) and photographic (Diane Arbus, Ana Mendieta, Francesca Woodman). These visual narratives will be dropped into the mix to supplement our reading of seductive American fictions and to infect our sampling of vital American poetry.

One final note! Though this class is designed for Comparative Literature and English majors, minors and non-majors are welcome to jump into the fray with us.  Class readings and syllabus updates will be live here soon!

Required Books

Note: PLEASE NO DIGITAL BOOKS--all students must bring their delicious literary jewels made of paper, ink, and glue to our imagination laboratory / classroom for class discussion! 

Also--note that the book links provided below are included to ensure you pick up the correct edition of the required books, NOT to make Jeff Bezos more money at Amazon. All the correct editions are available from Aztec Shops Bookstore--and do beware bargains you may stumble across as the pagination may be different in older editions and you 
won't be able to follow along during class discussions.* 

Are used books ok? Of course they are--but beware the notes and scrawls you find in these discarded receptacles of knowledge (not to mention the sneeze remnants lurking within their pages!!!

Required Books

Mark Twain

Puddnhead Wilson


Molly Donovan
Warhol Headlines

Emily Dickinson

The Essential Emily Dickinson


Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five


William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying


Susan Sontag

On Photography


Nathanael West

Day of the Locust + Miss Lonelyhearts


William Nericcio



John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men


Tomás Rivera
y no se lo tragó la tierra


Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye


Salvador Plascencia

People of Paper


Klaus Honnef's
Pop Art


Required Cinema

Orson Welles

Touch of Evil

Raoul Peck

I Am Not Your Negro

Day to Day Calendar | Spring 2020

January 21, 2020

No class today--keep enjoying your winter break!

January 23, 2020

Our review of post Civil War American literature begins decades after that defining cataclysm; it comes from the years after the war, and slaps us in the face with an America still reeling from the consequences of that war, that pitted brother against brother, family against family. And, no surprise, racism and slavery (and its consequences) had scarred the collective unconscious of a land that champions itself as a Republic predicated on freedom. Enter the room having read the first 33 pages of Mark Twain's comic masterpieced Puddn'head Wilson. What opens as a character study of a peculiar auto-didact detective evolves as a masterclass on race, class, and more from an author more often associated with wit and humor than the savage satire that more aptly describes his writings--our American Voltaire, our American Jonathan Swift.

January 28, 2020

Continue to read Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson from pages 34 to 124--a substantial amount of reading so give yourself time to do it, perhaps in two sittings. Twain's Pudd'nhead... But we could also speak of Clemens's David Wilson... the problem or conundrum of the double, of doubling, of mirroring, of the doppelgänger, already being part of the game of this novel. Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens, Puddn'head Wilson and David Wilson, Thomas a Beckett, Tom; and Valet de Chambre, Chambers. All dance around our heads as we read the novel. And then, the novels themselves, doubled: Those Extraordinary Twins and Pudd'nhead Class.  In class we will do close readings of significant moments from your careful readings to date . Come to class with a passage typed that you view to be the most striking cluster of sentences in your 90 pages of reading. On the reverse side of the typed passage, write a 250 word, one page, justification for the selection of that passage. It should have a catchy title, interwoven direct quotes from the passage, and your best writing.

January 30, 2020

Enter class having finished your reading of Puddn'head Wilson. Go online to Project Muse and/or JSTOR and find an article on Puddn'head Wilson, Mark Twain, or both that catches your eye... bring to class a printout of the first page of that article and, perhaps highlighted, the portion of the argument that caught your attention. You DO NOT have to print out or read the entire article--I just want you to start firing up your literary research superpowers early in the semester. Bring this printout to class.

February 4, 2020

Enter our seductive den of literature having totally devoured The Essential Emily Dickinson--edited and with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates (read that carefully as well). Dickinson's deceptively short lyrics emerge, upon closer inspection, to be universes of meaning that teach us much about Dickinson and her psyche, but also about America and women in the United States, both before and after the Civil War--note: in having opened the semester with Twain (in lieu of Dickinson), your professor has revealed his rather weak (thx Mason!) command of chronology.

As an experiment in time travel, also begin to get to know the photography, performance art, and "sculpture" of these three American originals: Diane Arbus, Ana Mendieta, and Francesca Woodman. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be evocative resonances across the centuries (and across the media) between these four artists.


Would any of you like to memorize and perform a poem or two in class today? Let me know via email to bnericci@sdsu.edu

Lastly, be sure to screen this "Nerdwriter" seminar, by ace hermenaut Evan Puschack before class!

February 6, 2020

We are back to the deep South but move in time and space to the year 1930 with William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING. Enter the room having read to page 73 in your edition--this is the most infamous (and short) chapter in American literary history! "My mother is a fish."

A remarkable achievement of international Modernism, Faulkner's feat in AS I LAY DYING is to immerse you in the different singular consciousnesses that make up the Bundren family -- embarked on a bizarre odyssey with calamities of biblical proportions. If you are familiar with the Book of Job from the Old Testament, you will be right at home with the Bundrens.

As I Lay Dying, 1st edition
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February 11, 2020

Today you walk into our fugly #seductiveamericannightmares room, SSW 2501, having immersed yourself in Faulkners's AS I LAY DYING (1930)--that's a fancy way of saying FINISH reading the novel. Each chapter is a kind of test for you as you must adapt yourself to the mindset of the different characters -- for instance, Cash can be seen to have a
obsessive compulsive disorder, a mania for precision, that may or may not be a masking deeper feelings; Darl has a "second sight" seemingly able to see things he could not have witnessed and intuit others telepathically. Vardaman, the child, is either an idiot or a loving youth in shock--I lean on the latter as a distinct possibility. And Jewel, well let's just say that's complicated--we will leave our discussion of Jewel and Addie, for class.

Check out this page for how serious Faulkner scholars map (literally) the world he created in his fictions -- some limited references to AS I LAY DYING are made.

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February 13, 2020

Read Nathanael West's MISS
LONELYHEARTS (1933), 1-58.
Short, sweet, riveting, hot, and with the bite of a rattlesnake, Nathanael West's searing portrait of an East Coast newspaper writer is one for the ages. A bitter satire and a disturbing meditation on faith in the 20th century, West's nightmare portrait of America shows a nation poised between the medieval and the modern, between the reassuring tales and traditions of Christianity and the post WWI and pre WWII realities of the modern era.  Try to read in one sitting--you'll thank me later.

{Concerned about how much reading we are doing? Come talk to me in office hours--there's a method to the madness}

February 18, 2020

Still reeling from West's savage satire with MISS LONELYHEARTS, you turn to John Steinbeck perhaps expecting an easier time of things; for today
OF MICE AND MEN (1937), 1-107 -- a novella by a native Californian, Steinbeck, that routinely turns up on secondary school reading lists. Well, forget about that and keep your guard up. If you read OF MICE AND MEN in high school, you won't find the same book you read now. On the surface, this is a deceptively simple tale of a friendship between two drifter friends, Lenny (a mentally challenged mountain of a man) and George (his friend and keeper of sorts). But what emerges upon a slower, closer reading, is a deep dark meditation on poverty and desperation on the margins of American society--what I called in a previous class, an erotic neurotic America. A brilliant micro-epic, Steinbeck's novella delves into the hearts and minds of men (and one woman), great and small, and in the process divulges us new un-nerving revelations concerning our unfolding Seductive American Nightmares.

OF MICE AND MEN, 1st edition
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February 20, 2020

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From Lenny and George, and Steinbeck's tale of triumph, survival, and tragedy, we hop back to Nathanael West. Read DAY OF THE LOCUST (1939), pp 59-121. And you are in for a treat, as West's searing vision (all too evident in MISS LONELYHEARTS) is even more acute here with 'LOCUST. Arguably the most accurate portrayal of the darkside of Hollywood, West's tale, filled with American archetypes (and stereotypes!), is a literary vivisection of an America gone mad for distraction, entertainment, celebrities, fame, glory, and more. You think you had it bad with Honey Boo Boo and Khardasians... they ain't got nothing on 1930s Hollywood.

The Day of the Locust, 1st edition
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February 25, 2020

Finish reading West, DAY OF THE LOCUST, pp. 121 to 185 + Lethem's intro, vii-xi and the afterword by John Sanford, 187-191.

Come to class ready to share two or more passages from the reading that you view to be essential to the novel--passages/quotations that carry within them what you view to be the DNA of the novel.

February 27, 2020

Read pages 15-38 in TEXTMEX--these comprise the Introduction and Seductive Hallucination Gallery One from my magnum opus; also read pages 39 to 46, the first few pages on Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL In class we will screen the first part of Welles's movie and then move to a brief discussion of this magnificent example of noir cinema.

March 3, 2020

Finish reading the TOUCH OF EVIL Chapter in TEXTMEX--if you can, start reading the next chapter on Rita Hayworth, one of Welles's many wives (Welles, one of Hayworth's many husbands).

March 5, 2020

In class we will finish TOUCH OF EVIL and begin Y NO SE LO TRAGO LA TIERRA. You are welcome to read the book either in Spanish or in English.  If you read the English, read pages 75 to 105; in the Spanish, pages 1 to 31. With Rivera's narrative, we are very near the border regions, in a space akin to Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL, but we are also very much in a space of its own, a region with a history of its own.

In class, before we begin our closing discussion on TEXTMEX and TOUCH OF EVIL, and our opening discussion of Y NO SE LO TRAGO LA TIERRA, we will likely have an in-class assignment. Be prepared. Know the authors, titles, and major characters from all works we have read this term.

March 10, 2020

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man--Tomas Rivera Edition

Finish reading Tomas Rivera's Y NO SE LO TRAGO LA TIERRA--also read my piece on Frida Kahlo and Gilbert Hernandez in TEXTMEX: SEDUCTIVE HALLUCINATION OF THE "MEXICAN" IN AMERICA--before you do so, read this graphic narrative biography of Frida Kahlo by Gilbert Hernandez here.

Note this was our final face-to-face class of the semester owing to the nefarious workings of the coronavirus!

March 12, 2020

More sadness wrought by the coronavirus storm!

Today is a special field trip class! Do not come to SSW 2501! Instead, head across campus to Peterson's Gym Room 153--there, our group of 32 English and Comparative Literature majors will join with 200+ Religious Studies undergraduates in Dr. Roy Whitaker's class for a lecture by yours truly focused on the work of Daniel Olivas and his SDSU Press title THINGS WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT. It is available here, but I advise you to pick up your copy from the campus bookstore as it is a little bit cheaper there.

To prepare for this special class, you will have read pages 11-55 in Olivas's book--these are brief essays written by the LA-based author.  Also read the following interviews: Martínez, 61; Urrea, 74; Gurba, 80; Plascencia, 89; Arellano, 101;  Quinones, 125; Tobar; 136; Grande, 192; and Blanco, 197.

Post Coronavirus
Updated Syllabus

March 17, 2020

It is a brave new world as we continue our semester--utterly shattered by the unruly dark magic of coronavirus fever, we take a deep breath and try to brace for the new, the unpracticed, the unexpected.

So, do not walk into SSW 1501--stay home and read Susan Sontag's ON PHOTOGRAPHY.

Before you begin your reading, listen to Seductive American Nightmares Podcast #1--here is the link. Or hit this Soundcloud graphic-link now:

... THEN watch this video--an Orson Welles (!!!) narrated version of Plato's ALLEGORY OF THE  CAVE ... then do the readings below!

Do you have to read ALL of the book? Only if you wish--to help kill the time between news updates regarding the virus. Seriously, you are only responsible for the following: read "In Plato's Cave" and "America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly." pp3-48. After reading these pages, think about what Sontag's main arguments are; even better, as you read, try to get inside her head--try to "become Sontag."

Updated owing to survey
monkey suggestions!


March 19, 2020

You have the day OFF!  Relax! Drink some wine! Sleep in! Go for a walk--unless you are in lock down!

March 24, 2020

As you were messaged on Monday, March 16, 2020, you have online lectures to listen to here. Or click the linkimage here:

No reading today--well, maybe a little if you ignored the assignment above for Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Ok, here is your assignment. Hunt through these photographs by Diane Arbus, Ana Mendieta, and Francesca Woodman.

Find TWO (2) Photographs that you think BEST help you "become Sontag"--that is the two photographs that you think you can analyze applying a Sontagian method or actually using/adapting Sontag's logic and methods.

Write a 250 word (one page, double-spaced) riff on each photograph for a total of 500 + words as you'll want to craft a nifty brief intro and a killer, catchy conclusion; a groovy title for your writing would be good too.

Email this work to me as a word.doc or google.doc by 12 midnight today March 24, 2020.  Whatever you do, DO NOT USE MORE TIME THAN OUR CLASS PERIOD to author your masterpiece!

As a treat when you are finished, check out this documentary on HBO on the life and work of Sontag; the trailer is here.

Don't have HBO? Don't fret--watch this interview with Sontag for free! and here's her list of 50 best films!
This show, from 1983, may at first seem dated, but give it a try--a great meeting of the minds with Susan Sontag and John Berger throwing down word riffs on storytelling.

March 26, 2020

Today you will receive your Imagination Challenge Essay prompts--Essay due Friday, April 17, 2020 at 12noon, emailed to me at bnericci@sdsu.edu.

Spend your time from 9:30 to 10:45am today reading this essay by African American genius James Baldwin.

For today's class, read this essay, "Notes of a Native Son" by Baldwin. The piece is a new genre for us, really, that goes by the name of an "essay." An essay, of course, is not a story, not a novel, and not a poem; rather, an essay is a cogent, non-fiction piece of prose that tries to make an argument or reveal something new to its readers.  They can be persuasive, seductive, or combative--and no two essays are really alike.

James Baldwin is recognized as one of our greatest 20th century American essayists--and yet, as you will see with this piece, storytelling is very much still part of the "game" or "cipher" or "puzzle" that goes by the name of ESSAY. As you read, note how Baldwin moves in the essay--are there signature Baldwinian tactics that we can add to our own essays, that we can incorporate into our rhetorical strategies? What he means, is, of course, important, but I am more interested in you getting a feel for how he writes: are there things he achieves as a writer that you admire? that you might like to emulate in your own writing?

March 31, 2020

Happy Spring Break--no class!!!

Note: this canned photo depicts individuals without any knowledge of our latest social distancing practices!
April 2, 2020

Happy Spring Break--no class!!!

Note: Use this photo to guide you towards contracting COVID-19.

April 7, 2020

Perhaps now, after Spring Break, your mind turns seriously back to the goals of this class--remember, if you have not done so already, carefully read the essay "Notes of a Native Son" located here.

AFTER you read the essay, listen to my three podcast lectures (#6, #7 & #8)  on Baldwin--as you listen, have the essay open in front of you so when I do a page callout we can be on the same page!

This week after Spring Break, we continue your James Baldwin experience--you spent some time with his awesome writing on the Thursday before Spring Break. Now, today, you are asked to screen Raoul Peck's I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO--a bracing cinematic documentary focused on the life and writing career of James Baldwin.  It is free to you here via the SDSU Kanopy account.

If for some reason, you cannot get Kanopy to cooperate, you can stream the documentary using one of these sources (not free!): https://decider.com/movie/i-am-not-your-negro/
April 9, 2020

Read the first half of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.
April 14, 2020


If you can make the time--when you finish the novel--also read this piece on Vonnegut written by Salman Rushdie.


April 16, 2020

No reading for today-
-also, remember your Imagination Challenge Major Essay is due tomorrow, Friday, April 17, 2020, to me via email, bnericci@sdsu.edu,  by 12 noon!

Friday, April 17, 2020

By 12noon today please be sure to email me your essay (to memo@sdsu.edu or bnericci@sdsu.edu). Do please format the document single-spaced, not double-spaced, as I will be printing them, grading them, and the photographing the graded pages to send back to you.

It is Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19nth--I can't force you to, but I strongly advise you to catch up on your listening/reading to your class podcasts. I can guarantee you that information from the podcasts will re-appear on your final exam.  Also keep in mind that without doing the readings first ... of Sontag, of Baldwin, and of Vonnegut, the podcasts are useless, and as fun to listen to as watching paint dry. So please catch up using this link:

April 21
, 2020

We near the end of our American adventure and we have saved the best for last as we venture toward the striking first novel by Toni Morrison, THE BLUEST EYE.

By midnight tonight, read up to page 163--a trigger warning, the last part of this reading is brutal and potentially disturbing (and yet also, essential to Morrison's project). On the off chance we all have different editions. This is page 164 in my edition of the book. It may seem like a lot of pages, but I doubt you will be able to put the book down once you get into it. 

We will NOT HAVE A ZOOM CLASS TODAY! To give you more time to read and listen to the podcasts, I am bumping our next Zoom class to Thursday, April 23, 2020.

April 23, 2020

Finish Morrison's outstanding novel for today's class.

We are very likely to have an online quiz/writing assignment at the beginning of class at 9:30am sharp. So have your zoom open, but also have a browser window open with an email to bnericci@sdsu.edu ready to send to me!  What will you put in that email? You will find out at 9:30am sharp. One hint!? It will help to be all caught up with your podcasts.

April 28, 2020

Plascencia readings for this week are optional--use the extra time to catch up on the other required books for the semester in preparation for the exam next Thursday

April 30, 2020

Plascencia cancelled. Or, better put, optional--a remarkable contemporary American novel by an equally remarkable American writer.

For today--focus on Warhol; specific pages forthcoming.

Zoom session today likely.

May 5, 2020

Final Exam Review via zoom!

Note! I can't change
the time of this exam as it
is your final.


7, 2020

Final Imagination Challenge, aka the Final Exam

Today, at 9:30am, I will email you an exam--you will have until 11am to email it back to me.  Good luck!  I hope you do amazingly well.

Class Rules & Expectations | Spring 2020

Classic Uncle Sam ... (more below)