American Panopticons: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and Televisual Subjectivity
in Literature, Film, Photography, & Art of the Americas

Spring 2012 |  English 725/MALAS 600B SEMINAR  |  Dr. William A. Nericcio, Professor, English & Comp Lit/Director, MALAS

n Spring 2011, my esteemed colleague, Professor Quentin Bailey, taught a memorable seminar for the English and Comparative Literature graduate program entitled "Police and Panopticons." It is in that vein, but with a decidedly different line-up of texts, that I now propose to teach a seminar on Voyeurism and Surveillance entitled "American Panopticons." Please don't tell Dr. Bailey that I stole his idea; he may set those aforementioned police on my tail (or, worse yet, the ghost of Michel Foucault). Seriously, when it comes to the dizzying mirror of the panopticon, invented by Brit polymath Jeremy Bentham in 1791, there is plenty of good material on both sides of the Atlantic, and so it is that in my first American Literature graduate seminar in ages, I turn my eye to Uncle Sam's mirror and to the cultural space of the United States with a course focused on seeing, subjectivity, television, film, art, and more.

The book, art, and film list includes Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, Robert Storr et al's Gary Panter, Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives, Oliver Mayer's The Hurt Business, yours truly's Tex[t]-Mex, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Gilbert Hernandez's Human Diastrophism, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Paul Virilio's War and Cinema, Nathanael West's Day of the Locust, Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Chris Ware's Acme Novely Library, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, Hal Hartley's Flirt, John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, Klaus Honnef's Andy Warhol and Sophia Coppola's Somewhere. Photography by Diane Arbus, essays by Susan Sontag, Frantz Fanon, and Michel Foucault, and more may supplement our main readings/screenings/sightings.

Through all of these masterworks lurks a deep and abiding curiosity about screens, representations, subjectivity, simulacra, celebrity, and mimesis. The goal of our seminar will be to give ourselves over to a kind of intellectual scopophilia, a libidinally-laced "satisfaction derived principally from looking."
Many dominant themes will vie for our attention: "seeing and the Subject," "traces of Hollywood," "the cinematics of war/warring cinematics," and more. Most interesting of all, perhaps, will be our examination of how screen culture (Hollywood, cameras, motion pictures, {and now} tablets and smartphones) "seep" in/through culture--it gets to the point that you can't imagine a piece of fiction not somehow "touched" by the eye/I of the screen. I am presently finishing a book that looks at the consequences of this "touching"--an almost viral form of reproduction that leads to the formation of "televisual subjectivities."

This graduate seminar is listed both as an English American Literature seminar (Engl 725) 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 2012 roster of courses; advanced undergraduates should write if they are interested in auditing a seminar or two.

What you can expect, what is expected...
how to succeed in a literature/cultural studies/interdisciplinary seminar...


graduate seminar course (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; more like serious in the "great, now i have to be accountable for my intellectual range, preparation, and imagination" sense.

My expectation, of course, is that you will enter each seminar session having carefully completed the assigned reading for a given day.  But you should also know that my desire far outstrips my expectations!  My 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.  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.  And because we are a hybrid animal, with literature-fetishizing folks, cultural studies-devoted gente, and other, assorted malcontents, this will give all of you the chance to share your various knowledges, experiences, and research with the group in a way that will be transformative. 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. We will be prowling through issues of aesthetics, visual culture, political science, history, and American Studies for four long months together; promise me, and promise yourself that you will use the time we have together to share the amazing contours of your imagination!

american panopticon televisual journal

One of your required pieces of technology is actually a small, plain, brown journal--please buy the ones available at the campus bookstore. You are responsible for bringing it to each and every class with at least 5 pages of writing on the readings for that give weak--think of it as a prehistoric palm pilot.  You are encouraged to decorate it uniquely so that you can recognize it and retrieve it quickly when returned to you by your interloping seminar professor.  Feel free to paste images in it that you run across that relate to your readings and your researches. If you are an artist/photographer, etc, do feel free to let your journal reflect the range of your modes of expression.

big scary seminar paper

This being a "graduate seminar," it is expected that you will produce a scintillating piece of rhetorical excellence in the course of the semester--if you are an English graduate student, a piece of literary criticism the likes of which never before seen since Edward Said's pen went silent! If you are a MALAS student, a piece of cultural studies wizardry that would make the shade of Walter Benjamin return to the planet to say "chapeau."  To that end, you will submit to me on Tuesday, May 8, 2011, in our seminar, a well-researched, nicely crafted, exquisitely-honed critical essay anywhere from 12 to 22 pages.  
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 which 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.

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.

office hours

My office hours are on Wednesday afternoons from noon to 3pm and by appointment  in Arts and Letters 273--do please take the time to introduce yourself and be a real, living, breathing, dynamic part of our seminar. My phone number is 619.594.1524 and email address is
required texts

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COURSE SYLLABUS | Updated from time to time...
Tuesday, January 24, 2011

January 31, 2011
In class, we will continue our screening and discussion of DAVID LYNCH's remarkable 1986 opus, BLUE VELVET.  Continue reading ahead in the volumes by ANGER, NERICCIO, and WEST (especially THE DAY OF THE LOCUST)--we will use some of our time today to begin preliminary WESTian considerations.
Tuesday, February 7, 2011


Tuesday, February 14, 2011
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Tuesday, February 21, 2011
Tuesday, February 28, 2011
Tuesday, March 6, 2011
Tuesday, March 13, 2011
You can also read the RITA HAYWORTH chapter in Tex[t]-Mex if you have the time or inclination; this, especially, if you are intrigued by the idea of "woman" as text or construct in american lit/film history...

Tuesday, March 20, 2011
Tuesday, March 27, 2011

Spring BREAK.... no class!  I know, I know, you're heartbroken!  Me too...!
Tuesday, April 3, 2011
Read Toni Morrison's THE BLUEST EYE (click to enlarge)

Tuesday, April 10, 2011
Read Panter and Warhol--most important in Panter is the 2nd Book.... you may want to read the last part of the 2nd book first and then page through the collection; only bring the 2nd book to class unless you really want to lug the monster with you all day....

Tuesday, April 17, 2011

No readings.... save for this essay by Dery.... however, you are expected to bring the first three pages of your seminar essay to turn in to me in class.

Dery Lecture Poster | MALAS

alt view of assignment prompt collage

Tuesday, April 24, 2011
Seminar hiatus owing to professorial viral encounters!

Tuesday, May 1, 2011
Read YOUNG VALIANT, BLADE TO THE HEAT, and JOY OF THE DESOLATE for class today; do feel free to forage around in the HURT BUSINESS collection for any support materials that catch your eye...

Tuesday, May 8, 2011
More Graphic Narrative as we dive into the mad manic minds of GILBERT HERNANDEZ and CHRIS WARE...  bring both books to seminar...  NOTE! UPDATE!!!As I hate to have papers due when you also have material to prepare, I am giving you the option of turning your essays in on Friday, May 11, 2012, by noon.  However, NO EMAILED essays will be accepted, though--so plan carefully!

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Friday, May 11, 2011
Turn your seminar papers by NOON today, under the door, Arts and Letters 273.