How I taught Suspense Fiction in Fall 1999

Earl
Jackson, Jr.


tomrip5@aol.com

Literature Department

University of California, Santa Cruz

Another
Scene

Teaching LTMO 145D Suspense Fiction,
Fall 1998


This document is an overview of how I taught LTMO 145D,
Suspense Fiction,
in the Fall of 1998 .


 

Contact Hours.

 I taught the lecture classes, Tuesday and Thursday,
12.00-1.45. I also took my own section, which met Tuesday mornings. I held
weekly meetings with my three teaching assistants. I also curated a Dario
Argento film festival
Tuesday evenings in conjunction with the course.
My official office hours were Tuesdays 3.00-6.00, but this was often extended
until the beginning of the film at 7.30. Wednesdays 1.30-3.00 and by appointment.
I attended each of the three other sections as an observer once. When the
TA’s went on strike, I took over the teaching of all four sections. When
the TA’s came back from strike, one of the TA’s had contracted the flu.
As she was also in her third trimester of a pregnancy, I decided to continue
teaching that section in addition to my own for the duration. In addition
to conventional office hours, I conducted consultations over email, and
mini-fora through live chat venues such as AOL, and for those not on aol,
I used IRC or ICQ. Besides preparing the lectures and correcting the papers
for my section, I also designed and maintained the
interactive Web
site integrated into the structure of the course itself.

The
Syllabus

A hard-copy of the syllabus was provided the students the
first day of class. The electronic version of the syllabus on the class
Web site was available for several weeks, through a hyperlink announcement
on Advanced Course Information. The
Syllabus
provided the following information:

    A Course Description
    The Requirements
    Readers at the Communication Building

Dario
Argento Film Series
, Curated by Earl Jackson, jr. Tuesdays 7.30 pm.
Kresge 321.

The content of the course, its theoretical orientation, and
the kinds of demands it represented were made available several weeks before
the first day of class, and were certainly vividly presented from the first
day on. All students were required to access the Web site regularly, and
to make use of the email network we developed. Thus students were thoroughly
informed from the first moment of the course, if not before.

For ease of reference, I include
below the course description and the requirements.


 

Course Description:


Suspense Fiction

An intensive survey of
the work of major writers in the genre provides the means for a focalized,
polylogic meditation on the constitution of and politics informing and
surrounding „genres.“ Lectures provide historical background and introductions
to genre theory, psychoanalysis, semiotics,
and cultural critique.

Requirements

General

Regular attendance at lecture, and regular
attendance and participation in section. Each student must have a functioning
email account, and provide the address to the section leader for the compilation
of a section-member email list.


 

Written Work

Weekly Assignments

Weekly 2-3 page response papers to be
submitted electronically to the instructor of the section assigned. All
assignments are to be submitted typed, double-spaced, and thoroughly annotated
(footnotes or endnotes, complete bibliography). Format must be internally
consistent, but you are free to use either the MLA Style Sheet or
the Chicago Manual of Style (unless one is preferred by the section
instructor). Most of the weekly assignments will be structured around a
particular question or questions related to the reading for the week. A
student may develop her or his own question, in consultation with the instructor.


 

Examinations

The will be a take-home midquarter and
a take-home final examination. Students will select one from several essay
questions, and respond in a well argued, fully annotated 5-7 essay with
citations, endnotes, and bibliography.


 

Internet Assignments

Familiarity with email, the WWW, etc.
is not a prerequisite for the course, but an elementary facility
with these sources is a requirement for passing the course.

Accessing and Working With Our Web Site

http;//www.anotherscene.com/suspense/

We have a robust and constantly growing,
interactive site dedicated to this course. Students are required to access
this site at least twice a week. Student assignments and corrected papers
will be posted [with the students‘ names removed.] Interlinear feedback
and corrections are set off by a separate color. Students should read all
of these corrected papers, whether or not theirs is included. I post these
papers because the kinds of difficulties an individual student has is more
often than not shared by a great many other students. By posting the papers
with corrections, the corrections are benefiting the group at large instead
of a sole individual. Furthermore, I find students can more readily follow
and appreciate corrections on someone else’s paper.

If you find your own work posted,
please come see me (or the instructor in question) to go over it in office
hours or in an appointment. Posting is only the beginning of the work,
not the end, nor a replacement for actual contact. Since accessing the
site is a requirement, I expect anyone whose work is posted to make an
appointment to address the problems and to discuss the feedback.


 

Research/Search/Surfing
with a Purpose

Our site includes several annotated
webliographies and catalogues of online reference materials and resources.
Familiarity and facility with these resources is required. We will distribute
exercises to guide acquisition of search
skills
. I am also happy to do workshops in the Computer Labs. Please
also consult the online version of my essay on Internet Research. It can
be found at:

http://www.anotherscene.com/outthere/netcast.htm

Extra! A
Dry-Run Midquarter
. Extra!

In the
third week of class, I will hand out a dry-run essay question take-home
midquarter. Students who wish to do the midquarter should submit it electronically
to Earl Jackson, Jr. by the date indicated. As this is an extra assignment,
Earl will correct them rather than adding to the other section instructor’s
workload. This will be a good practice for those of you unfamiliar with
the kind of discourse we use.

Unusual Features of the
Syllabus
.

  • The Critical Precision Manifesto

The Syllabus also contains an important mini-manifesto
on „Critical Precision.“ I include the text below:

  • Updating
  • I am constantly adding things to the Web site during the
    course, largely in response to the directions the particular class is going.
    A good deal of the added material comes from the students and my responses
    to it. This accounts for the inclusion on the syllabus of examples of students‘
    work such as dry-run midquarters and homework assignments. I include these
    for their value in stimulating conversation and as practical, hands-on
    examples of how to conceptualize questions, build arguments, and reach
    reasonable conclusions within given parameters. The possibility of augmenting
    and updating the electronic syllabus accounts for the apparent „time warp“
    in which the syllabus gives the „future“ dates of assignments and offers
    examples of completed assignments and midquarters!

While „suspense fiction“ is ordinarily viewed as „trash“
or purely „entertainment,“ this course will take the texts we read and
their genre
very
seriously
. Our methods
of approach
will be equally as serious. Our readings
of the primary texts will proceed within a
guided
overview
of certain tendencies in contemporary literary
theory and cultural critique. Students will be expected to read the theoretical
texts and to
utilize
theory
in their written work. This is not an elitist
demand, nor an attempt to impose „academic“ value on „popular culture.“

A course like this is a form of intensive
conversation
. In order to converse
effectively
, we need a common
language
. The theoretical discourses we will study
provide part of that language. This does NOT mean that we must all think
alike or come to
the
same conclusions
. But if we agree upon a set
of critical terms
to use, that means we can use
terms very precisely and specifically. Otherwise, confusion will reign,
and it will seem that „theory“ is to blame, when it may simply be that
not everyone is speaking the
same
language
.

For example, we will be relying in
part on
Samuel
R. Delany’s theory of genre
, and his distinctions
between „speculative fiction“ and „mundane fiction.“ These are terms very
familar to both
science
fiction
writers and their readers. „Speculative
fiction“ includes both science fiction and fantasy – fiction that does
not take „the given world“ of our daily experience as its location or its
model. „Mundane“ (from the Latin, „mundus,“ „world“), is NOT a derogatory
term. It is the science fiction writers and readers‘ way of classifying
texts that DO take „the given world“ as the location of the story. This
means that realist fiction, whether „literary“ like David Copperfield
or „paraliterary“ (in a genre outside of „literature“) like
The
Killer Inside Me
[suspense] or The Hound of the
Baskervilles
[
detective],
would be „mundane.“ We will be adopting these terms with these meanings
in the class. Therefore, if a student were to write a paper on
The
Talented Mr. Ripley
, and to complain
about the slowness of its pace, and its long stretches of daily life without
event by declaring the first half of the book, „mundane,“ this would
make
no sense
. Indeed, since novels don’t usually change
genre, this would be unintelligible. In the context of the course and „
our
language
“ the entire novel is „mundane.“


     Even if we
strongly oppose the content of
that
theory
or the presuppositions
of a critical practice, by using the terms, we can state our argument against
that theory in a language that
the
theory itself provides
. Our disagreements will be
more productive if the
shared
language
allows us to be specific as to where
our disagreements lie
.


I am not foisting critical vocabulary
on you to make us all think alike. On the contrary, if we have a shared
vocabulary with responsibly accounted for meanings, not only can we think
differently, but we can be explicit about where our differences in thinking
are. While the transition to a critical vocabulary might be uncomfortable
or at first confusing, achieving that transition should put an end to certain
levels of confusion that may have been pervasive and not always detected.
We are seeking clarity, but subtle, flexible, and potentially intricate
and dynamic forms of clarity. Basically, I am aiming at a stage at which
when anyone in class is asked „What
do you mean?
“ the individual will be prepared to answer and we will
all be prepared to understand and dialogue with that answer.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Features of the Web Site

Interactive Features

Trouble
shooting


I have a section of every course Web
site devoted to „troubleshooting.“ On these pages I post student’s papers
anonymously, with my commentary (usually in red) interwoven with the student’s
text.(in black). Frequently my commentary is two- to three-times longer
than the student’s text. I single out student work whose errors in grammar,
style, and conception are errors we see very frequently. By taking these
texts apart minutely and giving very specific criticism, these „troubleshooting“
pages (hopefully) benefit a large number of students [not necessarily limited
to the students in the course at that time] without embarrassing the student
whose work it is.


Of course, the students always receive
the work back individually as well, and I encourage any student with such
problems in their papers to see me in office hours or to make an appointment.
The posting is never done in place of personal intervention.


The first time students encounter
their work in this way it is a bit shocking. Not just because of the percentage
of red to black, but because my criticisms are extremely to-the-point.
There is no other way to write them as they are very time consuming. I
reassure the students that I also always forget who made the mistakes,
but I never forget the progress and individual improvement students make
(and this happens to be true). My critiques are quite impersonal and literal.
When I write next to a sentence, „
This
is not English
,“ I mean that literally. When I write, „What do you
mean?“ that is a literal and sincere request for the student to clarify
the thought. I stress the importance of being able to explain what one
means at any point within one’s argument. If this question stumps the student,
something is amiss. Using this question as a diagnostic device, aids in
guiding the student in developing critical thinking habits that are also
critical communicative skills. The focus of this process is definitional
clarity and consistency. I draw this out both in my comments on student
works, and in reading the critical/theoretical texts assigned in the class.


The Trouble shooting pages for the
Suspense Fiction course are designed somewhat differently from my other
courses. I have organized them into two separate folders, Net One and Net
Two. Here are the urls for these pages:

http://www.anotherscene.com/suspense/net1/

http://www.anotherscene.com/suspense/net2/

Note that navigation from one trouble-shooting
page to another is much easier onsite that it may seem from the list of
urls. I have placed on each individual page a grid whose boxes each contain
a digit from 1-10 [in Net One] and from 1-8 [in Net Two]. These correspond
to the numbered trouble-shooting pages. Therefore, once the student has
opened one of those pages, she or he can jump to any other of these pages
with one click of the mouse. At the bottom of each page I also provide
hyperlinks to the syllabus and other basic pages of the Web site so that
even the newcomer to the Web need not become „lost in cyberspace.“

I also archive these troubleshooting
pages
and crossreference them from course to course. The search engine
I installed in Another Scene this summer can find the troubleshooting pages
of all of my Web sites. Just go to

http://www.anotherscene.com/updates.html

type in „tshoot“ in the box and click
„search.“ Some of the tshooting pages have other names. The tshooting pages
in the Samuel R. Delany seminar begin at http://www.anotherscene.com/delany/scream1.html

through scream9.html

And some of the tshooting pages in
Postmodern Japan are in other series, beginning

http://www.anotherscene.com/japanpm/reone1.html

http://www.anotherscene.com/japanpm/hdays1.html
is the most important series here.

Peer Inspiration

Respect
Folder


The LTMO 145D Web site also includes a folder of materials
that emerged as a result of an incident related to the Troubleshooting
pages.


Among the first „troubleshooting“ papers I posted
in Net One, was one written by a biochemistry major. Taking exemption to
some of my comments both in content and tone, she wrote me a detailed letter
of her perspectives. I immediately wrote her back, first of all apologizing
if my brusque style seemed condescending, and explained to her the reason
for this style [as I explain in the „Troubleshooting“ section above]. I
also thanked her for taking the time to respond to my responses in such
detail. I then asked her permission to post her letter, my response, and
the dialogue that we were about to engage over her original paper. She
graciously agreed and the result I think was a very valuable exercise in
communication across disciplinary differences but also across disagreements
which we decided would remain disagreements. In almost all of her subsequent
papers, she and I would have a point at which we found ourselves in complete
disagreement with each other. This proved to be a valuable opportunity,
because in annotating and posting these exchanges, I was able to demonstrate
how even diametrically opposed viewpoints could allow for mutual understanding
as long as the parties agreed to use the same critical/theorical lexicon.
It also reassured the students that the success of a paper did not depend
upon thinking like me or mirroring the critical positions I set forth in
the lecture.

I also include other
work from students in the class as peer inspiration. In the LTMO 145D class,
Peer Inspiration work included:

The Questions of M. Riddle. http://www.anotherscene.com/suspense/net1/riddle.html

This was an exemplary
attempt at figuring out what a particular critical theory stands for by
using it to explore another text. Ms. Kypreos’s work here is highlighted,
but also the way in which she engaged me with her project. I include her
text by itself, and link it to another version of the page which is
her text with my feedback
interwoven.

Meghann
McCracken’s „fake“ (I .e. „dryrun“) midquarter
on Tom Ripley and Fools.
With my feedback to demonstrate one can have lot to say to an excellent
paper too. Not all red comments are bad news. I also wanted the students
to appreciate the difference in the kinds of questions I raise, prompted
and inspired by Meghann’s
own speculative feats
.

Luke
Jackson’s sterling paper
on Pat Cadigan’s novel Fools.

Featured References

Contextual Aids

An outline of all the
major points which constitute the critical framework and intellectual goals
of the course. Annotated and hyperlinked to further background material,
and various
bibliographies
, webliographies, and indices I have compiled in the
process of designing this and other
courses
. These resources are divided between material I have created
myself and placed on the Site, and materials I have found on other sites.
The students are made aware of the latter materials through annotated bibliographies
and webliographies I compile, design, and post on the course Web site.

Guide
t
o
Pat Cadigan’s Fiction

The students found Pat
Cadigan’s novel
Fools difficult to follow. In order to anatomize
„difficulty“ in a practical and „empowering“ way, I created a dossier of
reference materials and my own ethnographies of the „world“ of Fools
and the novel that preceded it, Mindplayers. This dossier is structured
in chapters.


Section One.

The cultural and historical background
of the novel, the genre, and Pat Cadigan’s career. [With hypertext bibliography
and webliography]

Section Two.

An ethnographic breakdown the world
and society of the novel in terms of technology, professional categories,
categories of crimes, etc.

Section Three.

A synopsis of the plot of the novel
and a chart of „who“ is „who“ and „when“ each „who“ is a given „identity.“
My synopsis begins with a reconstruction of the events leading up to the
first scene. This was the secret in clarifying what the students found
so difficult. After having this crib, even the most reluctant students
were ready to handle it again.

Section Four

The final chapter of this section
is a
paper on Fools by Luke Jackson
, one of the students in the course,
that was not only insightful but suggestive.

  


The „crib“ of the first three sections
is only pedagogically sound if students realize that they could have
written it too
. I constructed the synopsis and pinpointed the identities
of the characters without any referring to any external sources (which
I doubt exist, in any event). I simply read the novel. The way I
used this Web material in class discouraged merely passive reception of
the „answers“ I provided, and encouraged reading my practice of reading.
The students who worked with me on this gained confidence in their reading
ability and also saw that the act of interpretation – even on the level
of deciphering a plot from a complex narrative structure – is neither random
nor mysterious.


The accessibility of the „difficult“
text was also driven home to the students by Pat Cadigan’s personal appearance
in the class room (she graciously took over and taught the class the day
of her visit) and her reading at Kresge later that afternoon. This was
the second time my „network for digital engagement,“ Another Scene, was
able to sponsor an appearance at UCSC of Ms. Cadigan. Such appearances
are rare in California since Ms. Cadigan emigrated to England five years
ago.

Technical Assistance

For those students new
to the Internet, I have provided online a fully hyperlinked version of
a chapter of my book,
College Connections Web Resources. Through
concrete examples and actual anecdotes the chapter builds a step-by-step
procedure for using the Internet effectively in conducting specific professional
research projects as well as satisfying more casual curiosity.


http://www.anotherscene.com/outthere/netcast.htm

This version of this chapter also
links to other cyber-educational materials I designed originally for participants
in All University Conference on Internet Technologies, called by the President’s
Office of the University of California in Spring of 1997.

Conversations [Contemporary and Cross-referenced]

I include on the Web
site hypertext-annotated discussions between students from earlier classes
and myself on the definitions and implications of the term jouissance
. I highlight the student contributions to show how the theory has been
assimilated and proven useful to other students. These excerpts are cross-referenced
with the Web sites of the classes in which these discussions originally
took place. This cross-referencing provides a multiplicity of contexts
and gives students an idea of the scope of theoretical concepts and their
various modes of „usefulness.“ It also fosters a sense of the possibility
of an intellectual community within the course and across courses. And
it demonstrates the continuity and versatile relevance of scholarly research
and intellectual inquiry – that it needed be cordoned off within a specific
ten week period, executed, and filed away. Through of the conversations
and polylogues I archive on the web the same names will reappear, the arrangement
of the particular participants will change, but a definite number of returnees
become familiar to the visitor of the sites. The interests and sophistications
of these returnees can be tracked as the visitor follows them from course
to course. This also serves as a confidence builder for those students
afraid of theory when theory-shy students of the past emerge as theoreticians
in these polylogues. 


In the context of the above description
of Suspense Fiction , I will now address the situations of the four students
who claim that they were unfairly given an „No Pass“ for their work in
this course. I will treat each case individually. The guide to the cases
can be reached by clicking
THIS.


For an overview of the case of the
delinquent narrative evaluations click THIS.


 

Go To:

Overview of
the case

The Four Students 
and their Grievances


Cliffhanger
Notes Spring 1999


 

Additional Pedagogical Reflections and Experiments

The Elenchus Intervention

For further examples of the conversations,
and a conversation that begins at the heart of important ethical and epistemological
questions concerning pedagogy, please see the sequence entitled „The Elenchus
Intervention“ on my „Histories of Meaning“ Web Site.

It begins as a dialogue about the
Socratic method, initiated by Ms. Javiera Silva. My first response includes
showcase of conversations across courses I have taught between 1994-1998.
The URLs [or Web Addresses] for this dialogue are:

http://www.anotherscene.com/meaning/javelen.html

http://www.anotherscene.com/meaning/ejelen1.html

 

How to Catch a Catfish

This is a lively and complex series
of exchanges and demonstrations that I developed while teaching Postmodern
Japan in the Spring of 1999. I provide some of the urls here as an inroad
into that experience.

http://www.anotherscene.com/japanpm/

http://www.anotherscene.com/japanpm/hdays1.html

Cyberpedagogy

http://www.anotherscene.com/cyberpedagogy.html

This is an online conversation „lecture-demo“
of sorts, drawing on my experiences and experiments with Course-Integrated
technologies. Clicking on the hot links in the text in the left panel will
bring up a „live example“ of the method under discussion in the left panel.

Go To:

Overview
of the case

Cliffhanger
Notes Spring 1999

The Four Students 
and their Grievances

Earl Jackson, Jr.

tomrip5@aol.com

Literature Department

University of California, Santa Cruz

Another
Scene