English 596K: Knowledge Work

“When this circuit learns your job, what are you going to do?” Marshall McLuhan asked this question in 1967, and we’ll plan to look at the questions beneath it and their implications for literary studies now. What do we value as human in an information economy in which many of the key players are algorithms? This seminar in contemporary fiction and digital humanities will take up a cluster of questions related to work, creativity, and the knowledge economy. We’ll consider what kinds of work and leisure both novelists and critics depict and perform, and we’ll use these questions to reflect on recent methodological debates, the place of scholarship in the contemporary media ecology, and other current questions in the field. We’ll be sure to read a few works on the MA reading list and some foundational works of theory and criticism, in addition to getting a foothold in both contemporary literary studies and in digital humanities conversations. We’ll narrow down the reading list of 5 or 6 novels following our first class meeting, but likely primary authors include: Vladimir Nabokov (we’ll definitely start with Pale Fire), Joan Didion, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Chang-Rae Lee, Karen Tei Yamashita, Jennifer Egan, Maggie Nelson, Ben Lerner. We’ll pair the novels with criticism, sociology, and critical theory, and a substantial unit will survey major books and questions in digital literary studies. (Across our secondary readings, we’re likely to encounter Karl Marx, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Marshall McLuhan, Fredric Jameson, Susan Sontag, Richard Florida, Boltanski and Chiapello, Alan Liu, Mark McGurl, Amy Hungerford, Franco Moretti, Debates in the Digital Humanities, and others). Requirements include occasional brief reading responses, a small-scale digital experiment (working at your level), and a seminar paper.