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--ENGLISH 215..

--Section 902....Literature as Conceptual Art..

--Fall 2014....


MW 5:30-6:45pm
326 Hibbs Hall
Instructor: Dr. Matthew James Vechinski
Office: 5131 Harris Hall
Office hours: Wednesdays 10:00-10:50am, 1:00-4:00pm


In 1969, conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth claimed that the value of particular [visual] artists
should be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art. This course will
investigate whether the premium Kosuth placed on motivating ideas can and should be applied to
artists of a different sort: poets and writers of fiction. Our class will explore American, British, and
Canadian literature after the Second World War by studying unconventional poetry and fiction that
questions the very definition of what it means for a text to count as literature. Instead of relying
on conventional period designationsnamely late modernism, postmodernism, contemporary
literaturewe will look to scholarship on what has been referred to in recent years as conceptual
writing. At the heart of our study will be an exploration of Kenneth Goldsmiths notion of uncreative
writing, which will structure our approach to two major currents in the field: texts made from
generative methods (constraint, procedure, series) and appropriation art (pastiche, copying, erasure,
palimpsest). How should we read and appreciate such works that by design defy our expectations?
To do so, the class will need to confront how slippery the definition of literature really is,
especially in recent history. In particular, we will reconsider the importance of artistic intention;
the utility of genre designations; the qualities of language that command our interest; and the
concept of originality as a marker of value. The readings will include a range of innovative works
celebrated iconoclasts (Kathy Acker), relatively obscure writers (Christine Brooke-Rose), and
authors common to college courses covering this era (Samuel Beckett). Through the study of
appropriation, students will also consider a handful of canonical worksby Homer, Shakespeare,
William Faulkner, among othersrepurposed by contemporary authors. The secondary texts
informing our critical approaches will situate literature in the larger context of art history, drawing
from studies of visual art, design, and performance.


English 215 is a second tier Core Curriculum course in the area of the humanities and fine arts. It
is meant to reinforce the learning objectives introduced in the Focused Inquiry sequence (UNIV
111, 112, and 200). In particular, English 215 gives students the opportunity to practice and
develop three of the six competencies in the Core Curriculum: writing proficiency, critical thinking,
and information fluency. Oral communication is another competency that students will exercise in
this course, given the emphasis on class discussion.
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For more information on VCUs Core Curriculum, visit


The following texts, listed in the order that the class will read them, are required:
Course reader available at Wythken Printing (911 West Grace Street)
Uncreative Writing, Kenneth Goldsmith (ISBN 978-0231149914)
Eunoia, Christian Bk, 2nd ed., 2005 (ISBN 978-1552452257)
Amalgamemnon, Christine Brooke-Rose (ISBN 978-1564780508)
Your Country Is Great: Afghanistan-Guyana, Ara Shirinyan (ISBN 978-0971680081)
In Memoriam to Identity, Kathy Acker (ISBN 978-0802135797)
Nets, Jen Bervin (ISBN 978-0972768436)

Book orders were placed at Barnes & Noble @VCU and Virginia Book Company. You may purchase
these texts elsewhere; for your convenience, I have provided ISBNs above. (Note in particular that
we will use the revised, second edition of Eunoia.)


Your course grade will consist of the weighted sum of your grades for the following assignments:
15% = Five Pre-discussion share posts on the course Tumblr
15% = Five Post-discussion reflection posts on the course Tumblr
20% = Midterm exam
20% = Final exam
30% = Essay

Assignment grades will conform to a 100-point scale, which correspond to letter grades: A = 90-
100; B = 80-89; C = 70-79; D = 60-69; F = 0-59.

You will automatically fail the course if you miss the midterm or final exam or do not turn in the


The course Tumblr serves as a way to seed class discussions and reflect on our ongoing
conversations. Students will contribute to the Tumblr by submitting 10 posts over the course of the
semester, at the rate of no more than one post per week. During the first class, students will be
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divided into four groups (A-D), at which point they will know when they are to post to the Tumblr
throughout the semester.

Pre-discussion share posts are due 24 hours before the start of class (i.e., either 5:30pm on
Sunday or Tuesday), which gives students the opportunity to read their peers posts and think about
them prior to meeting as a group. Post-discussion reflection posts are due by the end of the week
(Friday at 11:59pm) and may reference either of the weeks classes.

There are four types of pre-discussion shares. Each student must post each type at least once
during the semester, and posts should include at least 250 words of original text.
1. Analogy as interpretation - Provide a link to an image, video, or text that you believes
illustrates an idea from the assigned reading. Describe in detail why you chose the
analogue and how it represents that idea.
2. Close analysis of a passage - Choose a quotation from the assigned literary text. Interpret
what it means and how it functions in light of the larger work from which it comes.
3. Response to nonfiction - Choose a quotation from the assigned nonfiction text, explain
the authors point, and respond to that idea. In your response, you can agree/disagree,
suggest an alternative way of thinking, and/or make connections to other ideas or texts.
4. Answering course questions - Describe one of the major recurring questions we have
taken up in the course on other occasions (e.g., How is it possible for the author to erase
his/her presence?), and show how the assigned text provides a possible, partial answer to
that question.
Note that some pre-discussion share types, namely 2 and 3 above, may not be appropriate for the
reading assignment for every class. You may lose points in later pre-discussion shares for not
fulfilling all four types.

Post-discussion reflections center on a moment when you participated in the class discussion
during the week to which your group is assigned. Your post should be a 250+ word response to the
following questions:
What did you contribute to the discussion?
Why was your contribution relevant at that point in our conversation?
How did the class follow up on your contribution?
How did your contribution and the class follow-up meaningfully address questions central
to the course?
Craft a coherent post out of your responses to the above questions. Do not simply go through the
list bullet by bullet and give simplistic, isolated answersno one wants to read that.

Since your group will not be assigned to a post-discussion reflection and a pre-discussion share in
the same week, you cannot reflect on your own pre-discussion share as a contribution to the
discussion. Also, that means that one sure way to prepare for discussion, especially if you are shy
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when it comes to speaking in class, is to study your peers pre-discussion shares and be ready to
reference them in class.


The midterm and final exams will consist of short answer identification questions and essay
questions. The short answer questions will ask you to identify the author and work of a passage
and describe how the passage illustrates the qualities of the literary work as a whole. Essay
questions will ask you to perform a close analysis of a given passage from a literary work, explain
and respond to a quotation from a nonfiction text, or pair an idea from one of the critical pieces
with a work of fiction or poetry.

You may use your annotated course texts and hard copy notes when answering the essay
questions. You might be offered several questions and allowed to choose the ones you prefer to

Whereas originality is stressed for the essay you write in this class, for the exams you are asked to
show that you have learned course concepts and know how to apply them to or pair them with the
required texts. These exams will be graded on content, but if your writing is unfocused or illegible,
or contains many errors, your ideas may be misunderstood.


You will write one argumentative essay (1,200 to 1,500 words in length) in response to a prompt
supplied by the instructor, which will require you to comment on issues related to the course
theme and on texts read for this class. To complete this assignment, you must also read and study
a literary work that will not be discussed in class. Options (poems and short fiction) will be
provided, but you are also free to choose another work in consultation with the professor.

In your essay, you will argue whether or not the work you chose should be considered conceptual
art and what that designation means for our understanding of the fiction or poem and literature
more broadly. It will be necessary to explore the qualities of the work that serve to illustrate or
extend your definitions of conceptual art and literature. Your essay must also reference at least one
required literary text as well as one critical non-fiction text (that is, texts you already read for
class) as support in your essay. Outside research, aside from the new literary work you choose as
your central focus, is not expected.

All essay assignments must include interpretations that are valid, original, and significant. You will
be graded on the quality of your writing and organization of ideas as well as your analysis and

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The essay must be:
Typed using 12-point Times New Roman font
Formatted according to MLA style conventions (a Works Cited page is mandatory)
Submitted to Blackboard in Word format (a hard copy will not be collected)

The essay will be due at the start of the normally scheduled final exam time for the course, but
students may turn the assignment in early.


Regular attendance is expected. The course schedule is sufficiently detailed to allow you to plan
ahead and prioritize your schedule so that you do not miss exams and assignments that factor into
your course grade.

That said, I realize circumstances will arise which make it impossible to come to class. For your
first two absences, there will be no direct penalty. After that, 10 points (the equivalent of one letter
grade) will be deducted from your nextor, at the end of semester, your lastTumblr post for
every class you miss. If you are absent more than six times during the semester, you will
automatically fail the course.

If you are unable to complete a Tumblr post on time due to a major schedule conflict, please email
me at least 48 hours before the post is due and ask me to move the requirement to another week. I
will reschedule one of your Tumblr posts only once during the semester.

Tumblr posts are scheduled to occur at specific times in order to spur class discussion or follow up
on conversations; turning the posts in late defeats their purpose. The first time you turn in a post
late, you will lose 10 points off of your grade for that post, as long as it is submitted within 24
hours of the deadline. The next time a post is late youll lose 20 points off the grade and the third
time 30 points. Posts turned in later than 24 hours after the deadline and your fourth and any
following late posts will receive no points.

If you are unable to take an exam during the class it is scheduled for, you must make arrangements
at least 48 hours in advance to reschedule the exam. At the instructors discretion, rescheduled
exams may feature different questions and/or offer you fewer questions to choose from.

Given the time crunch at the end of the term, it may not be possible to grant extensions on the
essay. (According to VCU policy, incompletes are not meant to be used as extensions for final
projects.) Essays will accrue a penalty of 10 points every day after the deadline that they are late.
But at whatever time after the deadline I finish grading essays, any essays not received will be
considered not done, which will result in a failing course grades for students who havent yet
turned in their work.
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Difficulties with technology do not excuse late work. You should anticipate problems technology
may create and have alternate strategies ready for times when technology fails.

Given my late policies I do not excuse absences in person or over email. If you contact me to
explain the reasons behind an absence and I acknowledge the receipt of your email or thank you
for letting me know, that does not mean that late penalties do not apply to you. A documented
medical excuse is the only way to be exempted from these policies.


I expect these regular behaviors from students to ensure that the class runs smoothly:
Read assigned texts and Tumblr posts before class. Note any passages, ideas, or questions
you encounter while reading so that you may bring them up during our discussions.
Always bring your copies of the assigned texts to class. (We will frequently discuss
passages on specific pages.)
If you posted on the Tumblr since the last class meeting (pre-discussion share or post-
discussion reflection), be ready to paraphrase your contribution and discuss it further.
Contribute to class discussions with the intention of keeping the conversation moving
Take written notes during class. (They will be especially useful when writing post-
discussion reflections and studying for exams.)

Students are asked not to leave out cell phones, tablets, laptops, or other digital devices or use
them during class. While I admit these technologies can be valuable, I find they are beneficial in a
classroom environment only when everyone is using the same tools at the same time. (Exemptions
may be granted in certain cases to accommodate a disability.) If it is difficult for you to observe this
practice, you may be asked to leave your device in a designated area of the classroom to ensure it
will remain out of your reach.

Should circumstances arise that result in you arriving late to class, please make your entrance as
discreetly as possible, trying not to disturb fellow students. The first two times you are late for
class, I will think nothing of it; delays happen to all of us. However, being more than 15 minutes
late counts as an absence, and after your second late arrival, I may treat the subsequent times you
are late as absences. There is usually a noticeable difference in students levels of engagement
when they experience an unexpected delay on their way to class and when they show up tardy just
to avoid an absence.

Because of the highly collaborative nature of the class, I expect that students will be active
participants in a strong class community where individuals learn from each other. Respect for
diversity of all kinds is vital to creating a safe and stimulating intellectual environment. In
discussion and when writing, treat others with respect despite our differencesin race, religion,
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age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, class, ability and disability, political beliefs, and
so on.


Plagiarism is presenting someone elses words or ideas as your own. In your work for this class, it is
essential that you properly cite the outside sources that you use in your writing. Plagiarism is
plagiarism: it is not more or less serious depending on the source of the plagiarism (e.g., a
published text rather than another students writing or a web site), the perceived importance of the
assignment (e.g., copying a peers Tumblr post instead of a published article), or the amount of
material plagiarized.

Please understand that plagiarism is a serious violation and is punished by the university. As a
matter of policy, a student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be
reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity and will receive zero points for
the assignment.

Likewise, your exam responses must be your own. While you may refer to notes you took in class
during the exams and your annotated course texts, you are not to use crib sheets or prewrite
anticipated responses to copy during the exams.

Plagiarism and cheating on exams are but two forms of academic dishonesty. Other potentially
dishonest and unethical practices will be investigated on a case by case basis.


You are expected to check your email account regularly. Crucial announcements (e.g., class
cancellations due to inclement weather) will be sent via Blackboard to your VCU email.

I will reply to messages you send directly to me ( within 24 hours
excluding weekends, when it may take me slightly longer to respond. I usually only set aside time
to handle email a few times daily, so do not expect instant replies.

I use Blackboard to attach comments to graded assignments; you can access this feedback through
the Blackboard Grade Center. Please take the extra clicks it takes to view my comments. My
feedback does not merely justify the grades I give; it is meant to help you improve your
performance on later assignments as well.

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The following statements are required by university policy, and have been quoted from the Office
of the Provost (

VCU Email Policy
Email is considered an official method for communication at VCU because it delivers information in a convenient,
timely, cost-effective, and environmentally aware manner. Students are expected to check their official VCU email
on a frequent and consistent basis in order to remain informed of university-related communications. The
university recommends checking email daily. Students are responsible for the consequences of not reading, in a
timely fashion, university-related communications sent to their official VCU student email account. This policy
ensures that all students have access to this important form of communication. It ensures students can be reached
through a standardized channel by faculty and other staff of the university as needed. Mail sent to the VCU email
address may include notification of university-related actions, including disciplinary action. Please read the policy
in its entirety:

VCU Honor System: Upholding Academic Integrity
The VCU Honor System policy describes the responsibilities of students, faculty and administration in upholding
academic integrity, while at the same time respecting the rights of individuals to the due process offered by
administrative hearings and appeals. According to this policy, "Members of the academic community are required
to conduct themselves in accordance with the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity." In addition,
"All members of the VCU community are presumed to have an understanding of the VCU Honor System and are
required to:
Agree to be bound by the Honor System policy and its procedures;
Report suspicion or knowledge of possible violations of the Honor System;
Support an environment that reflects a commitment to academic integrity;
Answer truthfully when called upon to do so regarding Honor System cases;
Maintain confidentiality regarding specific information in Honor System cases."
More information can be found at in the VCU policy library at

Student Conduct in the Classroom
According to the Faculty Guide to Student Conduct in Instructional Settings
ctional%20Settings.pdf), The university is a community of learners. Students, as well as faculty, have a
responsibility for creating and maintaining an environment that supports effective instruction. In order for faculty
members (including graduate teaching assistants) to provide and students to receive effective instruction in
classrooms, laboratories, studios, online courses, and other learning areas, the university expects students to
conduct themselves in an orderly and cooperative manner." Among other things, cell phones and beepers should
be turned off while in the classroom. The Student Code of Conduct also prohibits the possession of or carrying of
any weapon. For more information see

Students with Disabilities
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, require
that VCU provide "academic adjustments" or "reasonable accommodations" to any student who has a physical or
mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. To receive accommodations, students must
request them by contacting the Disability Support Services Office on the Monroe Park Campus (828-2253) or the
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Division for Academic Success on the MCV campus (828-9782). Please also visit the Disability Support Services
website at and/or the Division for Academic Success website at for additional information.
Any student who has a disability that requires an accommodation should schedule a meeting with the instructor at
the student's earliest convenience. Additionally, if coursework requires the student to work in a lab environment,
the student should advise the instructor or a department chairperson of any concerns that the student may have
regarding safety issues related to a disability. Students should follow this procedure for all courses in the academic

Statement on Military Short-Term Training or Deployment
If military students receive orders for short-term training or for deployment/mobilization, they should inform and
present their orders to Military Student Services and to their professor(s). For further information on policies and
procedures contact Military Services at 828-5993 or access the corresponding policies.

Excused Absences for Students Representing the University
Students who represent the university (athletes and others) do not choose their schedules. Student athletes are
required to attend games and/or meets. All student athletes should provide their schedules to their instructors at
the beginning of the semester. The Intercollegiate Athletic Council strongly encourages faculty to treat missed
classes or exams (because of a scheduling conflict) as excused absences and urges faculty to work with the
students to make up the work or exam.

Campus Emergency Information
What to Know and Do to Be Prepared for Emergencies at VCU:
Sign up to receive VCU text messaging alerts. Keep your information up-to-date. Within the classroom, the
professor will keep his or her phone on to receive any emergency transmissions.
Know the safe evacuation route from each of your classrooms. Emergency evacuation routes are posted in
on-campus classrooms.
Listen for and follow instructions from VCU or other designated authorities. Within the classroom, follow
your professor's instructions.
Know where to go for additional emergency information.
Know the emergency phone number for the VCU Police (828-1234).
Report suspicious activities and objects.
Keep your permanent address and emergency contact information current in eServices.

Important Dates
You can view important dates for the Fall 2014 semester in the university calendar

VCU Mobile
The VCU Mobile application is a valuable tool to get the latest VCU information on the go. The application
contains helpful information including the VCU directory, events, course schedules, campus maps, athletics and
general VCU news, emergency information, library resources, Blackboard and more. To download the application
on your smart phone or for more information, please visit

Class Registration Required for Attendance
Students may attend only those classes for which they have registered. Faculty may not add students to class
rosters or Blackboard. Therefore, if students are attending a class for which they have not registered, they must
stop attending.
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Withdrawal from Classes
Before withdrawing from classes, students should consult their instructor as well as other appropriate university
offices. Withdrawing from classes may negatively impact a students financial aid award and his or her semester
charges. To discuss financial aid and the student bill, visit the Student Services Center at 1015 Floyd Avenue
(Harris Hall) and/or contact your financial aid counselor regarding the impact on your financial aid. Contact
information for the University Financial Aid Office is available at

Student Financial Responsibility
Students assume the responsibility of full payment of tuition and fees generated from their registration and all
charges for housing and dining services, and other applicable miscellaneous charges. Students are ultimately
responsible for any unpaid balance on their account as a result of the University Financial Aid Office or their third
party sponsor canceling or reducing their award(s).