January 5th, 2012 / 1:25 pm
Behind the Scenes

Spring Semester Reading List

For those of you who might be interested, click through for the reading list I’ve assigned the students taking my “Introduction to Experimental Literature” course this semester.

First Day Discussion
excerpts from WORDS by Andy Devine

Opening Gambit
Roland Barthes – “Death of the Author”
Susan Sontag – “Against Interpretation”
Gertrude Stein – “Composition as Explanation”
John Cage – “Lecture on Nothing”

Gertrude Stein – Tender Buttons (1914)
+ “Towards a Theory of Non-Genre Literature” by Jonathan Culler

Alain Robbe-Grillet – Jealousy (1957)
+ “Twelve Digressions Toward a Study of Composition” by Ronald Sukenick
+ excerpts from Space and Place: the perspective of experience by Yi-Fu Tuan

Samuel Beckett – How It Is (1961)
+ “White Elephant Art. vs. Termite Art” by Manny Farber
+ “How It Is: With Beckett’s Fiction” by Raymond Federman

Kenneth Goldsmith – Fidget (2000)
+ “The Pineal Eye” by Georges Bataille
+ “On the Balinese Theatre” by Antonin Artaud

David Markson – This is Not a Novel (2001)
+ “The Plot” from E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel
+ “Rupture, Verge, and Precipice Precipice, Verge, and Hurt Not” by Carole Maso

Vanessa Place – Dies: A Sentence (2005)
+ excerpts from The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry
+ “The Sentence is a Lonely Place” by Gary Lutz

Bhanu Kapil – Schizophrene (2011)
+ Hélène Cixous – “Laugh of the Medusa”


  1. Melissa Broder

      I cld only find the Cliffs Notes for one of these — the excerpt from WORDS

  2. lorian long

      man, monster list

  3. Goofy

      That’s awesome. 

      And it’s great that you get to teach experimental literature, rather than beginning creative writing or composition 101. How’d that happen? You’re a grad student still studying for your qualifying exam, right? 

  4. Ryan Ridge

      Forster vs. Markson is an inspired pairing. 

  5. Michael J Seidlinger

      It’s because he’s Christopher Higgs. No one knows experimental literature better than Christopher.

  6. Christopher Higgs

      Hi, Goofy,

      I passed my exams back in December, thank god.  So now I’m a doctoral candidate! But even before passing exams, I got to teach pretty much whatever I wanted after my first year because of the awesome FSU English department, which goes out of its way to give their doctoral students the opportunity to teach a wide range of literature courses.  I’ve only taught one creative writing course here at FSU (“Writing the Lyric Essay”), because I’m studying literature rather than creative writing.

  7. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks, Ryan!  I’m excited to see how it goes.

  8. deadgod

      This comment is not an experiment.

  9. mimi

      This not comment an experiment is.

  10. Tummler

      What a list! Would you mind if I passed it along to one of my professors who is thinking about organizing her own Experimental Lit course in the future?

  11. Jonathan Safran Foer

      You really should add some Bruno Schulz

  12. Janey Smith


  13. postitbreakup


      love syllabus/reading list posts

  14. TAatBallSoHardUniversity

      I’m teaching an Experimental American Fiction course this Spring. Here’s my reading list:

      George Eliot, “Middlemarch”
      Charles Dickens, “Bleak House”
      Edith Wharton, “The Age of Innocence”
      Sarah Orne Jewett, “The Country of Pointed Firs”
      Ernest Hemingway, “In Our Time”
      Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”
      Toni Morrison, “Beloved”
      Stanley Elkin, “The Magic Kingdom”
      Mark Richard, “Ice at The Bottom of the World”
      Marilynne Robinson, “Housekeeping”
      Joy Williams, “Honored Guest”


  15. Trey

      add some Charles Schulz

  16. TAatBallSoHardUniversity

      Sorry, I meant, American and British. 

  17. Andrew

      Did Winesburg, Ohio  end up being on your exam?

  18. JeffJackson

      Great list – thanks for sharing this. Need to check out a few of these text and many of the essays. 
      How long have you been teaching this class? Has your reading list been refined over a few go rounds? 

  19. Cvan

      What, only North Americans? 

  20. deadgod

      Yoda Beckett

  21. Jonathan Safran Foer

      Don’t be a bitch, Trey

  22. Trey

      Peanuts rules

  23. deadgod

      [psst, it’s “Foer”, not Irving]

  24. TAatBallSoHardUniversity

      That’s how us 10K a year TAs roll at Ball State Hard.

  25. mimi

      This not yoda a comment not beckett is.

  26. deadgod

      That’s think you what.

  27. mimi

      This think what, it’s what think you want you what.

  28. Rosetta

      I love all of this, for whatever that’s worth (probably not very much), especially the Barthes, Sontag, Artaud, and Cixous.  

  29. Christopher Higgs

      Please do, Tummler!  And if she has questions, give her my email (higgs dot chris at gmail) — I’d be glad to tell her more about what has worked for me in the past and what hasn’t, and why.

  30. Christopher Higgs

      Hi Jeff,

      I’ve taught versions of this class numerous times over the past few years.  The texts change each time — I rarely reuse the same primary texts, with a few exceptions: Tender Buttons is something I try to teach as often as possible because its one of my all time favorites.  In terms of the secondary texts, there are my favorites like Stein and Sontag and Cixous, which almost always show up, but other than those I try to switch up the secondary stuff, too.  I’m not one of those people who fixes on a set of readings and uses them over and over.  I’m also not one of those people who uses an anthology.  I like each class to be fresh for me: something I enjoy engaging with myself each day. 

  31. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks, Rosetta!  It’ll be my first time teaching Artaud, actually.  Pretty stoked to put him and Bataille in conversation with Goldsmith.  (As I mentioned above, the Sontag and the Cixous are two of my all time favorites.)   

  32. Hateml


  33. Christopher Higgs

      Eleven primary texts in one semester!? You DO ball hard at BSU. 

      (For what it’s worth, I love the opening description of fog in Bleak House.  It’s one of my all-time favorite literary passages.)

  34. Erinlyndalmartin

      Great list! I’m going to try to track down the ones I haven’t read now.

  35. gavin

      Do you ever use Lynn Hejinian’s “The Rejection of Closure” as a secondary text?  I used that and Sontag to essentially frame my experimental course this past fall, and it went over really well.  The Hejinian has so many great lines that open up discussion.  And it matched up well with my end of the semester double-tap of There Is No Year and Carson’s Nox.  And I’m curious, does that Markson novel take as much cultural knowledge as Wittgenstein’s Mistress?  I wanted so badly to teach that book, but was afraid too many of the references would echo out into the void.

  36. Montesquiou

      Why on the balinese theater? & not, say, the theater & the plague or something.

  37. John Evans

      Reading lists like this make the concept of paying tuition fees again more acceptable. I have been meaning to start into experimental lit after reading other posts on HTMLGiant but am not sure where to start . . . would you (all, inclusive) consider Sean Lovelace’s Fog Gorgeous Stag to be experimental literature?

  38. Christopher Higgs

      Hi, John,

      Yes, I think one could productively talk about Sean’s book as a work of experimental literature.  It would work nicely, actually, in conversation with my reading list for this semester — certainly it shares affinities with Beckett, Stein, etc.  If you’ve read that book, you’ve already started! 

  39. Christopher Higgs

      Hi, Gavin,

      I’ve not assigned the Hejinian, but I do teach it to them in class.  In fact, the “What is Experimental Literature?” post I did on that piece is a shorter version of the blueprint for my lecture on it:


      In terms of Markson….I taught Wittgenstein’s Mistress last semester and a great many of the students loved the hell out of it.  In class we looked at a lot of the paintings and listened to a lot of the music mentioned.  In addition to the two asssigned secondary texts (“The Precession of the Simulacra” by Jean Baudrillard + “Poetics of Postmodernism” by Linda Hutcheon) I gave them DFW’s essay on it, as well as Lance Olsen’s essay on it, which uses Manny Farber’s “termite art” as a lens.  It’s all about how you approach it.  If you can get the students to become active readers — for example, get them to draw a box around all the references on the page that they don’t “get” and then tell them to google at least one of the boxed references per page, then they will quickly begin to see the reading experience as something much more engaging and interesting than normal.  For many students this will become a sort of treasure hunt for information.  It also helped me to begin our class discussion of the book by introducing them to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, drawing their attention to the seven main propositions, which could then serve as a framing device for our early considerations.  I have not taught This Is Not A Novel before, so you’ll have to ask me at the end of the semester how it turns out….not sure yet…but I have high hopes!

      (Nice combo of Blake’s book and Carson’s Nox — I taught a course last year in which we read Blake’s Scorch Atlas and Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband — that, too, went well.)

  40. Christopher Higgs

      Hi, Andrew,

      Nope.  I didn’t read that book.

  41. Christopher Higgs

      I chose the Balinese Theater essay because of the ideas it presents about nonrepresentational art and (even more importantly) the relationship it describes between representation and the body, because Goldsmith’s book is all about the movement of the body.  I did teeter, though.  Could’ve gone so many different ways because there’s so many good essays in Theatre and Its Double.  If I had more time, I’d probably have used the whole book — it’s a stunner.

  42. It_if_it_is

      are you black, deadgod?

  43. Cassandra Troyan

      Hey Chris!

      Amazing as usually. Especially like the use of Scarry, I think its an often overlooked text. Have you thought about using Carson’s “Autobigraphy of Red,” or if you are ever interested in a fictive perspective of visual and bodily experience in post-modernity, check out Molly Nesbit’s “Their Common Sense.” I think we might have talked about this a while ago during our Deleuze reading group. 

  44. Jonathan Safran Foer

      Really you should add Book of Codes

  45. Shamalamadinginton

      No BlazeVox titles?

  46. Christopher Higgs

      Oh!  I don’t recall talking about that Nesbit book…I’m going to go check it out right now…thanks, Cassie!

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