English 240Z Essay One Assignment Sheet
Unit One: Brave New World

Essay One – Four to Five pages – Due: 03 10

We begin our examination of the literary response to 9/11 by immersing ourselves in the
politico-historico-philosophical milieu of postmodern America, an environment influenced as
much by the French school of philosophy called poststructuralism as it was by a burgeoning
form of global capitalism. In order to develop a deeper understanding of postmodernism we’re
going to begin with a selection of texts that together compose an overview of the country’s
sensibilities around the turn of the millennium. Each text – as you will see – is challenging in its
own way and together will establish a manner of thinking that characterizes postmodernism, both
as a literary period and a social practice.
David Foster Wallace – an early proponent and eventual opponent of poststructuralism –
offers in his novella, “The Suffering Channel,” an oblique account of 9/11 that is also an
example of how literature was changing following the period of postmodernism’s dominance.
The realm that Wallace allows his audience to enter through his work – the so-called New
Sincerity period – is the Brave New World the unit’s title refers to. Understanding what makes
this new world new requires that we look in two directions at once—back to postmodernism and
its tenets, and forward to how the New Sincerity seeks to challenge the received wisdom of that
literature’s values. Too, we will be looking at how 9/11 functions as a (possible) transitionary
moment from one period to the next, how 9/11 seemingly demanded a sincerity that had
previously been regarded as inaccessible or naïve.
For your first Essay you will identify and think through a thematic connection between
one of the three pillars of postmodernism and “The Suffering Channel.” Your Essay should
include direct citations from the novella and at least one of the additional readings assigned in
this unit. To focus your thinking and writing you may choose to consider and respond to one of
the following questions:1
- How should the events of 9/11 be understood in light of this connection?
- How does this connection reflect (an) aspect(s) of America’s culture today?
- What kind of future does Wallace imagine we’ll occupy? Why?

Points of consideration that will inform my grading:
- Format/Structure: make sure to meet relevant MLA formatting standards (12 pt., T.N.R.
font, double-spaced, one-inch margins, etc.), including an original title, proper heading,
page numbers, in-text citations, and Work(s) Cited page (note: the WC page does not
count toward the page requirement).
- Mechanics: be sure to check spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and divide the Essay
into logical/appropriate sentences and paragraphs.
- Thesis: The thesis statement should be easily identifiable and require argumentation.
- Length Requirement: the Essay should be four (4) to five (5) FULL pages.

1 To be clear, these questions are meant to catalyze your thinking. Please do not respond to each in turn—if one of
these is useful to you then please organize your writing around a response to that one question.