i’m not sure that it is the content, pynchon, delilo and anyone else, and i’m also fairly sure it isn’t the professor because you can replicate this across institutions fairly easily…. But that doesn’t also mean that it is the students… it could be the the institutional environment. If all the students are facing you, or if all the students are facing a computer, or even if they are facing each other in a big circle, conversation is prevented. my solution (and you can tell i solve and propose solutions things, some people don’t like that) is to transform the classroom so there are a series of ‘nodes’ of 4-6 desks/chairs each where students face each other in these small groups, let them talk for a bit, then have them talk to other groups. this deforms the classroom in interesting ways.
The other thing that i tend to do to replicate this is to move the discussion out of the classroom and onto a list or threaded discussion and require participation in those discussions.