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The Idea of the Model in Literature and Art

ENGL 591.401
instructor(s):
W 12-3
Lea Room, Sixth Floor, Van Pelt Library

To think about "the model" in the arts is to think about representation, a subject embroiled in controversy for the past century and a half in both literature and the visual arts. Avant-gardists, feminists, and philosophers all worried about the model's paradoxes: an exaggerated agency in the figure of the muse and a complete depersonalization in the figure of the passive object of the gaze. Of course, these concerns can be seen in ancient myths about art, in Shakespeare's sonnets, in nineteenth-century novels such as Hawthorne's The Marble Faun. But Modernism was particularly paradigmatically obsessed with the model, teaming with works called "Portrait of a Lady" or "La Poseuse, " and just as loaded with denials of any connection between artwork and human subject. From Seurat to Cindy Sherman, from Hawthorne and Eliot to Jean Rhys and Christopher Bram, the course will sample key treatments of the "sitter" in visual and verbal art.

We will also consider other meanings of the word "model"- stereotype, prototype, miniature, ideal, predecessor. The Pop revolution undermined the idea of a pre-existing reality that provides a subject (or object) for art. Instead, it saw representation as creating the reality it depicts, a notion traceable to Wilde and Whistler (and ultimately to Pygmalion and Galatea), but coming into its own in the philosophy of Baudrillard, novels by Pynchon and DeLillo, and recent films such as Johan Grimonprez's Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y and The Matrix. The model raises the teasing contradictions apparent in the term "virtual reality": the unreal real, the resultant antecedent, the powerless determiner. These have become inescapable considerations in contemporary aesthetics.

Readings will include classic modernist texts by Woolf, Stein, Pound, Eliot, and Joyce; postmodern fictions by Nabokov, Pynchon, DeLillo, and Grimonprez/Zizek; contemporary feminist and gender-revising works by Bram, Lipton, Chevalier, and Nafisi; and an array of twentieth-century painters and photographers.

Assignments will be 25 pages of writing (either one long or to shorter papers) and an informal class presentation. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this course, students are welcome from English and other national literature departments, Comparative Literature, Art History, Fine Arts, and Women's Studies.

Fulfills 5 & 3 requirements.