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The Idea of the Model in Literature and Art

ENGL 591.401
instructor(s):
W 9-12

This course is about representation, in particular, the kinds of relations that have existed between literary and visual artworks and their models, from Modernism to the present. We will interpret the word "model" broadly here, but begin with the conventional situation of a human being posing for an artist, a structure that has raised complicated issues since Pygmalion and Galatea. During the past hundred years, the political and psychological meaning of the model has been a particular crux for avant-gardists, feminists, and philosophers. Modernism is full of works called "Portrait of a Lady" and "La Poseuse, " and just as full of denials of the 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 then turn to other meanings of "model" in visual and verbal art- stereotype, prototype, miniature, ideal, predecessor-observing their relevance to the problems surrounding the posing subject. 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 but coming into its own in the philosophy of Baudrillard, novels by Pynchon and DeLillo, and recent high-art films such as Johan Grimonprez's Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y or blockbusters like The Matrix. The model raises the teasing contradictions apparent in the term "virtual reality": the unreal real, the resultant antecedent, the powerless determiner. These are inescapable considerations for anyone concerned with contemporary aesthetics.

Fulfills #3 requirement.