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Theories of Modernism

ENGL 591.401

In this course, we will examine a series of theoretical models that critics have used to identify and stabilize modernism as an historical object of study confined to the period 1880-1945. A number of overarching questions will guide our inquiry:  is there a plausible way, beyond mere chronology, to define modernism as a period-style?  What features of modernist writing are isolated and emphasized by the various theoretical approaches we now use in our discipline? Has the concept of modernity displaced an older model of modernism?  Is modernism the native ground for any particular theory in the way one might say that Romanticism was for deconstruction and the Renaissance was for New Historicism?  How do the specific texts, authors, innovations, and ideas generally identified as modernist seem to inflect the languages of feminism, queer theory, postcolonial studies, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, critical race studies, Marxism, and the sociology of literature?
In a sense, the course will work as an advanced introduction to literary theory with special relevance to twentieth-century writing. No primary texts are assigned for weekly discussion, but participants will be asked to keep a running record of how our readings might inform or illuminate the modernist texts they know best.  Members of the seminar will also write a short essay (10-12 pages) that addresses modernist fiction, poetry, or drama using interpretive tools or ideas from the secondary reading.  Other written assignments will include a 1000-word review of a recent book in modernist studies and a short position paper on a theoretical debate (with annotated bibliography; 5-7 pages).  
We will begin the semester by looking at a non-theoretical description of modernism, Peter Gay's 2007 Modernism:  The Lure of Heresy.  With that in view, we will then tackle a series of theoretical approaches, using representative books such as Berman's All that is Solid Melts Into Air, Jameson's The Political Unconscious, Felski's The Gender of Modernity, Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, Barthes's Writing Degree Zero, and Adorno's Aesthetic Theory.  Clusters of shorter readings will anchor our consideration of other topics, including the following:  psychoanalysis (Zizek, North, Rabaté), literary sociology (Burger, Rainey, Bourdieu, Rancière), affect studies (Ngai, Love), critical race studies (Baker, Spillers, Benn Michaels), urban studies (Williams, Buck-Morss), and colonial discourse studies (Said, Gikandi, Spivak).

Undergraduates need to fill out a permit form and receive the approval of the Graduate Chair, their advisor, and the professor for all 500-level courses.

Cross-listed: COML592