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Modern American Literature 1900-45

ENGL 084.001
instructor(s):
TR 9-10:30

"The pure products of America" is the opening line of William Carlos Williams's poem, "To Elsie." Many of the aesthetic and cultural concerns that will animate this course can be found there: What is America? What is purity? What is racial purity? What is aesthetic purity? How is America produced? Reproduced? How does industrial production relate to cultural production? How do cultural and biological reproduction affect one another? Questions of cultural, aesthetic, and racial definition agitated most of the inhabitants of the United States during the first four decades of the century--nor are they closer to being settled now. Reading the second line of Williams's poem displays this agitation compactly: "The pure products of America / go crazy." We will look at a variety of fiction (Wharton, Dreiser, Cather, Faulkner, Wright) and poetry (Eliot, Williams, Toomer, Hughes, Moore, and others); a film, and some songs to see and hear how poets, novelists, consumers, racists, multiculturalists, entertainers, compromisers and iconoclasts attempted to define, preserve, and change American culture.