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The Twentieth Century

ENGL 104.401
instructor(s):
TR 12-1:30

This course offers an overview of the most important trends and movements in twentieth-century literature: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the rise of so-called Postcolonial literatures. We will read the works by some of the century's most celebrated British and American authors and also (since twentieth-century culture is increasingly an international affair) by writers from such places as France, Nigeria, South Africa, and the Caribbean. Our texts will raise some of the following questions: Can art accurately represent the modern world, especially if the world is constituted by different peoples' ways of seeing it? Can one live meaningfully in modern cities? Does individual life matter any more in an age of mechanized warfare and mass slaughter? How does one narrate a life that has become saturated with mass-mediated images and information? What has European civilization meant for non-Europeans? What is the relationship between literature and mass culture? What happens to "real life" when all you do is shop?

The reading list is likely to include several of the following texts: Faulkner AS I LAY DYING; Hemingway, IN OUR TIME; West, MISS LONELYHEARTS; Kafka, THE TRIAL; Conrad, THE HEART OF DARKNESS; Achebe, ARROW OF GOD; Rushdie, EAST/WEST; Coetzee, WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS; Auster, CITY OF GLASS; Nabokov, LOLITA; Perec, THINGS; and DeLillo, WHITE NOISE. The course will also include some discussion of paintings, films, and advertisements.

While students from all disciplines and departments are welcome in this course, they should know in advance that some of the works will be difficult (Kafka and Faulkner, for instance, are notoriously obscure) and disturbing. This course is not for people who just want a light cultural suntan and will be offended by books that address things like torture, pederasty, and sick jokes! The reading load is fairly heavy (one book per week). Mid-term essay, 5-7 pp; final essay 6-8 pp. and possible final exam, depending on quality of class participation and attendance.