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Topics in 20th Century British Literature

ENGL 563.301
instructor(s):
T 3-6:00

Contemporary British Fiction and the Production of Literary Value.

This course will serve as a general introduction to some of the major novelists of contemporary Britain, as well as to sociological methods of literary study. Our aim will be to situate some of the figures of the "contemporary canon" within the system of individual and institutional agents that produces that canon and the hierarchy of values on which it is predicated. These relatively neglected producers of literature include editors and publishing houses; literary agents and their firms; film producers and their backers, booksellers and book clubs; university professors and the academy; prizes and their judges, administrators, and sponsors; book reviewers, fiction editors, and the journals that employ them; and, very importantly, other authors. Each student in the class will undertake three independent research projects aimed at positioning one of the novels we read on the larger literary field, gauging its particular status and cultural trajectory. The formidable problem with which the entire class will be concerned is that of making sense of the relationship between "the novel itself" -- the specific pleasures and challenges it offers us as readers -- and the novel as a form of capital circulating through interlinked symbolic and commercial economies.

Our readings in fiction may include Martin Amis, The Information; Antonia Byatt, Possession; J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace; Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day; Lucy Ellmann, Sweet Desserts; Buchi Emecheta, In the Ditch; Penelope Fitzgerald, Blue Flower; Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day; Geoff Nicholson, Bleeding London; Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses; Jeannette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Readings in the sociology of literature may include essays by Pierre Bourdieu, Regenia Gagnier, Richard Ohmann, Janice Radway, Lawrence Rainey, John Sutherland, Loic Waquant. In addition to being presented orally to the class, each of the three research projects will be submitted as a short paper, and one of them will be elaborated into a 10-12 page final paper.