Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters
At its most basic, this course attempts to take the measure of Whitman's song as it reverberates throughout American literature of the first half of the 20th century. But its most pressing concern will be to introduce students to modernism and its aesthetic, cultural, and social discontents. To do so, we shall focus on some of modern America's most unruly writers as they sound their most untranslatable texts: the Williams of Spring and All, the Steinbeck of The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Crane's White Buildings and The Bridge, Toomer's Cane, Miller's Tropic of Capricorn, Patchen's Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, and Mumford's The Conduct of Life. Noisy, stubborn, and self-indulgent, these artists are obsessed with extending reality rather than merely defining or apprehending it. In this sense, then, they are the "crazies" of modern American literature, people who see, hear, and feel things that others do not. Their visionary mode, closely linked with mysticism, mingles terror, omniscience, and ecstasy with a sense of absolute experience and freedom from relativism and moral categories. Often offensive in their preachiness, these writers depend upon inspiration and, as opposed to the predominant modern modes of restraint and irony, on excess and sentimentality. Students will be asked to write numerous short "opinion" papers and to sit for a comprehensive final exam.