This course will examine the emergence of high literary culture in the United States, as it defined itself through and against mass culture and race. Taking a cue from Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, the seminar will explore American literature through the lens of distinctive features of nineteenth-century modernity, including fashionable travel, museums, racial stigmatizing, hotels, ethnic and sexual subcultures, mass entertainment, and such new and often worrisome phenomena ("impudent novelties," to borrow Henry James's phrase) as the public woman, the Negro citizen, the mass-produced commodity, and newly recognized varieties of human consciousness. At the heart of the course, then, is a historical moment in which authors' drive for literary mastery and cultural distinction ran into the "impudent novelties" of an emergent capitalist culture. Our aim will be to develop both rich readings of literary texts as well as an informed understanding of cultural contexts.
We will read sociological and theoretical texts on mass culture and modernity (Simmel, Benjamin, Weber, Gideon, T. Bennett) alongside literary texts and cultural history. Students will be encouraged to explore archival sources of mass culture. Primary texts will include works by Henry James, Jose Marti, W. E. B. DuBois, Anzia Yezierska, Henry Adams, Zitkala-Sa, James Johnson, Edith Wharton, Charles Chesnutt, Stephen Crane, Pauline Hopkins, and Theodore Dreiser.
Fulfills 2, 6, & 4 requirements.