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Excessive Form: Modernism and Formalism

ENGL 591.401
instructor(s):
T 9-12

The topic of this graduate seminar will be an assessment of the complex links between formalism and modernism. We will study the emergence of an international formalism with precise examples taken from post-Kantian esthetics, Russian literary theory, and American pragmatism.  We will read a number of theoreticians who questioned formalism (Bataille, Derrida, Deleuze, de Man) and pay attention to the terms used by artists and writers of the times (Lewis and Dali). We will study a number of poems by Eliot, Stevens and Mandelstam and read closely two late modernist novels that problematize formalism, Murphy by Beckett and Ferdydurke by Gombrowicz. Finally we survey some "new formalisms" and focus on the Oulipo group. Is formalism dead, a pedagogical heresy, or is it still there all the time, having impregnated our reading habits?