From a distance, there's general agreement about modernism. A spirit of innovation beginning in France in the second half of the 19th century spreads to Europe and American over the next decades, resulting in profound changes in all the arts. While they were greeted with shock by many at first, these changes have now become the basic vocabulary of our culture. The jagged dissonances of Stravinski's Rites of Spring that caused a riot in Paris in 1913 were used in the soundtrack of a Disney cartoon a few decades later. The paintings of Picasso, Kandinski, Mondrian, et al., initially seen as visual outrages, were assimilated quickly. With writing, the story is a bit different. While a few modernist works such as Ulysses and The Waste Land are generally granted classic status, their difficulty hasn't dissipated all that much over the decades. Many other modernist writings remain quite recalcitrant. Modernist writing posed fundamental questions as to what constitutes a poem or a novel and what the relation of writing to society should be. By reading a range of novels (Madame Bovary, To the Lighthouse, Watt), poems (The Waste Land, The Last Lunar Baedecker, Paterson, Harlem Gallery), writing of indeterminate genre (Tender Buttons), and manifestoes, we will take these questions on. This will also lead us into the question of modernism itself. The more closely one looks, the more contradictory it becomes: reactionary or revolutionary; devoted to tradition or iconoclastic; scornful of popular culture or embracing it. Our reading is designed to keep these questions vivid.
Requirements: weekly responses, oral reports, a final paper.
Readings will include:
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings
Charles Reznikoff, Testimony
Samuel Beckett, Watt
William Carlos Williams, Paterson
Melvin Tolson, Harlem Gallery