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The Twentieth Century

ENGL 104.401

T.S. Eliot named James Joyce's Ulysses the work "to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape." Recently, in a somewhat more obvious marketing strategy, the Modern Library declared the same book to be the greatest novel of the century. What does it mean that the last century's most celebrated aesthetic experiments employed successful publicity schemes that promoted increasingly difficult works against the backdrop of (or, as it is still sometimes believed, distracting its readership from) the rise of totalitarian regimes and the reemergence of racial violence and genocidal projects in the United States and abroad? Using the text and the textual history of Joyce's Ulysses as the axis that guides our readings, we will ask questions about the intersection of "high aesthetics," popular fictions, and political exigency as they worked throughout the century. We will not attempt to awaken, as Stephen Dedalus wished to do, from the "nightmare of history," but instead examine the ways in which twentieth century writing and film attempted chose to embed within itself history's problems. In addition to Ulysses, we will read works by W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, and Harryette Mullen, and we will study films by Dziga Vertov, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Altman and others. Requirements include two papers and several short exams. Attendance is mandatory.

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