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The Twentieth Century

ENGL 104.910
instructor(s):
MW 11:40-2:50

This course will examine literature and movies from the last hundred years, including popular and important works from countries all over the world. It is impossible to define the century, but in a peculiar way, that very impossibility will be the common theme for the course: many of the greatest and most enduring works present the modern world as a place that makes no sense. Sometimes that is a comic vision--for example, Charlie Chaplin repeatedly trapped in inhumane systems yet always escaping. Sometimes the vision of chaos is a nightmare, as in T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. And sometimes an author will veer back and forth between passages that are hilariously funny and others that are absolutely horrifying, as Salmon Rushdie does in his surrealistic vision of the first decades of India's independence, Midnight's Children. Some writers find dreams of freedom emerging from the sense that there is no longer any order in the world, as Virginia Woolf does in her novel, To the Lighthouse. And some simply leave us pondering the difficulty of knowing what the truth is, as in Akira Kurosawa's movie, Rashomon. We will examine all these works, as well as others by Jean Rhys, Assia Djebar, and Chinua Achebe, along with some modernist paintings and Jazz compositions. Students will write two papers, one five pages long and one ten pages long.