The Art of Crossing: Jazz Age Americans Mixing Up Races, Genders, Places, and Forms
African-Americans "passing" as white. White Americans looking for themselves in Harlem. Cross-dressing and gender bending. Hybridity. Expatriates finding home abroad. High class meets lowbrow. Popular culture becomes art.
The literature, visual art, and music of the early 20th century is full of images and instances of crossing over and trying on difference (a different place, a different self, a different kind of expression), reveling in the mixed-ness of the modern moment in which distinctions and divisions of all sorts came into question. In this course we will interrogate American texts of the modern era as productions of their cultural moment, asking: What were the historical conditions that produced this art of crossing? How were writers and other artists "mixing" their own ideas and artistic goals with those of others? And what sorts of social changes did this age of innovation, exploration, integration, and revolution enable? This was a period of great transformation that produced fascinating works for us to engage with and talk about together. The course is designed to get students involved in exploring modernity through diverse course materials (poetry, short stories, novels, essays, music, visual art), experiencing the intellectual challenges and rewards of literary and cultural study both independently and in collaboration with others. Course texts may include works by Langston Hughes, Anzia Yezierska, Nella Larsen, W.E.B. Dubois, Alain Locke, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein.