The Art of Crossing: Americans Mixing It Up in the Jazz Age
Who says I’m that? Who says I can’t be that? Who says art has to look like that?
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 were cast 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 did this age of innovation, exploration, integration, and revolution in art accomplish both aesthetically and culturally? This was a period of great transformation and artistic exchange that produced exciting and engaging works for us to experience 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), approaching the intellectual challenges and rewards of literary and cultural study both independently and in collaboration with others. Course requirements will include active participation in class discussions, short response papers, a group researched presentation project, and a final longer paper (6-8 pages). Course texts may include works by Langston Hughes, Anzia Yezierska, Nella Larsen, W.E.B. Dubois, William Faulkner, Jessie Fauset, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein.