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Origins and Originality

ENGL 016.304
MW 3:30-5

“Make it new!” proclaimed Ezra Pound, an early twentieth-century poet and advocate for the emerging modernist movement. The slogan stuck and a new century of literature began with the demand for originality. Newness was at a premium in the first decades of the century – but what did it mean to be an original? In this class we will investigate the notion of originality: What is it? What is its relationship to the old? What is its relationship to creativity and what we call the creative process? Can there even be such a thing as the new, or has it all been said before? We will look at a number of articulations of the new, beginning with some early century examples of the avant-garde (Pound’s vorticist movement, the dada movement, etc.). We will think about the relationship between the original and copy – is a painting more original than a photograph, for example? – and read from some influential works on the subject. Finally, we will consider some paired texts, including Virginia Woolf’s great modernist work, Mrs. Dalloway, and Michael Cunningham’s recent tribute to it, The Hours. Is the latter a creative tour-de-force, or a rip-off? The class will be small, discussion-based, and committed to original thinking about the problems of originality.

fulfills requirements
Elective of the Standard Major