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The Museum and Modern Literature

ENGL 059.001

Museums are everywhere in the modern world and in modern literature.  They represent our seemingly indomitable will to collect, organize, interpret, and preserve the knowledge and artifacts of the world around us.  Since the late eighteenth century, museums have played increasingly complex social and cultural roles, commissioning and inspiring works, not just preserving them.  Indeed, the modern museum is itself a kind of muse, as we'll see first by studying the "cabinets of curiosities" and "personal museums" of the celebrated early American artist Charles Willson Peale and the Modernist artist Marcel Duchamp, whose works are permanently installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and which we will visit as part of the course.  We'll then explore the museum in literature, reading works such as Gustave Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecuchet; Jorge Luis Borges's The Labryinth; Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project; Franz Kafka's The Trial; and Gertrude Stein's Everybody's Autobiography.  We'll read works by a range of major critics and theorists of the museum and the human drive to collect, including Sigmund Freud, Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Helene Cixous, Michael Taussig, and Tony Benett.  We'll also explore the provocative manifestos of Italian Futurists such as F.T. Marinetti, and confront the self-conscious practice of Andy Warhol, Vito Acconci, Gerhard Richter, Fred Wilson, Marcel Broodthaers, and Christian Boltanski.  Films such as Philip Seymour Hoffman's recent Synecdoche, New York and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code will also help us explore the museum's representations in contemporary popular culture, and why the very idea of the museum remains such a powerful muse for contemporary practice.

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major