Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

African American Modernism

ENGL 281.401

In this course, we will interrogate modernity and literary modernism through the lens of selected African American writers from the turn of the century to Harlem Renaissance.  Is there an African American modernism?  Does literary and cultural modernism look differently if viewed from the perspective of African Americans writing with an awareness of “the modern moment,” of a specific American social history, and of themselves as racialized and gendered individuals?  Does the modernist movement in America as interpreted by literary historians, cultural critics, and critical theorists allow for the presence of writers such as Jessie Fauset, Rudolph Fisher, Langston Hughes, Zora Hurston,  Nella Larsen, and Dorothy West, who may not produce the type of texts associated with the high modernism of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and William Faulkner?   Does the presence of African American authors consciously engaged with modernism reconfigure our conception of modernism?  Is it possible to construct a definition of modernism/modernity that is a political intervention, a response to the lack of attention to African American writers in most previous definitions?  What is at stake in rereading modernism from a racial and feminist perspective when men, such as Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, and Rorty, have asserted that “modern” is passe, that a search for social theories that foster autonomy and emancipation as projects is at an end?

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major