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20th Century Literature: The Horseless Carriage

ENGL 104.910


A century ago, Edith Wharton declared: "The motor car has restored the romance of travel."  Much of the "modern" literature of the 20th Century turned to the car as a metaphor for newness, as the epitome of technological progress, and as a symbol of national identity and civic well-being—what William Carlos Williams called the "pure products of America."  Tracing the rise and fall of the automobile in the American literary tradition and examining the stark contrast between Wharton's era and our own—from the romance of the horseless carriage to the ubiquitous hybrid, the green commuter bike, and the collapsing auto industry—this course will explore how car culture and its various literary incarnations inform the American national imaginary.  Examples of readings include Wharton's Motor Flight Through France, poems by William Carlos Williams, F.T. Marinetti, Melvin Tolson, and Kathleen Fraser, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, J.G. Ballard's Crash, selections from Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, Michael Moore's film Roger and Me, and Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino.  Students will be asked to write weekly responses (one of which will be a formal analysis of a car commercial) and to compose two short papers.


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