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Modernisms and Modernities: Kafka, Joyce, Beckett

ENGL 059.401
crosslisted as: COML 059
TR 12-1:30pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major


This class will be devoted to parallel readings of Joyce’s, Kafka’s and Beckett’s major works. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Joyce and Kafka lived in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Joyce in Trieste, Kafka in Prag. The authors never met but shared similar concerns, both taking Flaubert as a model. When Beckett met Joyce in Paris in the 1920’s, Kafka had already died, but if Beckett was thought to be Joyce’s disciple he would soon be compared with Kafka, as Adorno regularly did. However, in spite of common features, Beckett kept Kafka at distance, believing that if Joyce had invented radically new modes of writing, Kafka had not been experimental enough. However, when Beckett attempted to move away from Joyce’s overwhelming influence, he found himself in a position that was much closer to that of Kafka. The three writers explored the ways in which language structures subjectivity while meditating on beauty, faith, humor, justice and resistance to oppression. Before examining formal links and converging concerns in selected passages of Ulysses, The Castle, and Watt, or comparing pages from Finnegans Wake, The Trial and Molloy, we will engage with a corpus of short stories, aphorisms and novellas. This will allow us to investigate commonalities in the aesthetic theories of Joyce, Kafka and Beckett, while tackling the specific hermeneutics required by their works. Two papers will consist in rewriting one short text by one author as if it has been written by another.  There will be a final paper on the three authors.

Requirements: One oral presentation, two creative writing experiments, one final paper (8 pages).