This course aims to study the historical, aesthetic, and epistemological features of literary modernism in Britain, and devotes particular attention to the narrative strategies writers develop to bring coherence and resolution to the experience of crisis and fragmentation associated with modernity. The term "modernism," with its implication of coherence and homogeneity, has supported a critical tradition that understands early twentieth century literature as a self-conscious, programmatic attempt to forge a cultural practice and theory by a coterie eminently positioned to reflect and address a rapidly changing world. In the hands of many of the writers we will encounter during the semester, the modern becomes the focal point of cataclysmic change that threatens with dissolution all that is familiar and established in western culture. As such, the modern is wrought with the ambivalent potential for regenerative destruction, and the aesthetic becomes increasingly important as the still point of truth and the only reliable reference point in a world of flux. Our concern will be to investigate and, perhaps, pressure this reading of modernism through our encounters with the stubborn contradictions and vexatious questions the narratives might pose.
Our focus will be the compensatory function of the aesthetic and its historical emergence in modernist texts as the distinctive experience of uniquely presented objects. Taking the narrative as an instance of the aesthetic, we will explore the historical and political content of this form, paying attention to the strategies modernist narratives develop to carry out the work of synthesizing the fragmented experience of modernity even as they offer an imaginary resolution to a pervasive sense of crisis. To this end, we will study the formal experiments wrought in the attempt to narrativize the irrational, the unconscious, the mythical, and the invisible.
Elizabeth Bowen, To The North (1932)
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (1900)
Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
James Joyce, Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man (1914-1915)
Rebecca West, Return of the Soldier (1918)
Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931)
Critical essays by Watt, Cohn, Benjamin, Frank, Woolf, James, Morretti, Jameson, Williams, among others.
1. One short paper (5-7 pages long), a book report (5pages long); a class presentation leading up to a research paper (10-15 pages); active participation in the seminar.
Pre-requisites: 2 200-level courses or consent of instructor.