E 392M • Backgrounds of Modernism
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
Like all "isms," "modernism" is a controversial term and concept, at once richly ambiguous and reductive. At issue are its dates, practitioners, techniques, locations, politics, intentions, and consequences. The "modern" is especially problematic because of our proximity to the time it claims to delineate and because the term is often used to mean "contemporary." Further, it both resists temporal limits and flaunts an extra-historical attitude: thus, according to Bradbury and McFarlane, "one claims as 'modern' Catullus (but not Virgil), Villon (but not Ronsard), Donne (but not Spenser), Clough (but not Tennyson), and when one does the same for one's own time (Conrad, but not Galsworthy), the semantic instability of the term becomes obvious." Such semantic instability is commonplace, but while every age calls itself modern, that of "high modernism" (roughly 1890 to 1930) is the first to be deemed both "modern" and past, and so viewed through the lens of "postmodernism."
This course will explore the historical, philosophical, and cultural circumstances that produced the literature of "high modernism," primarily British and American. The background readings (Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, Pater, Spengler, Bergson, Frazer, et al.) and consideration of modernist movements in other art forms (e.g., atonality in music; primitivism in sculpture; postimpressionism and cubism in painting) will help to contextualize and focus our consideration of modernist literary texts. The course's organizational principle will be a set of central concepts: the decline of the West; the disappearance/death of God; the reconceptualization of such notions as time and the self; the impact of technology and urbanization; the quest among so-called "primitive" societies for vitality and values; the use of myth as a structuring principle; aestheticism; epistemological incertitude; the crisis of language; and the reaction against traditional realism and humanistic representation in the interests of a deeper and more complex expression of "reality".
Texts will be chosen from the following:
Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction; The Nigger of the Narcissus
T.S. Eliot. Selected Poems (Harcourt Brace, 1967)
William Faulkner. The Sound and the Fury (Vintage, 1991)
Ford Madox Ford. The Good Soldier (Penguin, 1990)
Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises (Simon & Schuster, 1994)
James Joyce. Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, ed. Kevin Barry (Oxford UP, 2000); Dubliners (Penguin, 1976); A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin, 1993); Ulysses (Random, 1992)
D.H. Lawrence. Women in Love (Penguin, 1990)
Thomas Mann. Death in Venice (Random, 1989)
Katharine Ann Porter. Collected Short Stories (HarBrace, 1955)
Virginia Woolf. To the Lighthouse (Harbrace, 1989)
W.B. Yeats. Selected Poems (Random, 1991)