ENGL748A - Seminar in American Literature: American Modernism/Modernity: Contemporary Approaches

What is/are modernism(s)? What was/is modernity? What relation do the key terms in these questions, the first literary and aesthetic, the second primarily historical, bear to one another? What does it mean to think their relation through the vantage point of the US—at a moment when the fields of both modernist studies and American literary studies are becoming radically globalized, pluralized? These are the general questions that will frame our specific investigations of American modernism and modern American literary and cultural/political expression in this course. The course concentrates on three intersecting phenomena: (1) the significant historical and political developments arising in and around the US during the first four decades of the 20th century; (2) the diverse literary and cultural textuality and aestheticisms, often experimental, that arose in engagement with this historical field and one another; and (3) contemporary critical and theoretical inquiry, bridging recent developments both in American studies and in the “new modernist” studies, bearing upon this domain of texts and issues. As we study the rich counterpoint of formal innovations and consolidations that emerge during the modern period in the US, we will also pay particular attention to their anchoring in considerations of transnational politics and cultural flows; immigrant, migrant, and minority experience and representation; the rise of the modern democratic State and its discontents; legal and constitutional developments as they relate to expressive forms and freedom; modern media and technology and their effects on information and propaganda; the rise of the urban metropolis and the residual force of its margins; the meaning of World War I on the home front and geopolitically in the international sphere; American exceptionalism and imperialism and their articulations and disavowal; and the poetics and politics of gender and sexuality. Primary authors include W.E.B. DuBois, Pauline Hopkins, José Martí, Mary Antin, Randolph Bourne, Woodrow Wilson, John Dos Passos, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Langston Hughes, Katherine Anne Porter, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, William Faulkner, Mourning Dove, John Steinbeck, Djuna Barnes, Jovita González, and Eleanor Roosevelt.


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