ENGL749D - 20th Century Fiction and the Construction of the Modern Reader

This course will analyze the transformation of the practice of reading in the 20th century. Its foci will be the curious fates of characters as readers in modern fiction, the theory and practice of difficult texts, and theories of the reader. We will examine the unfortunate fates that befall characters when they read in the fiction of Wharton, Conrad, Forster, Mansfield, Joyce, Woolf, Borges, Nabokov, Porter, and others. We will go on to discuss the construction of the modernist reader and larger issues of hermeneutics and interpretation, including the question of misreading and the politics of interpretation in minority and postcolonial works (such as those by Toni Morrison and Jamaica Kincaid). We will then examine some notoriously difficult and “uninterpretable” texts by Gertrude Stein “Tender Buttons,” Djuna Barnes (Nightwood), and William Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom!) and theorize the phenomenon of narrative opacity and indeterminacy. We’ll conclude with a close look at the transformed figure of the reader of postmodernism (Calvino, Atwood), hyperfiction (Michael Joyce and/or J. Yellowlees Douglas), and avant-garde film (Run, Lola, Run). The accounts of reader response and reception that we will engage with will include formalist, rhetorical, historicist, feminist, African-American, and poststructuralist positions as set forth by theorists like Iser, Barthes, Jauss, Eco, Rabinowitz, Fish, Mailloux, Fetterly, Schweickart, Warhol, Culler, Stepto, Sommer, and Aarseth. Note: though this course will feature some of the same authors I taught in last year’s class on ‘History and Theory of the Modern Novel,’ almost all the readings for this course will be different.