ENGL749 - Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature

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 reading. We will examine the unfortunate fates that befall characters when they read in the fiction of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, J L Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Katherine Anne 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 Ishmael Reed, Toni Morrison, and Tayeb Saleh). We will then examine some notoriously difficult and “uninterpretable” texts such as Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons” and Beckett’s “Lessness” as we theorize the phenomena of narrative opacity and indeterminacy. We’ll conclude with a close look at the transformed figure of the reader of postmodernism (Calvino, Kis), hyperfiction, and film (Stranger than Fiction). 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. We will conclude by discussing some current ideas of digital reception and “paranoid,” “surface,” and “distant” reading.