Andrew J. Meyer
Investigates the period of American literary modernism (1900 to WW II). Topics include nationalism, migration, race, gender, and the impact of the visual arts on literary modernism, as well as the relation between modernity/modernization (social, economic, and technological transformation) and modernism (revolution in literary style).
It was with a difficult awe that Americans witnessed the capabilities of human ingenuity and technological development after World War I—difficult because while it facilitated labor, powered cities, and moved people and goods great distances with ease, it also demonstrated humanity’s power to kill in unprecedented numbers (which, of course, would only later be surpassed by the bomb). All this contributed to a shift in American habitation toward burgeoning cities, leaving the rural scene nonplussed. These rapid changes led photographer Paul Strand to declare that mechanistic science had become the new God. Perceiving that the scientist had thus supplanted the artist as society’s favored child, Strand wrote in 1922 that the scientist “has made possible the present critical condition of Western Civilization, faced as it is with the alternatives of being quickly ground to pieces under the heel of the new God or with the tremendous task of controlling the heel.” Literary responses to this critical condition ranged considerably, as the unflinching newness—confounded not least by the Great Depression—dizzied the American intellect. Out of the vortex emerged some of the more persistent and challenging literary innovations of twentieth century America.
In this course, we will approach the literature of the period by attending to writers’ constructions of human habitations, with some special emphasis on the American West, attending to representions—mainly textual and photographic—of the shifting modes of living and their affects on American consciousness and (conflicting) senses of identity.
Readings will consist of four novels--The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis; My Antonia by Willa Cather; and The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West--and the 1939 film Stagecoach by John Ford. There will also be gestures toward other writers from the period, such as William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane, and photographic works by Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and others (list subject to revision).
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading
Work for the course will consist of several short commentaries, a midterm and a final exam, a photographic project/presentation, and an 8-10 page essay.