Paul A Jaussen
Introduces twentieth-century literature and contemporary literature, focusing on representative works that illustrate literary and intellectual developments since 1900.
We can safely say that the twentieth century, whatever else it may have been, was marked by remarkable and unbelievably diverse artistic production. At times, this cultural range can be a bit overwhelming. Yet, in the midst of the variety, there are certain perceivable patterns that, when understood, can make the period much more accessible. This course, as an introduction to the literature of the time, will serve to sketch out some of those patterns, conflicts, and artistic developments. We will examine the century as a sequence of literary responses to specific questions regarding the nature of narrative, the role and origin of poetry, and the relationship between literature and that which it is not.
We will consider a series of textual pairings (or triplets), moving more or less chronologically through the century. We will begin with two modernist novels, Joseph Conrad’s _The Secret Agent_ and Virginia Woolf’s _Mrs. Dalloway_, reading them as answers to the question “what’s in a story?” From there, we will move to T. S. Eliot’s _The Waste Land_, William Carlos Williams’s _Spring and All_, and selections from Langston Hughes. Each of these poets offers a very different vision of what poetry can and ought to be (Williams, for instance, hated _The Waste Land_, while Hughes, unlike the other two, was unapologetically political). None of them get the answer completely right, at least according to the next writers on our list, Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara, whose works will take us into poetic realms “after” modernism (and maybe even “post”). Finally, in a partial return to narrative, we will end by reading Susan Howe’s multi-generic _Singularities_ and Jeanette Winterson’s late-century novel _Written on the Body_, two texts which use literary technique to press beyond literature, though never beyond language, into the most intimate realms of personal identity.
Other voices will invariably make themselves heard as we proceed, some critical, mostly poetic. It will be a quarter of remarkable intensity, I can tell you that. We will dance from anarchist bombing plots to stream-of-consciousness flower shopping, from poetic corpses unearthed to radical imaginations, from prophetic vortex chanting to “I do this, I do that,” from L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E games to visceral love. And I expect you to respond equally aggressively, critically, and, in the spirit of the times, with an absolute commitment to creative intelligence.
You will be expected to read a great deal of difficult texts throughout the quarter. This will be encouraged through mandatory weekly reading quizzes. You will be expected to participate actively in each period, as well as in group presentations. Finally, you will be required to write two short response papers and a final 6-8 page critical essay.
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