Seminar study of special topics in language and literary study. Limited to seniors majoring in English.
What Is It to Be Modern? Literature and Visual Culture
This seminar offers a cross-section of some of the key works of, and debates surrounding, modernism in literature and visual culture. The focus is on modernist writers and their connections to the visual arts: for example, Gertrude Stein played with language in the 1910s in the way Picasso experimented with visual images in his post-Expressionist painting. Henry Miller praised Proust's literary ekphrasis with his own double-fold ekphrastic description of Monet via Proust via Monet.
At its core, this course will explore the close connections between literature and the visual arts within the context of cultural modernism, examining the work of modernist writers alongside other European and American artists including those affiliated with movements such as Surrealism, Expressionism, Cubism and the Alfred Stieglitz circle. It will also include films including works from Keaton, Chaplin, Berkeley, Buñuel and Wiene.
The work of the modernist writers we will discuss is concerned directly with the general understanding that language serves the purpose of transmitting meaning or truth. By questioning the foundation of language these writers also expose "identity," which is most often the cornerstone of political and cultural action, to be instable and highly fallible. As a result, the works we will study play in surprising ways in the space between textual opacity and transparency, bringing to the fore the significance of instability in language and identity. To this end, this course has an interdisciplinary core that examines the relationship between visuality (particular ways of "seeing" the modern world) and the literary (unconventional ways of "writing" the modern world). Some of the key issues to be discussed include: experimentation in language, ekphrasis, perspectivism, cultural instability, spectatorship, questioning of traditional modes, representations of reality, and mass culture.
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