English | American Literature & Culture 1945 to Present
L656 | 22344 | Crawford

4:00p – 5:15p TR


This course will be an exploration of modernist primitivism and
responses to this primitivism in 1960s and more contemporary
American literature. Our study of modernist primitivism will focus
on issues of gender, race, and sexuality. The work of Stein, Toomer,
Carl Van Vechten, Sherwood Anderson, Nella Larsen, and Faulkner will
be our focal points as we explore primitivism and reactions to
primitivism in modernist literature. As we move to the post-modern
landscape, we will focus on African American literature. The
reiterations and rewritings of modernist primitivism in post-modern
African American literature will shape the second half of the
course.  In this second tier, we may read John Edgar Wideman, Suzan-
Lori Parks, Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, and
Harryette Mullen. Our readings on modernist primitivism will include
key chapters in Primitivist Modernism, Negrophilia, and Gone

Animated contradictions shape modernist primitivism. The seduction
and the risks of primitivism will be examined through a focus on the
binaries that it both attacks and, often, reconstructs. We will
historicize some of the racial elements of modernist primitivism by
remembering the teleologies that shaped scientific racism. As we
remember Freud’s reference to the “dark continent” of female
sexuality, we’ll interrogate the gender and sexuality performances
that shape modernist primitivism. As we move to post-modern African
American literature, we’ll examine images of “Africa” in the African
American imagination, the rewriting of modernist images
of “blackness,” primitivism and homoerotism, the seduction by and
critique of racialized primitivism, and the possibility of
subversive primitivism.

In order to crystallize our larger questions about representations
of “blackness” in modernist primitivism, we will analyze films that
include Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson. Our study of a wide range
of visual images of Josephine Baker will be particularly helpful as
we explore the imagined resolutions of imagined contradictions in
the primitivist script.

Weekly reading responses will be assigned. A ten page essay,
submitted at the midterm point, will be reshaped into the final
twenty page essay.