English | Studies in Modern Drama
L775 | 27027 | Vogel


11:15a – 2:15p W

TOPIC:  INTIMACY AND ALIENATION IN MODERN AMERICAN DRAMA, 1900-1950

This seminar on modern American drama in the first half of the
twentieth century will be focused by an inquiry into the
interrelated experiences of intimacy and alienation in the modern
world. In the last several years, intimacy has emerged as an
important heuristic and problematic within many interdisciplinary
schools of critical thought (queer theory, feminist theory,
performance studies, and affect theory, to name a few that will
concern us in this seminar). We will put pressure on this turn to
intimacy—asking about its possibilities as well as its limitations;
historicizing and tracing alternative genealogies of the concept in
modern thought—through a reading of modern American dramatic texts
and performance practices in the first half of the twentieth
century. In doing so, we will temper the often celebratory and
utopic potential of public intimacy and intimate relations (a
celebration and utopic impulse I believe in) with the ways in which
intimacy allows for many varieties of alienation, violence,
hostility, and surveillance.

This movement between intimacy and alienation constitutes an
affective polarity that spans a range of feelings and connotations
from identification, empathy, attachment, subject-hood, desire,
exchange, participation, contact, closeness, and inwardness to
estrangement, reification, object-hood, difference, distance, shock,
isolation, and disavowal. How do we, as modern subjects, emerge from
the negotiation of these affective registers, on the one hand, and
how do we respond to and rework the conditions of modernity that
produce these relations, on the other?

We will approach the plays in this class by considering the ways in
which modern social identities and relations have been represented,
elaborated, challenged, and (mis)recognized on the American stage.
The questions that will guide our approach to this material include:
How has modern drama responded to the rapid and sometimes violent
changes that define modern life? What is intimacy and how is it
staged? How are social relations imagined and reimagined on the
American stage? How does modern American drama draw from and define
itself against modern European drama? What is the relationship
between intimacy and nation? What are the spatial and temporal
coordinates of intimacy and alienation? How does the theatre itself
structure feelings of intimacy and alienation? How did playwrights
and theatre directors use developments in theatrical innovation and
experimentation to address and redress the conditions of social
relations under modernity? How have artists and playwrights,
audiences and actors, sought to act as subjects rather than objects
of these changes? To what extent is hostility/intimacy constitutive
of the spectatorial relationship to performance itself?

The syllabus is still very provisional and I welcome your
suggestions and opinions. Readings will probably include work by
Eugene O’Neill (particularly his less canonical work), Susan
Glaspell, Langston Hughes, Marita Bonner, Elmer Rice, Sophie
Treadwell, Georgia Douglass Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Thornton
Wilder, Lillian Hellman, Angela Weld Grimke, Zora Neale Hurston, and
Djuna Barnes. Among the many locations within which we will situate
these plays are American theatrical institutions and collectives,
including the Little Theatre Movement (especially the Provincetown
Playhouse, the Theatre Guild, and the Group) and the Federal Theatre
Project. We will supplement this work with Western theories of
performance, modernity, social organization, and subject formation—
reading them specifically for their contributions to understandings
of intimacy and alienation—possibly including William James, Du
Bois, Hegel, Marx, Wagner, Stanislavski, Simmel, Adorno and
Horkheimer, Benjamin, Raymond Williams, Freud, and Sartre.
Coursework will include short writing assignments and response
papers culminating in a final research project (20-25 pages). At the
end of the semester, students will present their work in a class
conference.