Literary Modernism

4:00p-5:15p MW (30) 3 CR.

TOPIC: “Motion, Stasis, Vortex – The Physics of Modernism”

This course will examine literary modernism in terms of its preoccupations with modern science, focusing specifically on how it uses the logic of physics in order to theorize concepts of art, psychology, economics, and politics. Throughout, we will focus on the modernists’ interest in forces, flows, and frictions and explore how these preoccupations allowed them to formulate alternative theories of the subject and intersubjective relations as well as to construct alternative models of state formation and political activism. The syllabus will be organized into three sections, moving from the abstract to the concrete: A) The Aesthetics of Force and Form – We will consider modernist art and literature as it eschews traditional notions of narrative form and poetic structure for more radical understanding of the work of art as dynamic structure. We will address, for example, the ways in which the logic of narrative time gives way to spatial form and how traditional poetic meter and structure are replaced by principles of entropy, friction, and pulse. B) The Mechanics of Identity – We will consider modernism as it reconceives selfhood both as an internal system governed by a dynamic network of pressure, friction, and condensation as well as it is externally bound to an increasingly mechanical environment, at once shaping and shaped by the technological world. Here, we will consider modern identity as it is freed from idealistic notions of the essential self only to be locked into more or less rigid networks of production and consumption, as it emerges in relation to the workplace, the modern home, the bustling city or the rural countryside. C) The Political Vortex – Our discussions here will focus on modernism as it reconceives social order in terms derived from physics as well as the emerging social sciences. We will consider works that use mechanized models in order to describe, deconstruct, or even redirect the course of history and the organization of the political sphere. We will discuss modernist works that borrow from the sciences in order to theorize and reconstruct the ways in which social spaces are organized, and how their work thus entered real political debates such as those between fascism and democracy, capitalism and socialism, empire and home rule.

This is a discussion-based course, so both attendance and participation are mandatory. Students will be assigned response papers, three exams, and two formal papers. Discussions and papers will likely focus on Wyndham Lewis’s Blast; Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway; D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love; Jean Toomer’s Cane; William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; poetry by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein; manifestoes, paintings and sculptures by Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, F. T. Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein, David Bomberg, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and Vanessa Bell.