English R1B

Reading and Composition: Modernity and Objectivity

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
11 Spring 2016 Rodal, Jocelyn
TTh 8-9:30 222 Wheeler

Book List

Frayn, Michael: Copenhagen; Hacker, Diana: Rules for Writers; Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World; James, Henry: The Turn of the Screw; Toomer, Jean: Cane; Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse

Other Readings and Media

Selections from Gillian Beer, Hugh Kenner, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Raymond Williams, and William Carlos Williams.


“On or about December, 1910, human character changed.” With this remarkable claim, Virginia Woolf tells us that in the modern world knowledge, consciousness, and emotional experience have transformed. She implies that, somehow, human subjectivity has become objectively different—in fact, that it has become more subjective, more complicated. People of the early twentieth century were preoccupied by their own modernity, convinced that in their era human experience was utterly distinct from anything that had come before.

In such shifting waters, how can we know how much we actually know? With change comes uncertainty, and, in part because their innovations were so radical, many modernist writers became newly motivated by evidence. Ezra Pound wrote that “the arts, literature, poesy, are a science, just as chemistry is a science.” Yet if human productions are totally objective, they might be no more than objects, mere uncomplicated things. On World War I battlefields, human bodies piled so high that living soldiers used them as physical barricades to provide cover from flying bullets. Modern technologies of war seemed to reduce people to objects. In opposition to writers like Pound, who championed exactitude and absolute knowledge, many modernists instead insisted that human experience was so complicatedly subjective as to be impossible to pin down. These thinkers pushed back against modern technologies and world-views that valued the absolute above the ambiguous.

This course will consider how subjectivity and objectivity operate together in poetry and fiction. What exactly is the difference between fact and opinion?  Do art and literature create objective knowledge? You will use original research to develop progressively longer papers, ultimately completing 32 pages of writing in drafts as well as revisions.

Back to Semester List