English 166

Special Topics: Literary and Cinematic Cities

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2010 Edwards, Erin E
Edwards, Erin
TTh 2-3:30 122 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Breton, A.: Nadja; Calvino, I.: Invisible Cities; Ellison, R.: Invisible Man; Joyce, J.: Dubliners; Pynchon, T.: The Crying of Lot 49; Woolf, V.: Mrs. Dalloway

Films: Metropolis (1927); Rear Window (1954); Blade Runner (1982)


This course examines representations of the city in twentieth-century literature and film, asking how urban experience shapes modernist and postmodernist aesthetics. The course will examine the material conditions and demands of the city, but it will also consider the city as, in Italo Calvino’s terms, “made of desires and fears,” as complex, unstable sites of community and alienation, novel enticements and novel anxieties. In Invisible Cities, Calvino writes:

With cities it is as with dreams; everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.

Calvino suggests that the city, like a text, is a kind of representational riddle that invites interpretation or decoding. We will thus consider the way in which urban experience produces a particular kind of subject who must interpret the city’s palimpsistic layers and create his or her place within its perspectival vicissitudes. Our texts take us into particular cities—Paris, London, Dublin, New York, and San Francisco—but the course is also, more generally, a consideration of the way in which one’s relation to and experience of place shape subjectivity.

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