English R1B

Reading and Composition: Modern Literature Between Past and Future

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
16 Spring 2018 O'Rourke, Emily
MWF 2-3 225 Dwinelle

Book List

Coetzee, J. M.: Elizabeth Costello; Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness; Larsen, Nella: Passing; Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway

Other Readings and Media

Course reader: excerpts from Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Franz Fanon, Franz Kafka, Hannah Arendt, Loïc Wacquant, Teju Cole; poems by Charles Baudelaire, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Mina Loy, Aimé Césaire, Allen Ginsburg, Audre Lorde.

Films: Chaplin, Modern Times; Coppola, Apocalypse Now; Renais, Night and Fog; Beckett, Not I.


This course explores what it means to be modern. We will investigate modern historical consciousness in modern literature and thought, roughly from 1850 forward, with special attention to how each text we read figures the past, present, and future. The course will highlight evolving social, political, technological, and economic conditions of modern life (colonization and decolonization, urbanization, mass production and consumption, mass politics, war, racism, exile, revolution, democracy, new technologies of film and photography, new forms of sexuality, psychoanalysis, crime and punishment, and the limits of law) to analyze how these processes take form, are resisted, and explored in modern literature, film, and thought. How did modern writers take hold of the traumas of modern life to make themselves subjects and objects of modernization and history? What new forms do they invent to do this work? What have we inherited from them? Are we still modern in the 21st century? Postmodern? Globalized? Have we never been? 

In addition to exploring modernism/modernity, students will improve their writing and speaking skills. The wager of the course is that reading and analyzing powerful writers for their rhetorical techniques is one of best resources we have in learning to become better writers ourselves. As it is an R1B, students will be introduced to scholarly research methods and various modes of critique for use in their own writing, thinking, and research. Students will practice the craft of writing, the art of revision, and the joys and anxieties of sharing work with peers. We will cross disciplinary boundaries to attempt to get a sense of of modernity, its achievements, and its darknesses in order to better investigate its aesthetics, its historical imaginaries, and its legacies. As we ask ourselves difficult questions about who we are, how we got here, how we feel about it, and where we are going, we will explore meaningful connections between art, politics, and public life together.

Note that the texts for this class may be purchased at University Press Books (on Bancroft Way).

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