Celebrity, Modernity and the 20th Century
We hear the word “celebrity” and we immediately think of Hollywood – the mass-market, the low-brow, glossy spreads and glossier stars. But the impact of star culture on the 20th century has been far more expansive, and its reach far higher the turn-off-your-brain, turn-on-the-screen mentality we tend to associate with the Hollywood vision. Questions of identity, self-awareness, and of course, the illusion (and disillusionment) of glamor, glitz, and picture-perfection permeate early 20th century literature. By turning to authors like Woolf, Fitzgerald, Stein and Mansfield, we will examine the ways in which literature at the turn of the century are steeped in questions of identity, notoriety, fame, and self-fashioning, whether they deal directly with “celebrity” as we understand it or not. In doing this, we will look at texts that span a variety of genres, from the traditional novel, to the short story, and cinema itself. Above all, we will use texts, both literary and cinematic, to question the divide between “high” and “low” culture, and ask ourselves: why do we assume celebrity to be a mindless enterprise? And do we, even still, consider the authors of “literature” to be somehow above the pursuit of it?
Because this is a W-credit course, you should expect between 10 and 15 pages of graded, out of class writing. This will likely be met with two short, 5-7 page papers, one of which you will have the opportunity to revise. Other assignments may include response papers, group discussion, and in-class quizzes. Because the nature of the class is discussion-based, in-class participation constitutes a significant portion of the final grade.