The literary works of the twentieth century frequently grapple with the social and cultural concerns of the age, such as war, racial prejudice, technological progress, and urbanization. But these works are also marked by a spirit of experimentation and sometimes a conscious effort to do things differently than the ways in which they’d been done before. Thus, in modernist and postmodernist literature, we often see writers questioning accepted notions of form, genre, subject matter, and style. What, after all, makes a story worthy of being told? What should a poem look like? What constitutes a character? Are stories made up of events that happen to us, or are they about the ways in which we think or feel about these things?
This class will explore these questions and more, through a range of literary works from the twentieth century and just beyond. We will consider characteristics, such as fragmentation, complexity, and a resistance to linearity, which are considered indicative of modernism and postmodernism, and we will also discuss the difficulties of definitively categorizing something as “modernist” or “postmodernist.”
Readings will include the following novels: Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf), Sula (Toni Morrison), Cane (Jean Toomer), City of Glass (Paul Auster), and Sexing the Cherry (Jeanette Winterson). The course packet will include excerpts from longer works by theorists of modernism and postmodernism, some poetry (though we will spend most of our time on prose fiction), and a number of short stories by authors such as Ishmael Reed, Jorge Luis Borges, Philip Roth, John Barth, and Helena María Viramontes.
This is a survey course and will involve quite a bit of reading, some of it difficult. On the upside, much of it will be interesting. This course will also emphasize close reading and critical thinking, as well as the development of well-supported arguments. Course requirements will include maintaining a Reading Journal, making a Class Presentation, and engaging in on-going Peer Reviews. As a writing-credit (W-credit) course, you will write and revise two 5-7 page papers.