The best kind of writing is purposeful, motivated by some kind of goal or intention. Thus, our class needs something to write about, something beyond the Course Outcomes to guide our reading, thinking, and writing. The readings from this class are either examples of or about Modernism, an umbrella label literary scholars place on a wide range of experimental, transgressive, and even revolutionary values, ideas, and practices in the arts in the early twentieth century—not only literature but also architecture, film, painting, and even areas like fashion, social policy, and gastronomy. We’ll spend most of our time reading, writing, and talking about modernist literature, but you can expect to encounter some of these other domains as well. An exciting and turbulent period of cultural production, Modernism is when literary techniques like stream of consciousness, non-linearity, and mythic irony flourished; when ideas like the lone genius author and “high,” autonomous art (as opposed to low, commercial, mainstream art) became widely propagated; and when values like modernity, progress, and evolution—of the self, of the nation-state, of humanity—were questioned and criticized. Even though Modernism has “come and gone,” nothing stays dead forever, and so some of our artifacts will come from the present day to show that these forces are alive and well. More generally, because modernism was, in a very loose sense, about experimenting what could be done in writing and challenging convention and tradition, it serves as a good topic for thinking about the conventions and expectations of writing and making apparent just how arbitrary some things about writing can be.
Note that no prior experience or knowledge about Modernism is assumed or needed (but may be a modest asset). More importantly, this class is deceptively not a literature class but a composition class. While I hope you find this theme fun, challenging, and enriching in its own right, we will always put our activities in service of introducing you to the conventions and expectations of college-level writing, and accompanying classroom meetings and assignments are designed to give you opportunities to practice these conventions and expectations: word choice, sentence structure, complex claims, use of appropriate evidence, organization, revision, and the like.