The Monsters of Modernity
This course will introduce you to the practice of reading fiction. As we work to develop our close reading skills, we will learn to situate fictional texts in relation to their particular social and historical context -- not as artifacts, but as full participants in the making and meaning of that context called modernity. What’s modernity? This course will acquaint you with some of the central historical developments that have conventionally been cited in answer to this question, even as the focus will be on literary mediations of these developments. The transition from a feudal economy to capitalist relations of production, the rise of the nation-state and the public sphere, the proliferation of innovations in science and technology - these are just a few of the defining historical characteristics of “modernization” that our literary archive will address.
Modernity is a monster of a concept. There are additional reasons for pairing monsters and modernity within a single course theme, however. To begin, the processes of modernization sketched above have had their monstrous manifestations: relationships of domination and subordination, methods of exploitation and expropriation, and histories of violence. These historical developments have often unleashed monstrous changes in the experience of everyday life. Finally, new identities and social practices have emerged within modernity that you may find as fortunate as frightening, but that nonetheless haunt institutions of power. These are just a few of the monsters of modernity that we’ll explore through reading monsters in literature and culture.