ENGL 213 A: Modern and Postmodern Literature

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
SMI 305
Brad Gerhardt

Syllabus Description:


T/Th 11:30-1:20, SMI 305


Dr. Brad Gerhardt


B-435 Padelford Hall

Office Hours: T/Th 10:30-11:30



            What it means to be ‘modern,’ and how to represent the anxieties and opportunities inherent in that consciousness, will be some of our main questions to explore through this survey of 20th century literature. As such, this course will focus primarily on formal innovations in prose and poetry during the modernist and postmodernist era, in order to fully appreciate the revolutionary modes of representation and reading practices required in this tumultuous era. We will acknowledge the social, political, economic, and technological changes that inform many of the formal innovations, but our primary focus will be on developing skills of close reading and comparative analysis, in order to understand these sometimes bewildering literary texts.



-Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (Dover, ISBN: 978-048629879) 

-William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (Vintage, ISBN: 978-0679732259) 

-Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (Norton, ISBN: 978-0393352566) 

-Lyn Hejinian, My Life and My Life in the Nineties (Wesleyan Poetry, ISBN: 978-0819573513)

-Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (Vintage, ISBN: 978-0375701290)

-Course Packet, available at Rams Copy Center (4144 University Way NE)



  1. Students understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the kind of close/critical reading skills or approaches under study/use.
  1. Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally.
  1. Students improve their writing skills generally, and with regard to writing about literature.



Reading Response Blog

            Because this class moves so quickly through many of our readings, and to facilitate shorter, analytical responses, I am requiring you to create a blog (on Blogger, through your UW G Suite), to which you will post weekly responses. These responses can be as personal or distant as you wish, but they must engage with the text(s) assigned that week and make thoughtful analytical interventions. You will also be required to post a thoughtful reply to one other classmate’s blogpost each week; the posts will be due each Sunday night by midnight, and the response/reply by Monday at midnight.


Group Presentation

            For the third unit, on postmodern poetry, I will split the class into groups of 3-4. Each group will come up with an analytical discussion question related to a single phrase from My Life, and then present their answers/thoughts to this question in a 10-minute presentation to the class. How that presentation is staged is up to each group, but all should be relevant, analytical, and involve all members equally.



            Graded assignments are intended to implement learning outcomes, and practice a variety of skills; however, both assignments and assessments will require you to develop and maintain habits of close reading. They will be evaluated on the originality of thought, clarity of articulation, and depth of analysis. Please note that I expect printed copies of all written work.


Creative Reading Response (1-2 pages, word count will vary)

            This is your chance to “write back” against some of the more confusing and esoteric poets we’ll encounter in our first week. The intent is to respond directly to one specific poem from Stein, Eliot, Loy, or Williams; this could take a number of forms, but should be primarily textual. You could ‘rewrite’ the poem, or take the theme/content in a very different direction, or transpose it to a different medium, such as a short story, a script, etc. Whatever form your response takes, it should also be accompanied by a 1-paragraph description/defense of your response, outlining specifically why you chose to respond as you did, as well as how the process of rewriting/translating the text has changed your perspective on it.


Close Reading (600-1000 words, generally 2-3 pages double-spaced)

            An effective argument gains its authority through careful consideration of its evidence. Your task in this assignment is to interrogate a specific passage from one of our prose texts and draw an analytical conclusion from it. This assignment is all about your thinking, not about the form; you will not have an introductory paragraph culminating in a thesis; rather, you will begin with analysis—asking questions of the text rather than imposing a viewpoint on it—and your own argument will arise from your examination of the components of the text you have selected, rather than simply reciting what you think it “should” be saying.


Thematic Analysis (1100-1600 words, generally 4-5 pages double-spaced)

            Having practiced the skill of close reading, you will add to your credibility and finesse as a writer through a sound and intentional structure or form. In this assignment you will practice a thematic analysis of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, utilizing organizational skills we will discuss in class, and in response to a specific prompt.


Comparative Analysis (final draft 1800-2400 words, generally 6-8 pages double-spaced)

            Our final assignment will be a comparative analysis of Wide Sargasso Sea and another text of your choice. An effective comparative analysis identifies a fundamental concern or tension that two texts share and expands on that through careful and close reading of both texts. This may be the most valuable and difficult skill you take away from this course. A successful comparison will be a critical synthesis of your materials, placing them in a dialogue with each other rather than subordinating their differences, and expanding beyond a list of similarities and differences into a nuanced study of the relation between the two on the issue of your choice.

            To facilitate this process, you will write this paper in a two-draft process; after finishing Wide Sargasso Sea and our first set of short stories, I’ll ask you to write a 2-3 page rough draft articulating a comparative claim and carrying it out through specific analysis. Once you receive my feedback, you’ll have the choice to either revise your original idea and flesh it out more fully, or to tackle a different textual comparison for the final paper.



Attendance and Participation:

            As an English course, being prepared for each day’s discussion and participating in it is simply a given. This does not mean that I expect you to ‘master’ the daily readings; I view reading as a process of negotiation with texts, and I do not have much patience for the kind of pretentious and alienating jargon or simpering social hierarchies I too often encountered in graduate literature courses. I believe that all of us learn best when we speak from our own experiences, respond as embodied, particular readers, and acknowledge and discuss cultural norms that are ingrained in or critiqued by texts, rather than assuming there is a ready consensus on them. I think students are usually the best judges of their own effort at participation, so I will pass out a participation rubric which you will fill out and return, and which I will evaluate against my own observations as I assign this grade.


Zero Tolerance Policy

            Literature, by its nature, should invite a wide range of reactions, opinions, and interpretations; I hope to encourage this by providing an intellectually challenging but respectful environment; I ask you to do the same. There will be no tolerance for words, speech, behavior, actions, or clothing/possessions that insult, diminish, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.


Technology Policy

            Unless you have a very specific reason for needing them, I request that you not use computers or electronics in class. I ask that you purchase physical copies of our texts, and our discussions will refer extensively to those physical objects, so bring to class with you the text you were assigned to read and be ready to engage with it. Please mark up your readings and take notes with pencil/pen and paper.


Late Work:

            I will accept any of the written assignments late with a penalty of one grade level for each day (24 hour period) after the due date (for a paper that would receive a 4.0 had it been on time on Monday, any time after class up through Tuesday, it will receive a 3.0, Wednesday a 2.0, etc.). I will not accept reading responses late.



            Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in any way in my class; your work should be entirely your own, and cite any outside sources you have used (though none of the assignments ask you to do this). Definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and the consequences at the UW can be found at:  http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html



Writing Centers

            The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-on-one help with all aspects of writing at any stage in the writing process. It is best to make an appointment in advance: https://depts.washington.edu/owrc/signup.php

            The CLUE Writing Center in Mary Gates Hall is open Sunday to Thursday from 7pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar.


Religious Accommodations

            Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.


Access and Accommodations:

Your experience in this course is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.



            I will return assignments as quickly as possible with my written comments and grade, which is my primary form of communication, though I’ll also post grades to Canvas.

Total: 600 pts                                                                                      Grading Scale:

Assessments (30%)                                                                             4.0 – 98%+

            Presentations - 50 pts                                                              3.8 – 94-95%

            Reading Response Blog - 140 pts                                           3.5 – 90%

                        *10 pts for each post, 4 for each response                  3.0 – 85%

                                                                                                            2.5 – 80%

Assignments (50%)                                                                             2.0 – 75%

            Creative Response - 35 pts                                                     1.5 – 70%

            Close Reading - 50 pts                                                            1.0 – 65%

            Thematic Analysis - 75 pts                                                     0.7 – 60%

            Comparative Analysis - 150 (50 first draft, 100 final)


Participation (20%) - 100 pts, split into two 50-pt parts




NOTE: Readings/viewings should be completed BEFORE class on the date indicated.

7 January - Course Introduction; Gertrude Stein, “Portrait of Pablo Picasso” and Virginia

            Woolf, “Monday or Tuesday” (handed out and read IN CLASS)

Unit One: Modernist Poetry

9 January - Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons [1914]


14 January - T.S. Eliot, Prufrock and other Observations [1917], Mina Loy, Songs to

            Joannes [1917], William Carlos Williams, excerpts from Spring and All [1923]

            (Course Packet, CP)

Unit Two: Modernist Prose

16 January - Virginia Woolf, Ch. 1-2 from Jacob’s Room [1922]; James Joyce, excerpt

            from Ulysses, “Calypso” [1922] (CP)

            Creative Response paper due


21 January - Katherine Mansfield, “Life of Ma Parker” [1921], Jean Toomer, “Blood-

            Burning Moon” [1923], Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

            [1933] (CP)

23 January - William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying [1930], through Darl (ends p. 52)

Close Reading paper due


28 January - ALD cont’d, through Samson (ends p. 119)     

30 January - ALD cont’d, through Whitfield (ends p. 179)


4 February - ALD cont’d, through the end

Drama at the crossroads

            6 February - Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape [1958]

            Thematic Analysis paper due


Unit Three: Postmodern Poetry

11 February - Allen Ginsberg, “Howl” and other poems [1956], Anne Sexton, from All

            My Pretty Ones [1962], Sylvia Plath, from Ariel [1963] (CP)

13 February - Lyn Hejinian, My Life [1987], through “It was only a coincidence” (pg. 39)


18 February - Group Presentations on My Life

Unit Four: Postmodern Prose

20 February - Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea [1966], Part One


25 February - Wide Sargasso Sea, Part Two, to pg. 141

27 February - Wide Sargasso Sea, finish Part Two and Part Three


3 March - Toni Morrison, “Recitatif” [1983] Salman Rushdie, “Chekov and Zulu” [1994]


5 March - Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red [1998], through XXV. Tunnel

            First draft of Comparative Analysis paper due


10 March - Autobiography of Red, to the end

12 March - Louise Erdrich, “The Shawl” [2001]; Kazuo Ishiguro, “A Village After Dark”

            [2001], (CP)


18 March - Final draft of Comparative Analysis due in my office by 5 PM


Catalog Description: 
Introduces twentieth-century literature and contemporary literature, focusing on representative works that illustrate literary and intellectual developments since 1900.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
November 12, 2019 - 11:00pm