Eng596g: Modernism: Where to Begin

“Even an ordinary ‘was,’ in a report of something that was not, acquires a new formal quality from the fact that it was not so.”

– Theodor Adorno

Frame for a movement, mask of complication, foil of the avant-garde: the term “modernism” has come, in the literary context, to reveal as much as it conceals, to tell as much as it holds in reserve. Our approach to the question of what modernism is will therefore be general of necessity; it will grasp its definitions where it can find them: trope, style, habit, frame, figure.

The course makes its way through modernism’s literary and literary critical greatest hits so as to give a broad introduction to the historical and intellectual shape of the period; it also attends to the more practical questions of how modernism gets defined in the academy through syllabi, conferences, journals, and the like. Students should leave the class with a clear sense of how they might approach teaching a modernism survey as well as how they might begin to think about doing dissertation-level work in the field.

Download the Course Syllabus

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