Looking at a Europe physically ravaged by the deaths and destruction of the Second World War, morally ravaged by the fact of the war’s Holocaust, Theodor Adorno famously declared that “After Auschwitz […]to write a poem is barbaric.”
And yet, despite Adorno’s warning, the post-war period in Europe produced not only great literature (even about the Holocaust), but a host of texts that redefined (and continue to redefine) Western conceptions of the aesthetic, of history, of the self and its relation to the social, of the structure of the fabric of reality, among other things (a canon otherwise known as “theory”).
This course aims, through a historical reading of post-war developments in literature, philosophy, and film, to provide students with an extensive and culturally specific understanding of the major aesthetic and theoretical developments of the 20th century.
We intend for this historical and cultural reading to provide a general background in aesthetics and theory for all students of literature, but also to suggest, more methodologically, that an attention to the cultural and historical specificity of ideas can produce not simply theories about this or that defined “era” (e.g., 1946-1975), but also a more general appreciation of the movement of ideas in and out of local and global contexts.
This approach should prove particularly useful for students who have struggled with the difficulty of applying French and German theory to literature in English or, conversely, reconciling French and German literature and film with moments in American history (the Cold War, the Kennedy Era, Vietnam, the crisis of 1973).
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