Syllabus #1

English 155: American Modernism(s)
Fall 1992

Professor Linda Watts
Drake University

"One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness. One writes against one's solitude and against the solitude of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and affects the behavior and language of those who read, thus helping us to know ourselves better and to save ourselves collectively. But `others' is too vague; and in times of crisis, times of definition, ambiguities may too closely resemble lies."

Eduardo Galeano (1976)

Course Description

In light of recent scholarship on canon formation and modernism, this course will offer students an opportunity not only to read some of the `classic' texts of modernism, but also a chance to consider how the definition(s) of modernism have tended to emphasize some writers, topics, and approaches, while systematically excluding others.

Course Objectives

1) to introduce the concept of modernism, especially as applied to language acts (as well as to problematize that concept)

2) to heighten student awareness of the interdisciplinary links and cross-influences across modernist expressive forms (fine, utilitarian, decorative arts)

3) to include the work of women writers and writers of color

4) to discuss canon formation, narrative strategies, and the rise of social fiction

5) to view modern American literature in relation to its cultural, intellectual, and political context

6) to develop capacities of critical reading, thinking, viewing, writing, listening, and speaking

7) to explore multiculturalism and models of difference/otherness

Course Requirements

1) consistent attendance and participation at class meetings

2) close and timely attention to reading assignments

3) occasional in-class writing assignments

4) facilitation of two class discussions, on days designated "Forum" (to be arranged at the beginning of the semester)

5) three colloquium papers (each 3-5 pages in length, due one week following the colloquium in conjunction with which you elect to write)

6) mid-term activity and take-home final examination


Lauter, Paul, et al., eds. The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume 2. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1990 (abbreviated as HAL in calendar of assignments) (Editor's note: Professor Watts and her students used the First Edition for the course described here. Page numbers and titles of introductions have, however, been changed to correspond to the Second Edition, the text that most Newsletter readers will refer to now. Page numbers indicate the beginning of the selection; unless otherwise noted, students are expected to read the entire selection(s) named.)

Brooker, Peter, ed. Modernism/ Postmodernism. New York: Longman, 1992.

additional required readings available in multiple copies on library reserve

Course Outline and Calendar of Assignments

Please Note: Below you will find the reading assignments and scheduled events for our course. Please prepare the reading listed in the right column by the date listed in the left column. In this way, you will be prepared to participate in discussion and class activities.

Please also note:

Colloquium=a regularly-scheduled session during which class members assemble (sometimes at an alternative site, such as an art museum, archive, and the like) to work together in looking closely and critically at one text/medium which might be considered non-traditional (by literary terms). Featured materials include painting, photography, spoken word recordings, motion pictures, music recordings, popular culture items such as board games, self-help literature, and statements by writers' collectives. On these days, class members demonstrate and develop their resourcefulness in analyzing the non-traditional text/medium on its own terms, as well as in its relevant connections to course readings.

Forum= a regularly-scheduled session during which class members make oral and/or written presentations of their insights into the course. On two occasions during the semester, each member of the group (working in collaboration with two or more colleagues) will facilitate such a session.

8/30: Introduction

9/1: Anthony Easthope, "Terms for a New Paradigm," in Literary Into Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1991 (library reserve)

9/3: James Clifford, "On Collecting Art and Cultures," in Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, eds. Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. Cambridge: MIT Press/New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990 (library reserve)


9/8: Wallace Stevens, "Anecdote of the Jar" (HAL, 1539)

9/10: Stanley Fish, "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One," in Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980--library reserve)

9/13: William Carlos Williams, "The Great Figure" (HAL, 1314)

9/15: Colloquium: [visual arts] Charles Demuth, "I Saw the Figure Five in Gold." (1928), oil on composition board, 36 X 29 3/4", Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Alfred Stieglitz Collection

[Optional Additional Resource: John Berger, Ways of Seeing. New York: Penguin Books, 1972.]

9/17: Forum

9/20: Gertrude Stein, "Composition as Explanation," in Carl Van Vechten, ed., Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein. New York: Vintage Books, 1972 (library reserve)

9/22: Gertrude Stein, from Geographical History of America (HAL, 1304)

9/24: T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (HAL, 1441)

9/27: Colloquium: [spoken word] Gertrude Stein Reading Her Works, Caedmon audiocassette

[Optional Additional Resource: Judy Grahn, Really Reading Gertrude Stein. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1989]

9/29: Forum

10/1: Walter Benjamin, from "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Peter Brooker, ed. Modernism/Postmodernism.

10/4: James Agee, from James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books, 1988 (library reserve)

10/6: Hart Crane, "Chaplinesque" (HAL, 1568)

10/8: Colloquium: [motion picture] Charles Chaplin, Modern Times (1936)

[Optional Additional Resource: James Monaco, How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977]

10/11: Forum

10/13: Mid-Term Activity


10/18: John Dos Passos, "The Writer as Technician," in Donald Pizer, ed., John Dos Passos: The Major Nonfictional Prose. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988 (library reserve)

10/20: Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty (HAL, 1788)

10/22: Meridel LeSueur, "Women on the Breadlines" (HAL, 1807)

10/25: Colloquium: [documentary photography] Farm Security Administration collection, including photographs appearing in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (see above)

[Optional Additional Resource: James Curtis, Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: Farm Security Administration Photographs Reconsidered. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989]

10/27: Forum

10/29: Raymond Williams, "The Metropolis and the Emergence of Modernism," in Peter Brooker, ed., Modernism/Postmodernism.

11/1: F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Babylon Revisited" (HAL, 1471)

11/3: Anzia Yezierska, "American and I" (HAL, 1865)

11/5: Colloquium: [board game] Monopoly (Hasbro, Inc./Parker Bros., first marketed in 1935)

[Optional Additional Resource: T.J. Jackson Lears, "From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertising and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880-1930," in Richard Wightman Fox and T.J. Jackson Lears, eds., The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880-1980. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983]

11/8: Forum

11/10: Richard Wright, "Blueprint for Negro Writing," in Ellen Wright and Michel Fabre, eds., Richard Wright Reader. New York: Harper and Row, 1978 (library reserve)

11/12: Zora Neale Hurston, "Sweat" (HAL, 1674)

11/15: George S. Schuyler, "Our Greatest Gift to America" (HAL, 1715)

11/17: Colloquium: [event] American Writers' Congress, 1935, in Henry Hart, ed., American Writers' Congress. New York: International Publishers, 1935

[Optional Additional Resource: Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," in The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973]

11/19: Forum

11/22: Houston A. Baker, Jr., from Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, in Peter Brooker, ed., Modernism/Postmodernism

11/24: Alain Locke, "The New Negro" (HAL, 1585)

11/26: Langston Hughes, "When the Negro Was in Vogue" (HAL, 1634)

11/29: Colloquium: [music] Blues and Jazz recordings

[Optional Additional Resource: Thomas R. Frazier, ed., Afro-American History: Primary Sources. New York: Dorsey Press, 1988]

12/1: Forum

12/3: Tillie Olsen, "Silences in Literature," in Silences. New York: Delacorte Press/S. Lawrence, 1978 (library reserve)

12/6: Poems Inscribed on Walls by Chinese Immigrants (HAL, 1956)

12/8: Lillian Hellman, "Scoundrel Time" (HAL, 1776)

12/10: Colloquium: [advice literature] Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

[Optional Additional Resource: Roy Wagner, "The Magic of Advertising," in The Invention of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981]

12/13: Forum

12/15: Conclusion: Distribution of Take-Home Final

Contents, No. XI