The study of the literary movement known as ‘modernism’ has in recent years gone global. In this expansion of modernist studies into every nook and cranny of the modern world, scholars have often lost sight of the several places, cities in fact, where the new spirit of art and literature first emerged. Cities such as Paris, New York, Chicago, Milan, and London were the terrains on which the modernist ethos first took shape. The subsequent evolution of modernism as a global phenomenon and as the cultural ethos that colonized the future (our present) cannot be adequately understood without knowing something of its early struggles at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. This course will return to one of the starting places of Anglo-American modernism, London in the first three decades of the twentieth century. In that moment in time, the modernist ethos entered the consciousness of the English-speaking world through the public declarations and creative activities of key individuals and movements. The beginnings of a modernist sensibility should probably be located in Paris in the late nineteenth century in the work of the symbolist poets and music composers, the Impressionist and Postimpressionist painters, but it was in London that it made its first great impact in English literature. At the centre of a world Empire, the city attracted people from many different places and for a time provided them with a creative milieu in which to experiment and practice the new arts. The modernist idea emerged in many other places in the English-speaking world as well, but it was the ‘Great English Vortex’ at the beginning of the century that provided the spark, the energy, and the example for others. The course will deal in detail with a small number writers and works rather than try to survey what is a much larger field of study. In addition to discussing the works themselves in terms of modernist poetics and themes, we will also study their publishing history and other socio-material conditions which affected their production.
This Winter term, I will be TA-ing a course on modernist literature with John X. Cooper. Here is the course description: