Modernist and Postmodernist Fiction

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Modernist and Postmodernist Fiction

Pam Thurschwell

(Please contact me by email rather than my office phone number or any other method.)

Arts B 222 Office hours: TBA
This course will explore the terms modernism and postmodernism, and the relationship between the two, by reading a range of novels which engage with issues of artistic form, subjectivity, and modernity. We’ll ask a variety of questions including: What different ideas about time, history, aesthetics, sexuality do we find in modernist and postmodernist writing? What versions of borrowing from the past do modernism and postmodernism employ and what purposes do these borrowings serve? How do modernist and postmodernist works portray personal, communal, national, or mythic history, and what problems do they encounter in these portrayals? Is there what the critic Andreas Huyssen has called a ‘great divide’ between modernism and postmodernism? What attitudes to “high” and popular culture do you find in the works we are reading for this course? What continuities might we find between modernism and postmodernism? Are those terms still useful?
1) Introduction: What (if anything) is Modernism? T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922); and critical writings on modernism
T.S. Eliot “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919)

--- “Ulysses, Order and Myth” (1923)

Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism (1984) (final chapter on The Waste Land)

Maud Ellmann, “The Waste Land: a Sphinx without a Secret”, The Poetics of Impersonality: T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

2) What (if anything) is Postmodernism?: Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
Hall, Chris. “‘Beyond the Hieroglyphic Streets”: Pynchon’s Oedipa Maas and the Dialectics of Reading”, Critique 33 (1991), 63-77.
3) Sex and Aesthetics I: Henry James, The Golden Bowl (1904) and ‘The Beast in the Jungle’ (1903)
4) Sex and Aesthetics II: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty (2004)
5) Modernism and the Imperialist Imagination: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899) and Modernist primitivism: Gertrude Stein, “Melanctha” from Three Lives, (plus selections from Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; and Stein’s portrait of Picasso)
Michael North, “Modernism’s African Mask: The Stein-Picasso Collaboration in The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language and Twentieth Century Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
6) Postmodernism and the Imperialist Imagination: J.M. Coetzee, Foe (1986)
7) Reading Week. No class: get ahead with reading Underworld
8) Waste and History: Don DeLillo, Underworld (1998) and Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, especially thesis IX on the Angel of History
9) Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (1941) plus short story, “The Lady in the Looking Glass” (1929) and “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” (1923)
10) Ali Smith, The Accidental and Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia”
11) Postmodern Politics: Jonathan Coe, What a Carve Up! (1994) plus Fredric Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ and Terry Eagleton’s review of What a Carve Up! in the London Review of Books.
12) Facebook Time: Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) and her short story ‘Black Box’

Also read the following:

Recommended Secondary Reading:

On Modernism

***Tim Armstrong, Modernism: A Cultural History (Polity, 2005)

---Modernism, Technology and the Body (Cambridge, 1998)

Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, Modernism: 1890-1930 (1976)

David Bradshaw, A Concise Companion to Modernism (2003)

Peter Brooker (ed.) The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (2009)

Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (U of Minnesota Press, 1986)

T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999)

***Maud Ellmann, The Poetics of Impersonality: T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound (Harvard, 1988)

--The Nets of Modernism (2010)

Rita Felski, The Gender of Modernity (Harvard, 1995)

Susan Stanford Friedman, ‘Definitional Excursions: The Meanings of Modern/Modernity/Modernism’ Modernism/Modernity 8.3 (September 2001): 493-513.

Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Indiana, 1986)

Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman, and Olga Taxidoe (eds.) Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (Edinburgh, 1998) 

***Michael Levenson (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (1999)

---, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1880-1922 (Cambridge, 1984)

--- The Fate of Individuality: Character and Form in the Modern English Novel (1991)

(Anything by Michael Levenson is good.)

***Pericles Lewis, The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (2007)

***Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (2nd ed. 2009)

Lawrence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (Yale, 1998)

Bonnie Kime Scott, Refiguring Modernism: The Women of 1928 (Indiana, 1995)

Morag Shiach (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel (2007)

Randall Stevenson, Modernist Fiction: An Introduction (Harvester, 1992)

On Postmodernism

James Annesley, Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture and the Contemporary American Novel (1998)

Peter Brooker, Modernism/postmodernism (1992)

***Steven Connor (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism (2004)

Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary (1997)

***Mark Currie, Postmodern Narrative Theory (2011)

Thomas Docherty, Postmodernism: a Reader (1993)

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (1989)

Ihab Hassan, The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Towards a Postmodern Literature (1971)

Linda Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (1988)

--The Politics of Postmodernism (1989)

Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (1986)

***Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991)

--‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ in Kaplan (ed.) Postmodernism and Its Discontents (1988) and other places

Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1984)

--- The Postmodern Explained (University of Minnesota Press, 1992)

Simon Malpas, The Postmodern (2005)

---- (ed.) Postmodern Debates (2001)

Stuart Sim (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism (2001)

Patricia Waugh (ed.) Postmodernism: a Reader (1992)

On T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

***Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism (1984) (final chapter on The Waste Land)

-----‘Does The Waste Land have a politics?’ Modernism/Modernity 6.3 (1999) 1-13.

Ronald Bush, ed, T. S. Eliot: The Modernist in History

Robert Crawford, The Savage and the City in the Work of T. S. Eliot

Valerie Eliot, ed, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts

***Maud Ellman, The Poetics of Impersonality: T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound

Michael North, The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot and Pound

--- . Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern

Tony Pinkney, Women in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot

On Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

Hall, Chris. “‘Beyond the Hieroglyphic Streets”: Pynchon’s Oedipa Maas and the Dialectics of Reading”, Critique 33 (1991), 63-77.

Petillon, Pierre-Yves. “A Re-cognition of Her Errand into the Wilderness”, New Essays on The Crying of Lot 49, ed. Patrick O’Donnell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 127-70.

Schaub, Thomas. “‘A Gentle Chill, An Ambiguity’: The Crying of Lot 49”. In Critical Essays on Thomas Pynchon, ed. By Richard Pearce. Boston, Mass: Hall, 1981. 51-68

--- The Crying of Lot 49 and Other California Novels”, in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon, ed. By Inger H. Dalsgaard, Luc Herman, and Brian McHale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) 30-43.

Cowart, David. “The Paintings of Remedios Varo” Critique 18 (1977), 19-26.

On Henry James, The Golden Bowl

Leo Bersani’s writings on James and The Golden Bowl are brilliant and very influential in A Future for Astyanax. London: Marion Boyars, 1978.

Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge UP, 1998.

Allon White, “The Deterrent Fact’ : Vulgarity and Obscurity in James” in The Uses of Obscurity. London: Routledge, 1981.

Kevin Ohi, Henry James and the Queerness of Style. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Susan Winnett, “Jamesian Lying/ Jamesian Intimacies” The Henry James Review 32:3, 227-234.

Eve Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (short but fascinating analysis of Maggie’s first speech to the Prince in Chapter 2) “Around the performative: Periperformative Vicinities in Nineteenth Century Narrative” Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

On James, “The Beast in the Jungle”

Eve Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet. University of California Press, 1990. Chapter 4, “The Beast in the Closet”

On Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty

Andrew Eastham, “Inoperative Ironies: Jamesian Aestheticism and Post-modern culture in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty,” Textual Practice 20:3 (September 2006) 509-27.

Kaye Mitchell, “Alan Hollinghurst and Homosexual Identity” in Tew & Mengham (eds.) British Fiction Today (Continuum 2006)

Denis Flannery, “The Powers of Apostrophe and the Boundaries of Mourning: Henry James, Alan Hollinghurst, and Toby Litt”, The Henry James Review 26 (2005): 293-305.

Julie Rivkin, “Writing the Gay ‘80s with Henry James: David Leavitt’s A Place I’ve Never Been and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty,” The Henry James Review 26 (2005): 282-292.

Kim Duff, “Let’s Dance: The Line of Beauty and the Revenant Figure of Thatcher” in Thatcher and After: Margaret Thatcher and her Afterlife in Contemporary Culture, eds. Louisa Hadley and Elizabeth Ho (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

On Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Ross C. Murfin (ed.) Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (St. Martins Press, 1992)

J.H. Stape (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Benita Parry, Conrad and Imperialism: Ideological Boundaries and Visionary Frontiers (London: Macmillan, 1993)

John G. Peters, Conrad and Impressionism (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Arnold E. Davidson, Conrad’s Endings: A Study of the Five Major Novels (Ann Arbor, 1984)

On Gertrude Stein:

Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice (1991)

Wendy Steiner, Exact Resemblance to Exact Resemblance: The Literary Portraiture of Gertrude Stein (1978)

Susan M. Schultz, ‘Gertrude Stein’s Self-Advertisement’, Raritan 1992 (12:2) 71-81

Phoebe Stein Davis, ‘Subjectivity and the Aesthetics of National Identity in Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. ToklasTwentieth Century Literature (1999) (45:1) 18-45

Norman Weinstein, Gertrude Stein and the Literature of the Modern Consciousness (1970)

Kirk Cyrnutt (ed) The Critical Response to Gertrude Stein (Greenwood Press, 2000)

S.C. Neuman, Gertrude Stein: Autobiography and the Problem of Narration (University of Victoria, 1979)

Barbara Will, Gertrude Stein, Modernism and the Problem of ‘Genius’ (Edinburgh, 2000)
On J. M. Coetzee, Foe:

Derek Attridge, J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (University of Chicago Press, 2004)

Dominic Head, J. M. Coetzee (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Sue Kossew, Critical Essays on J. M. Coetzee (New York: G. K. Hall, 1998)

Marianna de Jong (ed.) J. M. Coetzee’s Foe’ special issue of Journal of Literary Studies 5, Number 2, (June 1989)
On Don DeLillo, Underworld:

Other relevant novels by DeLillo: Mao II (1991), White Noise (1984), Falling Man (2007).

***Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History (in Illuminations (Schocken Books, 1969) especially thesis IX ‘The Angel of History’

Peter Boxall, Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction (Routledge, 2006) ‘The Work of Death: Underworld

Mark Osteen, American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture (2000),

Hugh Ruppersburg and Tim Engles (eds), Critical Essays on Don

DeLillo (2000), esp. essays by Duvall, Knight and Saltzman

Michael Wood, ‘Post-Paranoid’, London Review of Books 5 Feb 1998, p.3

Modern Fiction Studies, special issue on Underworld, 1999 Fall (45:3)

Patrick O’Donnell, Latent Destinies: Cultural Paranoia and Contemporary U.S. Narratives (Duke University Press, 2000)

John Duvall, Don DeLillo’s Underworld (Continuum, 2002)

Jacqueline Foertsch, ‘Ordinary Pocket Litter’: Paper(s) as Dangerous Supplement in Cold War Novels of Intrigue’ Contemporary Literature 48:2 (July 2007) 278-306. (available online)

Donald H. Evans, ‘Taking out the Trash: Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Liquid Modernity and the End of Garbage’, Cambridge Quarterly 35:2 (2006) 103-32. (available online)
On Virginia Woolf:

Michèle Barrett, Virginia Woolf: Women and Writing

***Gillian Beer, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground (1996)

***Rachel Bowlby, ed, Virginia Woolf

______, Virginia Woolf: Feminist Destinations (1998)

______, Still Crazy After All These Years

***Suzanne Raitt, To the Lighthouse (1990)

Lyndall Gordon, Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life

Alice Jardine, Gynesis: Configurations of Women and Modernity

Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf

Jane Marcus, Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy

Laura Marcus, Virginia Woolf: Writers and their Work

Makiko Minnow-Pinkney, Virginia Woolf and the Problem of the Subject

Bonnie Kime Scott, Refiguring Modernism

On Between The Acts

Michele Pridmore-Brown, ‘1939-40: Of Virginia Woolf, Gramophones and Fascism’ PMLA Vol 113, No. 3 (May 1998)

Virginia Woolf, ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’(1940) online at

Zwerdling, Alex. ‘Between the Acts and the Coming of War.’ Virginia Woolf and the

Real World. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986. 302-23.

Barrett, Michèle. ‘Virginia Woolf and Pacifism.’ Woolf in the Real World. Ed. Karen

V. Kukil. Clemson, South Carolina: Clemson U Digital P, 2005. 37-41.
On Ali Smith, The Accidental

Emily Horton, “‘Everything You Ever Dreamed’: Post-9/11 Trauma and Fantasy in Ali Smith’s The AccidentalMFS 58:3 (Fall, 2012): 637-654.

Mark Currie, About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007)

Julie Breitbach, Analog Fiction for the Digital Age: Literary Realism and Photographic Discourses in Novels after 2000 (Rochester: Camden House, 2012)

On Jonathan Coe, What a Carve Up!:

Other relevant novels by Coe: The Rotters’ Club, The Closed Circle, The House of Sleep

***Fredric Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ in Kaplan, ed. Postmodernism and Its Discontents (1988), also in Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn (Verso, 1988) (in course reader)

Pamela Thurschwell, ‘Genre, Repetition and History in Jonathan Coe’ British Fiction Today (eds.) Philip Tew and Rod Mengham (Continuum, 2006)

Rod Mengham, ‘Fiction’s History’, Leviathan, No. 1 (September 2001): 110-13.

Dominic Head, The Cambridge Introduction to Modern British Fiction, 1950-2000 (2002)

Ryan Trimm, ‘Carving Up Value: The Tragicomic Thatcher Years in Jonathan Coe’, Thatcher and After: Margaret Thatcher and her Afterlife in Contemporary Culture , eds. Louisa Hadley and Elizabeth Ho (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

On Jennifer Egan: (Rick Moody, ‘Serge and the Paranoids: On Literature and Popular Song, Post 45, 7/1/11)

Ivan Kreilkamp, “Churches of Vinyl: Archive and Authenticity in the Pop Music Novel” December 12, 2012

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