Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature : New Modernism

Course Number: ENGL 234
Prerequisites: Check on GOLD
General Education Areas Fulfilled: Check on GOLD
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 234
Quarter: Fall 2010
Instructor: Duffy, Enda
Day(s): R
Time: 11:30 AM - 1:50 PM
Location: SH 2714

New modernism, new materialism: bios/culture, biopolitics. This course will outline a series of radically new ways in which to read modernist texts, matching these up with a set of largely 21st –century developments in post- post-structuralist materialist cultural theory. The time is opportune to offer new answers to the old challenge of modernist literature’s strangeness. In this class, through a series of intense close readings, as well as new ways of reading the works in their cultural contexts, we will examine how the apparently estranging textures of modernist inscription not only recast subjectivity, but also reannotate the spaces—local, national and global--in which subjects operated, were energized or rendered lethargic, responded to shocks, changed. Modernist ‘experiments’ operated to develop a range of styles all immensely better than anything that had been developed hitherto at putting into language not just the moral motivations, not just the emotional and intellectual development, and not merely the thoughts, but the very modulations of the expenditure of nervous energy and affect, the rise and fall of human energy levels, the stresses and highs of human elation, hope, fear and anomie, which marked the interpellations of modern ideological and material forces upon the subjects being described in the texts. In other words, ‘biopower’ was modernism’s central preoccupation and mimetic horizon. This does not mean merely a new and minute attention to the vagaries of the living human body, the ways one inhabits it and the reading of its most delicate responses, although all of these projects are evident in the best modernisms, but, more, an intense graphing of the energy expenditure of every body as a measure of each subject’s position in a new kind of biopolitically controlled democratic system.

This soma-textuality of modernism, where the textual machine is a literary seismograph of energies subjective and social, is a prime exhibit in a new stage in the materialist history of the modernist era. In our new century, the theorists are finally catching up with the literary texts, and signs of a new theorizing of the material real are evident, particularly in the wake of the work of Gilles Deleuze. (His work takes its emphasis from the philosophic system of such modernist philosophers as Henri Bergson, who in turn worked in a philosophic counter-tradition often described, in shorthand, as ‘Spinozan.’) It has also rediscovered Foucault, who whole opus detailed how biopolitics is the political horizon, par excellence, of modernity. To read the various modernisms through Foucault’s focus on biopower allows us to see how its apparent intense attention to the secret, ‘inner’ day-to-day life of its subjects is accurately indexical of its political thrust. Leopold Bloom’s adrenaline surges or Mrs. Dalloway’s nervousness are in fact the perfect indeces of their participation in the new political system of biopolitical social control and movement.

We will examine these issues in readings of literary works by Gerald Manley Hopkins, Jospeh Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Vernon Lee, Samuel Beckett, and others. These will be supplemented by readings by contemporaries such as Henri Bergson, Bernard Berenson, Georg Simmel and Wyndham Lewis. We will also be reading contemporary theory by Elizabeth Grosz, Teresa Brennan, Gilles Deleluze, Girogio Agamben, Fredric Jameson, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Paulo Virno, Michel Foucault, Nigel Thrift, Slavoj Zizek and David Harvey.