• Course Number: ENGL 234
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  • Quarter: Spring 2024

Between 1875 and 1955, western medicine turned its attention to what constituted life, and reconceptualized life as the expression of energy. In the same historical period, when, with the whole globe had now colonized, the imperial ‘spatial fix’ had now reached its limit, energy, as extractible resource (oil), as entity to be generated (mass electricity), as scientifically-achievable armageddon (nuclear fission) as human potential (‘labor power’) and even as the calories to sustain the workers (the ‘food supply’) became the new preoccupations of both science and of global politics. This course rethinks ‘modernism’ to show how energy also became key to modernist art and culture.

What does energy have to do with modernism? (More: do reading modernist works energize you?) To track different modernisms’ energy dreams, we will first consider modernisms’ strange interest in human (and animal, avian, insect) motion and movement, as a symptom of a new biopolitical concept of life as energy deployment. Motion, and gesture–movement as style– received intense attention from literature, art, dance and especially from the new art form, silent
cinema. Modernist experiment can be read as modernist biometrics: it maps how subjects negotiated the new global energy economies. Energy modernism emerges at the moment imperialism reached its limit and the planet-scale global oil extraction economy began. Mass electrification was launched. The rush to split the atom was at hand.  Tracking the impact of this on individual subject’s bodies, a biopoetics of energy was born. Reading modernism’s energy matrix lets us interrogate the relation of biopolitics to environmental critique. It demands we read ‘medical humanities’ insights in a postcolonial, not
to say planetary, frame. Multiple modernisms (well beyond the western ones) expressed most immediately the sense of being in the cross-hairs of cross-global flows of ‘resource’ energy, human movement, energy intensities and stress. We will read work by G.M. Hopkins, Toru Dutt, T.E. Lawrence, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Katherine Mansfield,
Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Franz Kafka, Aldous Huxley, Samuel Beckett, Jean Rhys, . Photography and painting: Muybridge, Kertész, Sonia Delauny, some films (with Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, Theda Bara—as well as the first cartoon and stop-motion films), and texts on biopolitics and movement by Darwin, Marey, Beard, Mackinder, Bergson,
Georges Canguilhem and Marie Curie.  Theorists: Agamben, Anson Rabinbach, Jasbir Puar, Mel Chen, Peter Sloterdijk, Deleuze, Vílem Flusser, Vaclav Smil, Erin Manning, Achille Mbembe, Michael Marder and new work by Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant.


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