The period commonly called Modernism (roughly 1890-1945) produced an intensely difficult and fascinating body of literature that responded to the chaos of the time, including the First World War (and in some cases the Second), rapid advances in technology, psychoanalytic theories of the self and family, the changing mobilities of women and African Americans, the deep questioning of religion, and more. But critics have rightly suggested that our very definition of literary Modernism may be unconsciously gendered masculine, that our descriptions of Modernist aesthetics and trends—totalizing myth, ahistoricity, detachment or impersonalization, self-conscious artifice, irony, difficulty, fragmentation, etc.—are based too rigidly on readings of the High (Male) Modernists such as T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, or Ernest Hemingway and tend to marginalize Modernist experiences and literatures of women and people of color. Indeed, some theorists even argue that the impulses of Modernism are a reaction against a threatening concept of the “feminine” or a gendered and/or racialized Other.
This course will focus most centrally on questions of gender and Modernism; our task might be articulated by Rita Felski’s questions, “How would our understanding of modernity change if instead of taking male experience as paradigmatic, we were to look instead at texts written primarily by or about women? And what if feminine phenomena, often seen as having a secondary or marginal status, were given a central importance in the analysis of the culture of modernity?” Among other things, we will consider women writers’ relationship to language and form; to history, political engagement, war and violence, land/nation, structures of power, education, art, and the everyday; to the body, race, and sexuality; to models of selfhood, the psyche, and voice; and to one another.