Welcome to the Fall 2016 course blog for ENGL 213: Modernist Lit & Culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign! This page is designed to serve as a space for relevant course information, student blog posts and conversation, and links to digital resources and other supplementary material.
What Is Modernism?
Modernism refers to the literary and cultural period that spanned the first half of the twentieth century. There’s some debate about when, precisely, modernism began and ended: some scholars claim that it emerges in the late 19th century with figures like Oscar Wilde and H.G. Wells, while others view the start of WWI in 1914 as the origin of the movement. Likewise, some regard the onset of WWII as a point of transition from modernism to postmodernism, while others contend it lives on into the 1960s. In ENGL 213, we’ll read works written between 1908 and 1939 (with two exceptions: Pound’s Cantos LXXXI and CXVI, written in 1948 and 1968, respectively).
Much modernist literature is characterized by stylistic experimentation such as stream-of-consciousness narration, unconventional syntax and punctuation, and playful typography. Additionally, much of the literature and art of the period responds to urban life and technological innovations, such as the automobile and the devastating weapons of WWI. Modernism is full of fascinating contradictions: an orientation toward the future and simultaneous recycling of literary and cultural pasts; a preoccupation with urban spaces offset by an occasional privileging of pastoral environs; nationalistic fervor at odds with self-imposed exile. Such complexities are unsurprising given the period’s tumultuous and thrilling historical context, which included women’s suffrage movements as well as the rise of fascism, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Migration of African Americans to Northern states in the U.S.
Modernism continues to have a significant influence over contemporary literature and culture. In recent years, it has experienced a rebirth of sorts through contemporary historical novels set in the period, from Tom McCarthy’s C to Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy; popular films like Midnight in Paris and The Artist; and television series like Downton Abbey. Moreover, stylistic innovations of the period like stream-of-consciousness narration and the attention it grants to characters’ minds have shaped much of the literature that has followed. Though now a century old, modernist literature remains socially and politically relevant and emotionally resonant, as vital and daring as ever.