English 9115A ~ Modernism After Dark

Professor Joshua Schuster

Fall Half Course.

In and out of the high modernist canon and the populist culture industries dwell some odd, unlikely, and untimely figures, which prefer the dark side of things. Some of these figures that come out after hours are: ghost dogs (Jack London), raging dinosaurs (Arthur Conan Doyle), and hybrid human-unhuman zombies (Zora Neale Hurston). The task of this class is to understand why so many of these untimely, uncanny, oddly agential, and queer figures emerged in modernism and what their appearance tells us about the legacy of modernist studies today. We will be focusing on three different themes of study: primitivism, prehistoricism, and future primitives. In primitivism, we will look at discourses of the primal and literature that explores supposedly earlier cultural and biological phases, looking at authors from Jack London to Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), Djuna Barnes (Nightwood), Hurston (Mules and Men), and the poetry of Aimé Césaire. We will also read several works of Freud that deal with the atavistic mind, including The Wolf Man and Totem and Taboo. On the theme of prehistoricism, we will look at the rise of notions of deep time and worlds prior to the human in Doyle and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine). We will also look at literature on the newly discovered character of the Neanderthal (William Golding’s The Inheritors). Our theoretical material for this unit will cover notions of deep time, ur-historicism, shamanism, and the emergence of the human (theorists will include Bataille, Levi-Strauss, and Kristeva). For the section on future primitives, we will be looking at the rise of new machines and technologies that can go beyond the human but also seem to cast the fate of the human world into a more primitive state (we’ll read probably Karl Capek’s R.U.R., the film Metropolis, and the computational procedural-driven poetry of Jackson MacLow).  The aim of this class overall is to study a set of emerging discourses regarding otherness, scale, and time in modernism and theory.  We will also look at some essays on the “new modernist studies” to help us periodize the field of modernism in and out of tune with these other discourses of modernism’s time out of joint.

View the course syllabus here: English 9115A.