Postgraduate Course: The Politics of Difficulty in Twentieth-Century Literature (ENLI11254)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Not available to visiting students
|Summary||What do we mean when we say a text is 'difficult'? In this course, we will examine different kinds of literary difficulty, both in terms of a text's formal features, in its circulation of affect, and in its representation of 'difficult' characters. The texts we will look at enact what the poet Anne Boyer calls 'formal strategies of refusal' at the same time as they are invested in exploring characters who are marked by a disavowal of filiation, a refusal to adapt to the exigencies of the world as it is. We will read innovative and experimental writing from across the twentieth century in order to explore to what ends and in what ways writers have pursued these kinds of 'difficulty' in their work.
This course is designed to expose students to the diversity of experimental literature while developing interpretative skills for the close reading and written analysis of texts. The range of innovative and experimental texts allows for a consideration of various kinds of formal, linguistic, generic and thematic experiment alongside an assessment of the political possibilities and limitations afforded by new narrative forms. To that end, the course explores the complex and sometimes fraught association between aesthetic and political radicalism and asks whether literary experiment and linguistic innovation can, as Brooke-Rose suggests, 'produce new ways of looking' and new kinds of narratives, literary as well as social.
The module enables students to build on the scholarly investments of the range of courses on modernist literature by exploring modernism's inheritances throughout the twentieth century, with a particular focus on mid-century writing. It enables students to undertake textual analyses of diverse genres, styles and modes of literature in relation to questions of formal and thematic 'difficulty'. The purpose of this is twofold: first, to allow students to attend primarily to the legacies of modernism's investment in form; second; to allow students ample opportunity to develop ways of working with form and content that go beyond reading the former for the latter. Instead, the course encourages students to address questions of authority, originality, difficulty and the radical as it is expressed in formal experiment and the disruption of standard forms of writing.
On the basis of preparatory reading, students will identify, discuss and analyse difficulty, both in terms of a text's formal features, its circulation of affect, and in its representation of difficult characters. Students will also be required to engage with 'autonomous learning groups' to produce material which will be shared with their peers.
The structure of reading and analysis on the course is broadly comparative: students will be asked to explore the similarities and differences between the set texts, to reflect on the relationship between theory and literature, and to examine each text against the context of its production. The guided exploration of these modes of reading will help students to develop the analytical skills and knowledge that will be assessed in their written work.
The course is assessed by two pieces of written work -- one, a creative-critical essay, and one critical essay to be completed by the final week of term. Written feedback will be provided on each element of assessment, and further oral follow-up feedback from the tutor will be available for anyone who would like it.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2020/21, Not available to visiting students (SS1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||40%: Creative-critical essay
60%: Final essay
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Construct sophisticated and original and clear arguments that demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the ways in which literature and theory in and after modernism are invested in questions of difficulty, and, in turn, how these questions are bound up with literary form
- Extrapolate, evaluate and assess ideas from a range of critical sources in order to bring them to bear on their analyses of experimental literature
- Demonstrate an advanced ability to apply skills of close reading and of comparative analysis that reflects a critical understanding of similarities and differences across and between texts, genres and historical periods
- Analyse the specific aesthetic qualities of a work of art as well as the individual emotional encounter of both reader and writer
Cane, Jean Toomer (1923)
The Waves, Virginia Woolf (1931)
Mules and Men, Zora Neale Hurston (1935)
Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector (1943)
Watt, Samuel Beckett (1953)
Between, Christine Brooke-Rose (1968)
Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko (1981)
Dictée, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1982)
Hand Dance, Wanda Coleman (1993)
Adorno, Theodor. 'Resignation'. Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. Trans. Henry W.
Pickford. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. 289-293.
Anderson, Amanda. The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of
Detachment. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.
Berry, Ellen. Women's Experimental Writing: Negative Aesthetics and Feminist Critique. London:
Boyer, Anne. A Handbook of Disappointed Fate. New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018.
Brooke-Rose, Christine. A Grammar of Metaphor. London: Secker & Warburg, 1958.
---. Stories, theories, things. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
Forrest-Thomson, Veronica. Poetic Artifice. 1978. Swindon: Shearsman, 2016.
Friedman, Ellen G. and Miriam Fuchs, eds. Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental
Fiction. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.
Frost, Laura. The Problem With Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents. New York: Columbia
Graves, Robert and Laura Riding. A Survey of Modernist Poetry and A Pamphlet Against
Anthologies. Manchester: Carcanet, 2002.
Halberstam, J. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke UP, 2011.
Hartman, Saidiya. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Serpent¿s Tail, 2019.
Mitchell, Kaye, ed. 'Special Issue: Experimental Writing'. Contemporary Women's Writing 9.1
---. and Nonia Williams, eds. British Avant-Garde Writing of the 1960s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP,
Moten, Fred and Stefano Harney. Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. New
York: Minor Compositions, 2013.
Nelson, Deborah. Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil. Chicago:
Chicago UP, 2017.
Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Boston: Harvard UP, 2007.
Riley, Denise. Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect. Durham: Duke UP, 2005.
Shockley, Evie. Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. University of
Iowa Press: 2011.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Keywords||experimental writing,difficulty,twentieth century
|Course organiser||Dr Sarah Bernstein
Tel: (0131 6)51 1296
|Course secretary||Miss Kara McCormack
Tel: (0131 6)50 3030