Undergraduate Course: The Politics of Difficulty in Twentieth-Century Literature (ENLI10403)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Not available to visiting students
|Summary||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 world as it is. Ellen Berry describes some of the characteristics of experimental writing in terms of a ¿negative aesthetics¿: formal strategies that produce ¿indeterminacy and lack of closure, strategies emphasising silence, absence, loss, blankness, stupidity, irrationality, inarticulateness, unbecoming¿ and that deconstruct conventional genre forms. These characteristics are often expressed on a thematic level, too: the course texts engage with concepts like refusal, impersonality, detachment, resignation and unsentimentality at the level of both form and content. We will read 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.
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 Christine Brooke-Rose suggests, ¿produce new ways of looking¿ and new kinds of narratives, literary as well as social.
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 Christine 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, one final exam-essay, and an assessment of students' engagement with their autonomous learning groups and with the material over the course of the semester. 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.
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2021/22, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||40%: Learning Journal (2,500 words)
60%: Exam Essay (3,000 words)
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Construct clear and coherent arguments that demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which literature and theory in an after modernism are invested in questions of difficulty and, in turn how these questions are bound up with literary form
- Evaluate and assess ideas from a range of critical sources in order to bring them to bear on analyses of experimental literature
- Demonstrate the 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
- Describe the specific aesthetic qualities of a work of art as well as the individual emotional encounter of the reader with the work
|Cane, Jean Toomer |
Blood on the Dining-room Floor, Gertrude Stein
Mules and Men, Zora Neale Hurston
Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector
Watt, Samuel Beckett
Between, Christine Brooke-Rose
Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko
Dictée, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
from Hand Dance, Wanda Coleman
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Keywords||experimental writing,difficulty,twentieth century
|Course organiser||Dr Sarah Bernstein
Tel: (0131 6)51 1296
|Course secretary||Ms Sheila Strathdee
Tel: (0131 6)50 3619