This course is an introduction to postmodernism. It is intended for students who have encountered the term, but who feel uncertain about what it means; for students who have already worked with some of the concepts, but who would like a practical introduction to a selection of the seminal texts; and for students who are just curious.
We will ask such questions as: What is the relation between modernism and postmodernism? Are they diametrically opposed, or deeply implicated in one another? How did the “text” come to be so important — not only as a literary object, but as the definitive constituent of culture itself? What is the relation between “texts” (presumably composed of words or signs) and “history” (composed of events)? What is meant by the “deconstruction of the unified subject” or the “death of the author?” Finally, we will question the role of “theory” in postmodernism. Does theory always have the last word?
Students will be expected to read, absorb, and understand difficult postmodern texts. However, they will not be expected to take up the positions staked out in those texts as their own, if they would prefer not to. Opposition, or even resistance is encouraged; but it should be thoughtful and well-informed. So we will end by outlining a few arguments critical of postmodernism, and to explore what has emerged in the aftermath of the postmodern moment.
This is an interdisciplinary course involving literature, the visual arts, and critical theory.
Literary works will include: Isak Dinesen, The Blank Page; Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49; Roland Barthes, S/Z; Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities; Jean Genet, The Maids; Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. Visual material will include works by Cy Twombly, Jennifer Bartlett, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol.