English 449: The Spirits of Modernity
Published Course Description:
The Spirits of Modernity: Faith, Doubt, and Hybridity in 20th Century British and Postcolonial Writing
For some, the advent of modernity turned human beings into machines, deadening the spirit via industrialization, the banality of commodity culture, and the specter of mechanized war. But modernist and postcolonial writers have generally found the experience of modernity more complicated. While most major writers of the 20th century rejected organized religious institutions, influential writers like T.S. Eliot actually turned to organized religious faith as an answer to the perplexing demands of modern life. Writers like James Joyce, H.D., E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, and Salman Rushdie, for their part, have expressed profound ambivalence about religion and spirituality in their major works. The modern struggle with religious belief, textuality, and social identity leads to “answers” which are sometimes surprising, and which often engages issues of cultural difference as well as gender and sexuality. Though this is primarily a course in literature, we will also read essays by critics and theorists like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, Edward Said, and Talal Asad, among others. Also, final papers will be on topics of students' choosing, not necessarily limited to issues of “spirit.” Primary texts include: James Joyce, Ulysses, H.D. Trilogy, T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, E.M. Forster, A Passage to India, and James Wood, The Book Against God.
English 449: The Spirits of Modernity
8/26 Ulysses 1, 2 (Telemachus and Nestor)
Recommended (throughout Ulysses): Gifford
Probably discuss: Ties to Portrait of the Artist; Stephen’s fall out of the
priesthood; “Method” of each chapter; Relationship to The Odyssey
8/31 Ulysses 3 (Proteus)
Recommended: Ellmann biography excerpts on 1904 (avail. 8/27)
Recommended: Moretti chapter on Joyce
9/2 Ulysses 4, 5 (Calypso, Lotus-Eaters)
Probably discuss: Bloom’s dietary practices, Irish Jews, Zionism, Jewish
Recommended: Marx, Neil Davison, Weinbaum
9/7 Ulysses 6, 7 (Hades, Aeolus)
Probably discuss print culture, newspapers, Irish nationalists,
Recommended: Declan Kiberd
9/9 Ulysses 8 (Lestrygonians)
9/14 Ulysses 9, 10 (Scylla and Charybdis, The Wandering Rocks)
Probably discuss Shakespeare; Ghosts, deconstruction (a little)
9/16 Ulysses 11 (Sirens)
9/21 Ulysses 12 (Cyclops)
Recommended: Enda Duffy, Maria Tymoczko
9/23 Ulysses 13-15 (emphasis on 15) (Nausicaa, Oxen of the Sun, Circe)
9/28 Ulysses 16, 17 (emphasis on 17) (Eumaeus, Ithaca)
9/30 Ulysses 18 (Penelope)
Recommended: Bonnie Kime Scott
10/5 Papers on Ulysses due; Maybe look at some T.S. Eliot poems in class (no new
10/7 No class (pacing break)
10/12 T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets
10/14 T.S. Eliot: Critical essays on Literature and Religion
10/19 E.M. Forster: Passage to India
Probably discuss: concepts of space; Christians, Hindus, and Muslims; Khilafat
Movement; Urdu poetry (Ghalib, Faiz, Iqbal)
10/21 E.M. Forster
Probably discuss: riots, Mohurram festival in Shia Islam, Sepoy Rebellion (1857)
Recommended: Furbank, Freitag, Baucom
Note: Sizeable reading assignment this week
10/26 H.D.: Trilogy
Probably discuss: Sex and Sprit in the midst of war
Recommended: Janice S. Robinson biography chapters on Moravianism, Trilogy
11/2 Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses
Probably discuss: Migration and identity; Good and Evil; Graffiti vs. Holy texts
Recommended: Background on Islam
11/23 Start James Wood, The Book Against God
Also look at excerpt from Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase
Probably discuss: 20th century Spiritual autobiography
11/25 No class (Thanksgiving)
11/30 Finish James Wood
12/2 Last day of classes
12/9 Final papers due (tentative deadline). Any author or issue you are interested
in, including authors not on the syllabus.
(All Recommended readings and some required readings will be made available
by Blackboard. Blackboard is http://ci.lehigh.edu)
Joyce, Ulysses, Gabler Edition (the edition is important; the other edition has different page numbers. Gifford does index both editions, in case the Gabler is for whatever reason unavailable)
Gifford, Ulysses Annotated (this is expensive, but the book is extraordinarily difficult and obscure without it)
Excerpts from Richard Ellmann’s biography, James Joyce
Excerpts from Joyce and the Jews
Excerpts from Neil Davison’s James Joyce, Ulysses, and the Construction of
Excerpts from Declan Kiberd, Inventing
Excerpts from Enda Duffy, Subaltern Ulysses
Excerpts from Franco Moretti, Modern Epic
Excerpts from Maria Tymoczko, The Irish Ulysses
Excerpts from Bonnie Kime Scott, James Joyce
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Essays by Eliot on: “Religion and Literature,” “The Use of Poetry and the Use of
Criticism”; “The Idea of a Christian Society”
Essays by Anthony Julius, James Wood, Louis Menand on Eliot’s Anti-semitism
Excerpts from the Peter Ackroyd and Lyndall Gordon biographies of Eliot
[This volume is out of print; we will try and work with it. For those who can’t
obtain a used copy, I will either scan it or make photocopies available]
Excerpts from the Janice S. Robinson biography of H.D.
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
Srinivas Aravamudan, “Being God’s Postman Is No Fun, Yaar!”
Paul Brians’ site at the University of Washington on The Satanic Verses (full
annotations to the novel)
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
Excerpt, P.N. Furbank, E.M. Forster: A Life
Excerpt from Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
Excerpt from: Sandria Freitag, dissertation on religious riots in India
Excerpt from Ian Baucom, Out of Place
James Wood The Book Against God
Recommended: James Wood, “The Broken Estate”
Karen Armstrong, Excerpts from The Spiral Staircase
Recommended Outside Criticism/Theory:
Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question”
Friedrich Nietzsche, “God is Dead” from The Gay Science
Friedrich Nietzsche, excerpts from Beyond Good and Evil
Max Weber, Introduction and chapters 1, 2, and 5 of The Protestant Ethic
Talal Asad, excerpts from Formations of the Secular
More will probably be added to this list.
Other British modernist authors I thought about including, but didn’t (these might be fodder for your research):
Gerard Manley Hopkins: A tortured Catholic who is also thought to have been gay, he wrote some very intense poetry with strong (yet ambiguous) religious overtones.
especially Sons and Lovers has a
strong connection to Protestant values and a clash between a religious, poor
mother and an ambitious, rebellious son. The later
G.K. Chesterton: An ‘Establishment’ Christian. He wrote many plays and essays dealing with religion, generally from a perspective of comfortable belief. He also wrote some complex, avant-garde fiction (Man-Alive) that generally hasn’t been written about.
Virginia Woolf: A lifelong atheist, Woolf never really had much interest in organized religion. None of her serious characters believe in God in the least. But there is a mystical bent in her writing – generally circulating around the idea of human interconnectedness – to which the word ‘spirit’ might apply.
Other colonials and postcolonials who deal in interesting ways with religion and secularization:
especially Gitanjali and Gora. Tagore was avowedly ‘spiritual’,
but nevertheless rejects orthodox Hinduism. What Tagore’s exact religious
beliefs are, and whether or not he should be considered “secular,” is an issue
that is still being resolved. Tagore was contemporaneous with European
modernists like Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf, and is sometimes classed as a
modernist alongside the others, even though he lived in Bengal (
Mohandas K. Gandhi (“Mahatma”), Autobiography. A fascinating account of the emergence of a very modern political mind – interspersed with accounts of his approach to a kind of reformed Hinduism.
V.S. Naipaul, especially books like A House for Mr. Biswas, The Mystic Masseur, and Finding the Center. Naipaul’s protagonists all reject religion in favor of modern life (often symbolized by their desire to write, to become “writers”). But they are nevertheless often haunted by the demands of their family that they continue to follow certain religious rituals and practices.
Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American poet of Muslim descent. Lots of interesting plays between traditional Urdu poetry and contemporary American experiments with form and style. He laments the rise of religious fundamentalism, but also clearly has a love for the textuality of the Quran. Not much has been written on his work.
Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia, The Black Album, and films like My Son the Fanatic. Kureishi’s interest in religion and secularization is more sociological than it is individualized or personal. There has been a kind of renaissance of strong religious feeling amongst the Pakistanis living in England in the past 15-20 years, that comes into sharp contrast with the very British values and lifestyles of the non-religious Anglo-Pakistanis who were born and raised in the UK. These are all interesting books.
Naguib Mahfouz, especially Akhenaten. An Egyptian writer who has been targeted by fundamentalists for disrespecting Islam.
Tahar Ben Jalloun, especially The Sand Child. Ben Jalloun (a Moroccan writer) might be interesting from a gender perspective – The Sand Child is the story of a girl in a traditional family who is raised as a boy because her father really wanted to have a son rather than a daughter!
especially The White Castle and Snow. The White Castle is a kind of Borgesian meta-fiction, playing with
the thin line between Orient and
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, No Longer At East, Morning Yet on Creation Day
Wole Soyinka, Isara
Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure
Other texts by authors we’re reading:
Salman Rushdie, Shame, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and The Moor’s Last Sigh all deal with questions of religion and secularization. The most interesting from the point of view of women and Islam is Shame. The others are responses to Islamism and the rise Hindu fundamentalism in India.
James Joyce, Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist. Both deal with secularization. This has been written about by some Joyce critics, but not so much.
H.D. H.D. had a very long career, and wrote quite a bit – not just poems but also novels and memoirs. There is much in her work that hasn’t really been understood or explained, especially her relationship to spirituality.