English 449: The Spirits of Modernity

Amardeep Singh

Fall 2004



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

Amardeep Singh

Fall 2004


Tentative Syllabus



8/24     Introduction

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,

Irish Republicans/Catholics

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

10/28   H.D.


11/2     Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses

Probably discuss: Migration and identity; Good and Evil; Graffiti vs. Holy texts

11/4     Rushdie

            Recommended: Background on Islam


11/9     Rushdie

            Recommended: Aravamudan

11/11   Rushdie


11/16   Rushdie

11/18   Rushdie

                        Short paper on Rushdie, Eliot, or H.D. due


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.




English 449 – The Spirits of Modernity

Fall 2004

Amardeep Singh


Required and Recommended Readings

(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

 Jewish Identity

Excerpts from Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland

            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

            “Ash Wednesday”

            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


H.D. Trilogy*

            [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.

D.H. Lawrence: 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 Lawrence is thoroughly outside the Church, but it often seems as if Lawrence is attempting to prophesize a new religious system based on eroticism (“tenderness”). Some  of his works are strongly marked by native American spirituality.

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:


Rabindranath Tagore, 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 (India), and spent only a small amount of time in the west. 

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.


Arab, Turkish, and African Writers


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!

Orhan Pamuk, especially The White Castle and Snow. The White Castle is a kind of Borgesian meta-fiction, playing with the thin line between Orient and Occident, Turkey and Europe, modern and pre-modern modes of thinking and reasoning. Snow is a story set in modern Turkey, dealing with the problem of Turkish ‘secularism.’ It’s a brand new novel.


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.