Quintessentially Modern: A Literature of Disillusionment
Man once stood in all his tragic grandeur, but modernism and modernity question the anthropomorphic view of our existence. We have killed God, we have killed each: who is left standing? Characterized by industrial production, a market economy, and mass consumption on the one hand, and by a questioning faith, disenchantment of the world, and disillusion in humanity, on the other, our modern world has created a skeptical (wo)man. European literature of the twentieth century continuously searches for meaning, and repeatedly encounters a semantic void, as we keep trying to connect. But “I can connect / Nothing with nothing,” as T.S. Eliot says. Our disillusionment revealed that we are nothing but “A speck in the void” according to Beckett. We might be surrounded by progress, but we are standing in front of a gigantic mushroom of smoke and ashes, which makes the path the Enlightenment wanted to pave darker.
The authors we will be reading investigate the stature of humanity and its place in a world that has jeopardized our romantic harmony with Nature and our comforting faith in the afterlife, and that emphasizes our not-so-brave souls divided by our Apollonian and Dionysian impulses (the one toward wisdom, the other toward gratification). What do we mean, when language no longer carries the weight of meaning? Is death inevitable when we lose our place in the world? When we are unable or unwilling to conform to society’s view of what is “normal”? What part of ourselves do we relinquish in order to belong? How do we define subjectivity in modernity?
These questions will allow us to explore in this class poetry, fiction and drama in order to understand our modern disposition.
Proposed reading list:
Beckett, Samuel. Endgame.
Duras, Marguerite.Hiroshima My Love.
Eliot, T. S. “The Hollow Men,” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Hesse, Herman. Steppenwolf.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis.
Ionesco, Eugène. The Bald Soprano.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway.
Yeats, W. B. “The Second Coming.”