Index # - 20490
Distribution Requirement: A5
Thursday - 9:00 a..m.
Author, Reader, Field
The sociological study of literary practices—reading, writing, and circulation—has become one of the most important areas of new work in literary studies. This approach analyzes the production and circulation of literature in terms of larger systems of relations among authors, readers, and institutions, challenging literary study’s commitment to the expert “reading” of singular texts as the major route to literary-historical understanding. It suggests shifting attention from Ulysses to the system that makes Ulysses an extraordinarily valued object; from individual “global modernist” innovators to the institutions that designate and celebrate world literature; from “close reading” to the unequal distribution of variant forms of literacy—and so on.
This course takes an extended literary-modernist period (1890–1970) as a case study for such approaches, considering three major problems in turn: the author as an agent in the literary field; the institutional forms of world literature; and the development of stratified reading publics. Though the course aims to introduce sociological method as a portable approach to many literatures and historical eras, our inquiry will ask whether modernism is a privileged object for such approaches, having given rise to the conditions that make them possible in the first place. The most important sociological theory of literature, that of Pierre Bourdieu, is at the same time a theory of modernism; yet we will aim to question whether this special relation to modernism may be a limitation, and, if so, consider how the study of literature in society might overcome them.
Our readings in literary-sociological scholarship will emphasize Bourdieu and those influenced by him, but we will also pay attention to sociological currents in computational literary studies and recent developments in Anglo-American sociology. Primary text readings may include: works by Arnold Bennett, James Joyce, G.V. Desani, and Toni Morrison; the New Negro anthology; and a lot of Nobel Prize paraphernalia.
The course will require frequent informal writing and two conference-length papers. It fulfills the graduate program’s A5 distributional requirement (Twentieth-Century Studies).