Literature and the City

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Course Objective

This course takes as its point of departure the fact that the modern city constitutes a highly enabling locus for new kinds of aesthetic, particularly literary, activity. From the late-nineteeth century onwards, there has been a spurt of artistic and theoretical work crucially centred in the experience of the city - in the European cosmopolitan centres of the early twentieth century as much as the postcolonial mega-cities of today. This course aims to study why and how the engagement with the city necessitates new and experimental forms of writing.

Course Content

The course examines in some detail the nature of the challenge that traditionally preoccupied European writers - how to map the experience of the modern city, and what representational strategies were adequate for capturing the opacity, the fragmentation, and the transitory nature of urban modernity. It goes on to investigate the contemporary postcolonial city in order to understand it in relation to late capitalism, globalization, migration, and postmodern culture, and the challenges these pose to classic modernity. It begins by providing an introduction to some of the most important literature on the city and the major theoretical debates around it, offering students a set of conceptual tools with which to approach the city’s incommensurable realities, its problems and its potential. It moves on to a detailed analysis of a number of literary texts, examining some of the ways in which the disjunctive realities of city-life shape new modes of experience, creative expression, and solidarity, without losing sight of the inequities of gender, culture, class, and race that persist and indeed strengthen in the current global economic system.
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