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The Twentieth Century and Beyond
This lecture offers a survey over major forms and strategies of twentieth-century literature, including anglophone writing from postcolonial contexts, with a special focus on the question of what literature is – or can be – in a period which has been described as “the age of extremes”. In this age – marked by world wars, genocides, colonial crimes, mass migration, mechanical reproduction and ideological confrontation – the project of literature has often come under questioning and pressure. As a result, writers have had to rethink the possibilities and prospects of their work while trying (in T.S. Eliot’s words) to make the modern world possible for art. What traditions can they draw on and what models use? How can literary form sustain their efforts? And what language is available to address such concerns?
We shall pursue these questions by looking at a number of paradigmatic texts, which students should prepare and read themselves if they are to benefit from the lecture. The following texts are all included in The Norton Anthology of English Literature (10th ed.), vol. F (highly recommended for purchase): poetry by Hardy, Yeats, Sassoon, Owen and Auden; Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899), Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1952); in addition, the following titles should also be obtained and read: Golding, Lord of the Flies (1954), Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958), Churchill, Cloud Nine (1978), Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), Carter, Wise Children (1991), Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (2011).