bookmark_borderAutumn 2015 reading list: American Lit since 1890, part I

Posting a Sussex Library reading list is a lengthy process that involves my curriculum development, the Library staff, and some clunky software. This means that my reading lists can’t be made available through the library for quite a while after the syllabus is set. I’m therefore posting reading lists for my Autumn 2015 classes here (Am Lit now, Mod&Ch to come). These lists are UNOFFICIAL AND PROVISIONAL. I may change them without warning.

American Literature Since 1890: Part I (Q3171)

Books to buy or acquire from the library:

  1. Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood
  2. Frank Norris, McTeague (This novel is long. I strongly recommend getting your hands on a paper copy of this book, preferably the Penguin. Try not to pay money for one of those garbage reprint editions.)
  3. Willa Cather, O, Pioneers!
  4. William Carlos Williams, Spring and All
  5. Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro
  6. Nella Larsen, Passing
  7. William Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!
Week 1 Lights and shadows in the Gilded Age
Stephen Crane, “An Experiment in Misery,” “An Experiment in Luxury,” Black Riders and Other Lines
Jacob Riis, “Flashes from the Slums”
Thorstein Veblen, from Theory of the Leisure Class
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from Women and Economics
Week 2 Post-bellum, pre-Harlem
Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood
Dudley Randall, “Booker T. and W. E. B.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask”
Booker T. Washington, from Up from Slavery
W. E. B. Du Bois, from The Souls of Black Folk
Charles W. Chesnutt, “A Visit to Tuskegee”
Chesnutt, “The Goophered Grapevine,” from The Conjure Woman
Week 3 Naturalism
Frank Norris, McTeague
Walter Benn Michaels, from The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism
Week 4 The Harlem Renaissance I
The Crisis 1.1 (read all of it)
Countee Cullen, “Incident,” “Heritage”
Langston Hughes, selected poems
Claude McKay, selected poems
Week 5 Regionalism
Willa Cather, O, Pioneers!
Donna Campbell, from Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915
Week 6 Modernism and the Little Magazine
Poetry 2.1 (April 1913)
Others 5.6 (July 1919): pay special attention to William Carlos Williams, “Gloria!” (pp. 3-4); Marianne Moore, “Poetry” (p. 5); Mitchell Dawson, “To Diverse Contemporaries” (p. 13); Wallace Stevens, “Earthy Anecdote” and “Life Is Motion” (p. 14); Emanuel Carnevali, “Serenade” (p. 19); William Carlos Williams, “Belly Music” (pp. 25-32)
Little Review 1.2 (April 1914): special attention to Arthur Davison Ficke, “Lines for Two Futurists” (p. 8); Sara Teasdale, “To E” (p. 17); Eunice Tietjens, “To S” (p. 18)
Mike Chasar, from Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America
Week 7 Reading week; class will not meet.
Week 8 Modernists at home
William Carlos Williams. Spring and All. 1923; New York: New Directions, 2011.
Ezra Pound, “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 1.6 (March 1913): 200–206.
Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” “The Idea of Order at Key West”
James Clifford, from The Predicament of Culture
Marjorie Perloff, “Pound/Stevens: Whose Era?”
Week 9 The Harlem Renaissance II
Alain Locke, The New Negro
Nella Larsen, Passing
Judith Butler, from Bodies That Matter
Week 10 Modernity’s pasts
William Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!
Week 11 Faulkner continued
Week 12 Synthesis and exam review.

bookmark_borderParis as an American City

film poster for MGM musical An American in Paris, 1951
An American in Paris, MGM, 1951

City of lights. Capital of the nineteenth century. The clichés pour down: the cultural metropolis, the imperial center, the capital city of the republic of letters.*

But if we press on this just a little further, we also see the city as conduit, as medium. Perhaps it’s not an accident that the great theorist of Paris (and source of not a few of our Paris clichés), Walter Benjamin, was a media theorist, close reading the very materials that made a medium of the city:

Iron is avoided in home construction but used in arcades, exhibition halls, train stations—buildings that serve transitory purposes.**

Recent research by Nancy Green and Brooke Blower has also thrown into question why the quintessential American expatriate in Paris is usually thought to be an artist: these historians have uncovered the deep networks of American business, philanthropy, and diplomacy in Paris, and Paris’s role as a site of U.S. power.*** The ideologies of aesthetic autonomy and romantic love that have long attached to Paris have also made the city a crucial conduit for U.S. interests.

What, for example, is Paris doing for Fred Astaire’s American character in this video?

[Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire]

The clip is from the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings, based on the 1939 Ernst Lubitsch (MGM) film Ninotchka, starring Greta Garbo. Silk stockings, here, are the luxury commodity that will seduce a Soviet agent (in Ninotchka, it’s a truly wack hat).

Greta Garbo in a truly wack hat
Greta Garbo in a capitalist hat.

Why is Paris the setting for this Cold War comedy, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, he of the “Great American Songbook”? Why is it the logical scene of a seduction into American capitalism? None of this film is set in the United States (except that all of it is: this “Paris,” and “Moscow,” are built in Hollywood).

At the same time, what genuine pockets of resistance or autonomy were opened up by the Paris myth, especially for black Americans and for pan-African organizations?****

Notes for W. E. B. Du Bois's speech at the Pan-African Congress, Paris, 1919
Notes for W. E. B. Du Bois’s speech at the Pan-African Congress, Paris, 1919 (U of Massachusetts Library)

Questions like this drive the “Paris as an American City” project, a new Sussex Centre for American Studies international research network, co-directed by Daniel Kane (AmStuds/English), Katharina Rietzler (AmStuds/history), and me. We are funded by a Sussex International Research Partnerships and Network grant and are delighted to be working with collaborators including Nancy Green, Brooke Blower, Jonathan Eburne, Abigail Lang, Vincent Broqua, Olivier Brossard, and Daniel Katz, in partnership with Stanford Arcade, the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture at Chicago, and the Musée Franco-Américain at Blérancourt.

Reflecting that American Studies itself has its roots in the extraterritorial extension of U.S. power, we hope that the study of Paris as an American city will open out disciplinary questions as well as historical and cultural ones.

[Ideology at its very purest. Paris, je t’aime, 2006.]


*Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters (Harvard University Press, 2004).

**Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century (Exposé of 1939),” in The Arcades Project, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 16.

***Brooke Blower, Becoming Americans in Paris: Transatlantic Politics and Culture between the World Wars (Oxford, 2011); Nancy Green, The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941 (Chicago, 2014); Green, “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept”, American Historical Review 114 (2009), 307-328.

****Davarian L. Baldwin and Minkah Makalani, eds., Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem (Minneapolis, 2013); Fionnghuala Sweeney, and Kate Marsh, eds., Afromodernisms: Paris, Harlem and the Avant-Garde (Edinburgh University Press, 2013); Jeremy Braddock and Jonathan Eburne, eds., Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic: Literature, Modernity, and Diaspora. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).