Spring 2020

Modernism, Trauma, and Theories of Violence

Listed in: English, as ENGL-495


Anna J. Abramson (Section 01)


This course puts modernist formal innovation in conversation with theories of violence and trauma. We will examine the complex intersection between shattering historical violence and modernist formal and aesthetic techniques, including fragmentation, impressionism, collage, empty centers, rupture, abstraction, and multiperspectivalism. We will pay particular attention to what happens when language and literary form run up against the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the blank, the empty.

Critical readings will be drawn from a range of theoretical works on violence and trauma (postcolonialism, psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology, and affect theory). These textual pairings will provide a case study for how close reading can be enriched by theoretical and historical scaffolding. We will focus on the ways that war and violence overspill boundaries–beyond the battlefield, beyond the moment of impact, beyond what is visible, beyond national borders, beyond the signing of peace treaties. We will consider violence done to individual bodies and minds, as well as the ways that the shocks of world wars reverberate historically and around the globe. How do modernist texts blur lines between front-lines/home front, victim/perpetrator, and civilian/combatant?

Possible authors include Edmund Blunden, Cathy Caruth, Sigmund Freud, Frantz Fanon, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, W.G. Sebald, and Virginia Woolf.

Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Abramson.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to junior and senior majors.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Issues of Social Justice, Attention to Writing


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020