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ENGL 4039 Literature and the City (Ho): Course Information

Course Description

From your syllabus: "A promise of opportunity; a site of misery and alienation; an escape from the country; a space of deviance and crime—the city has historically alternately fascinated and repelled, a spatial locus that mediates the dreams and fears saturating our cultural imaginaries. This course will focus on twentieth- and twenty-first century literary and filmic representations of the city and the urban experience. We will take a broad global and temporal perspective: that is to say, we will read early twentieth-century modernist texts that sought to come to terms with the experiences of alienation and consumerism signified by the city; move on to consider late twentieth-century postmodern representations of city space as a site of futuristic technology and simulacra; and finally, turn to postcolonial renditions of cities in what is known as the “global South”—in sites like Johannesburg, Mumbai, or Lagos—to think about how forms of global socioeconomic and racial inequities are spatially reproduced."

Assignment Details

You have two options for your final essay, one conventional and one open-ended:

Option A:
Write a 10-12 pp. essay on one of the novels we have read in class, though you may not choose a text you have written on for your first essay or for your mid-term. Your essay should:
(a) Make an over-arching argument about the novel in conjunction with secondary material; that is to say, your argument should be an intervention into a scholarly conversation about the text;
(b) Demonstrate a familiarity with secondary material on the novel on the issue/topic you are exploring: you should have at least 3-4 scholarly/theoretical sources relevant to your topic cited;
(c) Conduct detailed textual analysis of the novel, with attention to form and language, and provide a holistic account of the text (i.e. make sure you’re not dealing with a small slice of it);
(d) Be well organized and well-written.

Option B:
You are welcome to develop an independent project that relates to a topic or concept about the city/urbanity that we have explored in class, also writing 10-12 pp. on it. It does not have to be on a literary text. You should likewise have at least 3-4 scholarly/theoretical secondary sources (i.e. this excludes primary sources, if you are working with them). Possible topics that we have covered or will cover include:
1. Flâneur / Flâneuse
2. Urban buildings/places: e.g., hotels, skyscrapers/high-rises, non-places
3. Shock and violent stimuli in urban environments
4. Psychological effects of the city: alienation, blasé mentality, economistic relations, etc.
5. Modernist architecture / urban planning
6. Postmodernist architecture / urban planning
7. Different populations’ experience of the city (women, black bodies, foreigners and minorities)
8. Historical memories of sites / Cities as historical palimpsests
9. Different (sensory/topographical/geographical) ways to map urban space (looking, walking,
hearing, smelling, aerial, underground, etc.)
10. Effects of globalization in the city (heads up: globalization as a topic is a too broad: you want to
pay attention to a specific form of globalization)
11. Representations of disease, contagion, illness in urban life
12. Slums and slum clearance
13. Urban infrastructure
The above is not an exhaustive list; if there is something you are interested in and want to pursue that is not listed, please definitely check in with me. It simply has to be related to an issue about the city.

Literature and Humanities Librarian

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Amanda Rybin Koob


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