Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

How do literature, philosophy, film and other arts respond to the profound changes in world view and lifestyle that mark the twentieth century? This course considers a broad range of works from different countries, different media, and different genres, in exploring the transition to a decentered “Einsteinian” universe.

Course Requirements

Class Format

The class format for 21L.709 is group discussion with informal lectures by the instructor. Students are required to turn in a term paper (15 pp.) at the end of the term and a preliminary draft of this paper (5-7 pp.) midway in the term. The paper should present a detailed comparison of two works studied in the course. In addition, each student is asked to present a talk in class (12 min.) on an assigned work on its assigned date. The talk should help stimulate discussion by means of arguments and questions. Papers and talks are conceived as exercises in literary interpretation through close analysis. They should be focused on specific passages from the texts under consideration and should balance detail with generalization.


Readings for this course include works by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the painter Paul Cézanne, the composer Arnold Schoenberg, the fiction writers James Joyce and Franz Kafka, the film directors Fritz Lang and Federico Fellini, and others. For a list of readings, please refer to the Readings page.


There will be no final exam.

Papers 60%
Classroom participation (including presentation) 40%

MIT Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgment—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgment for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.


1 Introductory: What does “modern” mean?  
2 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power  
3 Nietzsche, The Will to Power (cont.)  
4 Kate Chopin, The Awakening  
5 Lawrence, D. H. “Odour of Chrysanthemums  
6 Franz Kafka, The Trial  
7 Franz Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks  
8 Cézanne, Nijinsky, Schoenberg, Monk  

James Joyce, Ulysses

Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction” in The Common Reader


Joyce, Ulysses (cont.)

Woolf, “Modern Fiction” in The Common Reader (cont.)


Joyce, Ulysses (cont.)

Woolf, “Modern Fiction” in The Common Reader (cont.)


Joyce, Ulysses (cont.)

Woolf, “Modern Fiction” in The Common Reader (cont.)


Joyce, Ulysses (cont.)

Woolf, “Modern Fiction” in The Common Reader (cont.)

14 Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way Preliminary draft due
15 Proust, Swann’s Way (cont.)  
16 Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse  
17 Woolf, To the Lighthouse (cont.)  
18 Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900  
19 Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900 (cont.)  
20 Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, and Thought (“Building Dwelling Thinking”)  
21 Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, and Thought (“The Thing”)  
22 Film Theory  
23 Lang, Fritz. M. (1931)  
24 Cocteau, Jean. Beauty and the Beast (1946)  
25 Fellini, Federico. 8½. (1963) Term paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2010
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples