Transatlantic Modernism and the European Avant-Garde - CP609

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


The module will begin with the study of some of the major avant-garde movements (including Expressionism, Futurism, Imagism, Vorticism, Dada, and Surrealism) that sprang up in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Students will read a range of short manifestos and literary works by Tristan Tzara, Filippo Marinetti, T. E. Hulme, Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, André Breton, and others. Once both the diversity and the international nature of modernism have been considered, students will go on to look in depth at a series of major modernist writers from different national backgrounds, and to identify what these writers share, what distinguishes them from one another, and, in some cases, what sets them in violent opposition. The aim here will be to give students a sense of the plurality of modernisms and the conflicts that were internal to the movement. Although the focus will be on some of the most significant individual works of modernist literature (for instance, Proust's Swann’s Way, Kafka’s The Trial, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Eliot’s The Waste Land), shorter texts, both literary and critical/theoretical, will also constitute the recommended reading in preparation for seminars. Seminal essays by major commentators on the modernist movement such as Walter Benjamin, Georg Lukács, and Theodor Adorno will constitute part of the primary reading. The aim throughout will be to strike a balance between close reading and the consideration of the more general theoretical and political issues at stake in the modernist 'revolution of the word’. Students will also be encouraged to explore the ways in which modernism finds expression in the visual arts, particularly in Expressionism, Cubism, and Abstraction.


Contact hours

2 hours per week

Method of assessment

100% coursework

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Marcel Proust, Swann's Way
André Breton, Nadja
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Franz Kafka, The Trial

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will:

a) Have gained a systematic understanding of the cultural contexts out of which the European avant-garde emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries;
b) Be able to identify the reasons for, and the precise nature of, the avant-garde reaction against nineteenth-century realism;
c) Have high-level understanding of the specifically avant-garde and modernist treatment of a range of topics, including sexuality, identity, the unconscious, the primitive, and myth and history;
d) Be able to analyse the various formal characteristics of avant-garde and modernist texts, including interior monologue, allusion, fragmentation, impersonality, and the transgression of generic norms, and demonstrate sophisticated awareness of the importance of these characteristics in other literary contexts;
e) Have obtained a systematic and critical understanding of both older and current avant-garde and modernism scholarship as well as cogent appreciation of how particular critical approaches are shaped by particular socio-historical circumstances; they will also appreciate both the limitations, potentialities and complexities of these literary approaches.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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