The Contemporary - EN677

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
5 30 (15) MR JP Virtanen




Not available as wild



This module aims to introduce students to a wide range of contemporary literature written in English, where 'contemporary' is taken to refer to twenty-first century work. It will equip students with critical ideas and theoretical concepts that will help them to understand the literature of their own time. Students will consider examples of a range of genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and the essay. They will also be selectively introduced to key ideas in contemporary theory and philosophy. Over the course of the module, students will be encouraged to read texts in a number of contexts. They will consider writers’ responses to, for instance, questions of migration, environmental change, and financial crisis. They will also consider a range of aesthetic developments and departures, for example: new conceptualism and the claim to unoriginality; archival poetics; the turn to creative non-fiction; the re-emergence of the political essay. The module will not focus on a given national context. Instead it will set contemporary writing against the background of identifiably international issues and concerns. In so doing it will draw attention to non-national publishing strategies and audiences. Overall, the module will aim to show how writers are responding to the present period, how their work illuminates and reflects current cultural concerns. The weekly topics will often alternate between thematic and formal concerns.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Ten one-hour lectures and ten two-hour seminars.

Method of assessment

50% coursework: seminar performance (20%), 2 essays of 2,500 words each (40% each);
50% examination - 3-hour paper

Preliminary reading

Giorgio Agamben. 2009. 'What is the Contemporary?' in What is an Apparatus? Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Teju Cole. 2012. Open City. NY & London: Faber & Faber
Zoe Lambert. 2010, The War Tour. Manchester: Comma Press
Stephen Collis. 2014 The Commons. Vancouver: Talon Books
Arundhati Roy.2010., Listening to Grasshoppers. London: Penguin
Zadie Smith. 2013. NW. London: Penguin

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following subject specific learning outcomes:

• Demonstrate an informed understanding of twenty-first century literature across a number of genres and sub-genres.
• Demonstrate knowledge of some of the major literary, cultural and political issues that matter to contemporary writers.
• Demonstrate awareness of some developments in the critical understanding of literature in the contemporary period.
• Demonstrate a developing sense of the different forms of writing in this period and a growing capacity to analyse them critically.

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following generic learning outcomes:

• Application of the skills needed for academic study and inquiry
• Ability to synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding of texts and contexts; ability to synthesise material from a number of sources in a coherent creative whole
• The ability to frame oral criticism of diverse sources thoughtfully and incisively
• Develop powers of communication and the capacity to make a case, in spoken and written form, with clarity, organisation and conviction
• Enhance confidence in the presentation of ideas designed to stimulate critical debate
• Ability to understand, interrogate and pursue a variety of theoretical insights and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives

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