Slavic R5A, Section 2: Aesthetics and Modern Life: Art and Culture For/and/Against the Masses

TuTh 8-9:30, Dwinelle 183. Instructor: Zachary Hicks.

Units: 4

The rise of the masses as a historical, political and cultural actor remains one key area of focus in the study of modernism. A result of massive historical transitions—the loss of traditional value systems, the proliferation of media technologies like photography and film, industrialization and the movement of populations from rural to urban space—the rise of the masses drew a host of reactions from twentieth-century artists and intellectuals around the world, ranging from enthusiastic expressions of the possibility of a revolutionary transformation of society on the basis of mass liberation to deep concern about standardization, consumerism and the destruction of personal experience. This course will work within this broad problematic, seeking to engage with various ways in which artists and thinkers have reacted to and interpreted the changed conditions of modern life.

We will look at literary and critical texts, as well as films, that explicitly or implicitly are concerned with the masses and mass culture in order to think through some central questions: Does mass culture mean a lowering of aesthetic standards and taste? What roles do mass media like film and photography play in modern cultural life? What about literature? Should we let go of high culture in the face of the masses, or defend it against mass onslaught? What happens to the individual amidst all this massification?

 Required Texts:

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Trans. Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, ISBN 0374532338)

Vladimir Mayakovsky, Selected Poems (Northwestern World Classics, trans James H. McGraven, ISBN 0810129078)

Yuri Olesha, Envy (trans. Marian Schwartz, NYRB Classics, ISBN 1590170865)

John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 0618056815)

Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust (Penguin Classics, ISBN 0141182881)

Above texts must be purchased in hard copy and in these editions. All other readings will be provided in pdf form on bCourses.

Due to the high demand for R&C courses we monitor attendance very carefully. Attendance is mandatory the first two weeks of classes, this includes all enrolled and wait listed students. If you do not attend all classes the first two weeks you may be dropped. If you are attempting to add into this class during weeks 1 and 2 and did not attend the first day, you will be expected to attend all class meetings thereafter and, if space permits, you may be enrolled from the wait list.