Author, Reader, Field: 2021 edition


My first graduate course at Rutgers, way back in Spring 2013—innocent times, when the worst things we had to worry about were the death spiral of the profession of literary studies, rampant inequality, and climate crisis—was called “Author, Reader, Field: Literary Sociologies of Modernism and the Twentieth Century.” As that ungainly title suggests, it was a mash-up, trying to combine some kind of modernism survey with some kind of discussion of the sociology of literature, while also too-too-cleverly hinting that there is a special connection between modernism and the sociology of literature.

I’m at it again, repeating a graduate course for the first time in my career, and the more plainly titled “Author, Reader, Field” is not nearly as streamlined as the condensed title implies. Also it’s not in three parts. Here’s my draft syllabus, if you’re curious about that sort of thing. Since I recently taught a grad survey of U.S. early twentieth-century literature, this time I bracketed off the Western Hemisphere (more or less) and pinned the course to British literature instead.

But keeping things pretty insular (not totally insular) doesn’t resolve the problem of selection at all. I like literary-historical overviews, and I like theories and methodologies, and I think graduate students ought to have simultaneous doses of both, but even after fourteen years of teaching, the semester still seems too short for what I want to do. I’m less worried about the primary texts than I am about the scholarship. I spend a week on Ulysses with an utterly clear conscience. But I wanted a buffet table of “approaches,” and there’s far less on offer than I initially imagined. Since I am a structured structure functioning as a structuring structure, the spread is mostly Bourdieusian. Tuchman and Fortin stand almost alone for sobering Anglo-American empiricism—which isn’t so bad, but still.