Fall 2017 HC 421H: Aesthetics of Anxiety in the Modernist Moment

Fall Term, 2017-2018

Professor: Jeffrey Librett

4 credits

  • CRN 12799: Monday & Wednesday, 14:00 – 15:20 @ GSH 103

This course introduces students to the concept and phenomenon of anxiety – and to the "age of anxiety" – in three different discursive perspectives: phenomenological existentialism (Heidegger), psychoanalysis (Freud and Klein), and modernist fiction (Rainer Maria Rilke and Virginia Woolf). We compare and contrast the ways in which anxiety is presented and explored in these different types of text and discourse, and we try to understand why anxiety became such a prominent theme in the modernist period, while asking ourselves also about the status of anxiety as a cultural theme today.

The course provides in this way not only an introduction to anxiety as a particular theme (and to related themes such as temporality), but also to cultural modernism in general. It provides, further, a focused introduction to the advanced close reading of literary, philosophical, and psychoanalytic texts. While reading the texts closely, we will situate them in historical and political terms. And while attending to the thematic dimension of anxiety, we will examine the formal aspects of the texts involved (e.g. the stylistic gestures of Freud, Klein, and Heidegger, the narratological aspects of the novels by Rilke and Woolf). I will bring to the seminar intermittently images from the visual arts of the period, as well as small modernist musical pieces (from the Second Vienna School), to illustrate the appearance of anxiety in these realms as well.

Three papers and one take-home final exam will constitute the written requirements for the course. In class, I will privilege discussion (both small group and large group), which will be guided by study and discussion questions.