ENG 5006: Modernism and the Politics of Form

Course Information

Course Code: ENG5006HF
Class Times: Thursdays, 2–4pm (with exception of rescheduled class on October 16th)
Class Location: JHB 718

Instructor: Prof. Adam Hammond
Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30–11:30am
Office Hours Location: JHB 624
Email: adam.hammond@utoronto.ca

Course Overview

In recent years, critics working under the loose banner of “new formalism” have brought renewed attention to the social uses of literary form. Pushing back against conceptions of formalist criticism as ahistorical, totalizing, and tending to ideological mystification, these critics adopt a historical approach to form, showing how styles and genres emerge out of political contexts and in turn shape possibilities for thought, expression, and action in a given historical moment. This course tests the claims of new formalism through an investigation of modernism, among the most formally inventive and formally self-conscious of literary periods. Reading modernist writers like Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Jane Bowles, and Christopher Isherwood alongside modernist critics such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Erich Auerbach, and representatives of Russian Formalism, the Frankfurt School, and Socialist Realism, we will assess the impact of particular styles in light of specific political intents and historical circumstances. Reading modernism through the new formalist approaches of contemporary critics like Caroline Levine, we will ask how much in new formalism is truly “new,” and how much a return to the concerns of modernists.

Course Materials

The following required texts are available from the Bob Miller Book Room:

  • Theodor Adorno et al., Aesthetics and Politics (Verso; ISBN 978-1844675708)
  • Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (Penguin; ISBN 978-0141393605)
  • Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (New Directions; ISBN 978-0811216715)
  • Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies (Ecco; ISBN 978-0062283122)
  • Henry Green, Living (NYRB Classics; ISBN 978-1681370682)
  • Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (Scribner; ISBN 978-0684822761)
  • Christopher Isherwood, Berlin Stories (New Directions; ISBN 978-0811218047)
  • Jean Toomer, Cane (Penguin; ISBN 978-0143133674)
  • Virginia Woolf, The Waves (Oxford; ISBN 978-0199642922)

Additional readings will be posted on Quercus (these are indicated in the Course Schedule by “Q”). All readings on the Course Schedule are mandatory except those marked “optional.”

Course Schedule

Date Readings Assignment
September 6 Introduction

Marjorie Levinson, “What Is New Formalism?”; Caroline Levine, Introduction, Forms (Q)

kw: “Form, Formalism” (optional)

September 13 Virgina Woolf, The Waves, pp. 1–85 (up to the italicized section beginning “The sun had risen to its full height”)

Woolf, “Poetry, Fiction, and the Future” and “How Should One Read a Book?” (Q)

September 20 Virginia Woolf, The Waves, pp. 86–end.

Mikhail Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel”; Erich Auerbach, “The Brown Stocking” (Q)

September 27 Aesthetics and Politics (Jameson’s afterword is optional)

kws: “Reality, Realism” and “Difficulty, Obscurity” (optional)

Annotated Bibliography due
October 4 Jean Toomer, Cane

James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (Q)

kws: “Race,” “Negro, New Negro,” “Rhythm” (optional)

October 11 Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time

Wyndham Lewis, “The Dumb Ox” (Q)

Gertrude Stein, Composition as Explanation (Q)


Tuesday, October 16th, 9:45–11:45am, JHB 616.

W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, The Dog Beneath the Skin (the notes are mostly to skim, but read the alternate endings, sections 5 and 6).

Andrei Zhdanov et al., two excerpts from Problems of Soviet Literature (Q)

T. S. Eliot, “The Possibility of a Poetic Drama” and “Marie Lloyd”  (both optional; Q)

October 25 Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

Storm Jameson, “[New] Documents” (Q)

November 1 Henry Green, Living Research Essay Proposal due
November 8 No class (Reading Week)
November 15 Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable
November 22 Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

Joseph Frank, “Spatial Form in Literature, Part II” (optional; Q)

November 29 Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies
December 10 Research Essay due

Marking Scheme

  • Annotated Bibliography (10%)
  • Seminar Presentation and Position Paper (25%)
  • Research Essay Proposal (5%)
  • Research Essay (40%)
  • Participation (20%)


Active participation is necessary. Students are expected to contribute regularly and constructively to class discussion.


Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or Accessibility Services at (416) 978 8060; accessibility.utoronto.ca.


The University of Toronto treats cases of academic misconduct very seriously. Academic integrity is a fundamental value of learning and scholarship at the UofT. Participating honestly, respectfully, responsibly, and fairly in this academic community ensures that your UofT degree is valued and respected as a true signifier of your individual academic achievement.

The University of Toronto’s Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters outlines the behaviours that constitute academic misconduct, the processes for addressing academic offences, and the penalties that may be imposed. You are expected to be familiar with the contents of this document. Potential offences include, but are not limited to the following.

In papers and assignments:

  • Using someone else’s ideas or words without appropriate acknowledgement
  • Submitting your own work in more than one course without the permission of the instructor
  • Making up sources or facts. Obtaining or providing unauthorized assistance on any assignment (this includes working in groups on assignments that are supposed to be individual work)

On tests and exams:

  • Using or possessing any unauthorized aid, including a cell phone
  • Looking at someone else’s answers
  • Letting someone else look at your answers
  • Misrepresenting your identity
  • Submitting an altered test for re-grading


  • Falsifying or altering any documentation required by the University, including (but not limited to) doctor’s notes
  • Falsifying institutional documents or grades

All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will be investigated following the procedures outlined in the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. If you have any questions about what is or is not permitted in this course, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you have questions about appropriate research and citation methods, you are expected to seek out additional information from me or other available campus resources like the College Writing Centres, the Academic Success Centre, or the U of T Writing Website.

Communication Policy

My preferred method of contact is via e-mail. I will respond to e-mails within 24 hours, though I generally will not respond to e-mails sent on weekends until the following Monday.

Additional Notes

This syllabus is subject to change. Because of this, you are encouraged to consult this web page throughout the year, rather than printing it off.
Your remaining in this class constitutes acceptance of the conditions outlined in this syllabus.
Please be aware that we will discuss sensitive issues in the course, related to topics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and politics.