ENG 5006: Modernism and the Politics of Form (Summer 2021)

Course Information

Course Code: ENG5006HF
Class Times: Mondays and Wednesdays, 1–4pm
Class Location: Zoom

Instructor: Prof. Adam Hammond
Office Hours: Fridays  11-noon (see announcement on Quercus for instructions) or by appointment
Office Hours Location: Zoom (see Quercus announcement)
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, Jane Bowles, and Jean Toomer alongside modernist critics such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Erich Auerbach, and Walter Benjamin, we will assess the impact of particular styles in light of specific political intents and historical circumstances, paying particular attention to the possibility of a modernist “democratic aesthetic.” Reading modernism through the new formalist approaches, 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 editions are recommended, but any edition of these texts is fine, including online versions. Contact me if you’re not sure.

  • 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, Goodbye to Berlin (New Directions; ISBN 978-0811220248)
  • Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark (Penguin; ISBN 978-0141183954)
  • Wallace Thurman, ed., Fire!! (Fire Press; ISBN 978-0912607009 — online here)
  • Jean Toomer, Cane (Penguin; ISBN 978-0143133674)
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (Penguin; ISBN 978-0141183411)

All secondary readings (those indicated below by bullet points) are available on Quercus under “Files” –> “Readings.”

Course Schedule

Date Readings Assignment
May 3 Introduction

  • Jacques Rancière, “The Distribution of the Sensible: The Aesthetics of Politics”
  • Marjorie Levinson, “What Is New Formalism?”
  • Caroline Levine, Introduction, Forms 
May 5 Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, up to “Time Passes”

  • Erich Auerbach, “The Brown Stocking”
  • Mikhail Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel”
May 10 To the Lighthouse (to the end)

  • Woolf, “Poetry, Fiction, and the Future”
  • Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?”
May 12 Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

  • Storm Jameson, “[New] Documents”
  • Stephen Spender, “Writers and Manifestoes”
  • Andrei Zhdanov et al., two excerpts from Problems of Soviet Literature
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer”
Annotated Bibliography due
May 17 Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable

  • Ben Conisbee Baer, “Shit Writing: Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, the Image of Gandhi, and the Progressive Writers’ Association”
  • “Propaganda” from Modernism: Keywords
May 19 Wallace Thurman, ed., Fire!!

  • Martha Nadell, “Devoted to Younger Negro Artists,” from the Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, vol. 2
  • Adam Hammond, “From Modernism to moDernIYsm”
May 24 No class (holiday)
May 26 Jean Toomer, Cane
May 31 Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark
June 2 Henry Green, Living Research Essay Proposal due
June 7 Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
June 9 Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies
June 14 Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
June 21 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. Participation can take the form of verbal discussion in Zoom seminars, written contributions in the chat, or written responses on Quercus discussion forums (please post the latter the same day as the seminar).


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.