English 539A: Modernism, Mass Bodies, and Crowd Politics

Instructor: Judith Paltin
Section: 001

Term: 1
Meets: Tuesdays 9:30am-12:30pm

From the late nineteenth century until after the two world wars the crowd appears as a peculiar obsession in sociology, psychology, economics, political science, and in popular and intellectual news-streams. In this period, “mass psychology” became a recognized disciplinary field of both research and speculation, and the site of social, political and commercial engineering projects. It was argued that the political strategies of the future would center on the persuasion and control of crowds, and that new technologies of doing so were already taking shape. Popular and scientific anxieties and fantasies collected around theories of crowd dynamics. Virtually irresistible group forces were described as producing the mob’s powerful appetite for violence, its subservient and/or rebellious behavior, the crowd-altered individual’s alleged primitivism, femininity or infantilism, evasion of social and moral debts, disavowal of respect for property rights and detachment from institutions. Now crowds are in the headlines once again, from Egypt and India to the Ukraine and Venezuela. The energy underlying these phenomena arguably comes directly from the modernist period. It seems an appropriate moment to rethink the crowd and some of the standard stories about its genealogy, when global migrations, digital crowd-sourcing, and crowd movements such as Occupy are receiving wide attention.

ENGL 539A Judith Paltin

This seminar course explores fictional, scientific and theoretical variations on the historical and narrated worlds of the collectivity, its marginalized and its revolutionists. We will examine case studies of paradigmatic figures in modernist fiction, and collective forms of identity, those through which the “core of the self” extends outward, acquiring new repertoires of experience. We will explore theories of agency, and phenomena such as group aggression and utopianism, the sophisticated judgments of crowds, populisms and authoritarianisms, bare life and biopolitics. We will draw on the literary as an archive for this genealogy, as an underused resource in crowd studies, and the modernist archive in particular, as a moment that serves as a hinge from the nineteenth-century citizen-crowd to the contemporary multitude as described in postcolonial and biopolitical theories. As we proceed, we will build a theory of the performativity of the crowd.

Tentative Reading Schedule (subject to change):

Week 1 – Introduction, “The Age of the Crowd,” 1914/2014
Raymond Williams, Keywords, “Collective,” “Common,” “Democracy,” “Masses,” “Popular,” “Society”

Week 2 – Crowd Anxieties
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man of the Crowd”
From Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
Excerpts from early crowd “science”: McKay, Taine, Lambroso, Tarde, et al
John Plotz, “The Return of the Blob: Or How Sociology Decided to Stop Worrying and Love the

Week 3 – Crowd Aesthetics
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
Sigfried Kracauer, “The Mass Ornament”
Andrew Uroskie, “Far Above the Madding Crowd.”
From Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power
Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies

Week 4 – The Mass Body
Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room
From Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”
From Wilfred Bion, Experiences in Groups

Week 5 – Crowds and Affect
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, Four Quartets
Georg Simmel, “Metropolis and Mental Life”
From Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect
Sören Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety

Week 6 – Mass Intoxication and Demagoguery
James Joyce, “Cyclops”
From Modris Ecksteins, Rites of Spring
From Serge Moscovici, The Age of the Crowd: A Historical Treatise on Mass Psychology
From Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Week 7 – Performances of Identity
Virginia Woolf, Orlando
From Anthony Elliott, Concepts of the Self
From Jacques Ranciére, Hatred of Democracy

Week 8 – Authority, Discipline and Deviance
King Vidor, “The Crowd” (1928)
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence”
From Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law”
Giorgio Agamben, “The State of Exception as a Paradigm of Government”

Week 9 – Bare Life
Joseph Conrad, The Shadow-Line
Theodor Adorno, “Notes on Kafka”
From Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer
From Nikolas Rose, The Politics of Life Itself
Roberto Esposito, “The Enigma of Biopolitics”

Week 10 – The Crowd and the Urban Cityscape
Sean O’Casey, Juno and the Paycock
M.M. Bakhtin, “The Dialogic Imagination”
From Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Week 11 – The Crowded Mind
James Joyce, selection from Finnegans Wake
From Sheldon Brivic, Joyce the Creator
From Laclau, Ernesto, On Populist Reason

Week 12 – Crowd Style and the Virtuosic Multitude
From Hardt and Negri, Multitude
From Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multitude, Radical Thought in Italy
From Judith Butler, Precarious Life

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