In the immediate aftermath of WWI, Europe found itself dramatically reshaped. In the place of the now-dead Dual Monarchy were six new nation states set between borders haphazardly drawn by victors of the war in order to smite the losers. An economic crisis swept the continent, leaving millions starving and rendering the German Mark nearly worthless. In the east, the Soviet Union emerged from the Revolution of 1917 to become the largest nation on earth. Amid all of this a set of striking new artistic idioms began to emerge. In nearly every medium, the tradition of 19th Century romanticism gave way to new expressions of grief and anomie and a brief but thrilling optimism. Within twenty years, all of this would be gone. Many of the debates around art and culture in this inter-war period mirror the conversations artists are having now about the purpose and future of the novel, the veracity and utility of literary realism, and whether or not the social worth of art can ever faithfully represent the horror of war. Students in this class will emerge with a portrait of Europe before before the cataclysm of the second World War and will trace how the aesthetic conversations then affect our own ideas of beauty and art. We will read Joseph Roth’s dispatches from Eastern Europe, short pieces by Fernando Pessoa, Stefan Zweig, Bruno Schultz, and Isaac Babel, Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, diary entries from Franz Kafka, philosophical critique by Hannah Arendt, and poetry by Anna Akhmatova and Nelly Sachs. Readings will be paired with music of the time, by Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Kurt Weil, and more.
Corequisites: Students are required to be in attendance at all Literature evenings and Poetry at Bennington events (most Wednesday evenings at 7:00pm).