Skip to main content Skip to navigation

EN928 Poetics of Urban Modernism


The module aims to evaluate and reassess one of the key categories - urban space - through which the concept of 'modernism' has been constructed. Modernist depictions of urban space highlight the shock of modernity and explore the challenges of advanced industrial and capitalist experiences. We will investigate the links between late 19th-century transformations of the metropolitan environment and modernist innovation. Issues to be explored include spectatorship and visuality; the impact of new technologies (especially cinema) and of commodity culture more generally on the narrative logics of modernist texts; the dialogue between modernist urbanism and the global spaces of empire; and the inscription of the modernist project within a global perspective. We will draw on the work of Walter Benjamin, and other key theorists of urban modernity past and present. Literary authors discussed will include Charles Baudelaire, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Ivan Vladislavic.


Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil, trans. James McGowan (OUP World's Classics, 1993)

Walter Benjamin, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire, trans. Howard Eiland et al. Harvard UP, 2006

Conrad, Joseph. The Secret Agent (World's Classics)

Eliot, T.S. Collected Poems (Faber)

James Joyce, Chapter 10, ‘Wandering Rocks’, in Ulysses, ed. Declan Kiberd. Annotated Students' Edition if possible (Penguin, 1992).

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (World's Classics)

Jean Rhys, Good Morning Midnight (Penguin, 1969)

Ivan Vladislavic, Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked (Portobello Books, 2006).

Selected Background Reading

Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, (Verso, 1983)
Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, (MIT Press, 1989)
Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (Picador, 1996)
Graeme Gilloch, Myth and Metropolis (Polity, 1995)
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Verso, 1993)
David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Blackwell, 1989)
Michael C Jay and Ann Chalmers Watts, eds., Literature and the Urban Experience: Essays on the City (Rutgers University Press, 1981)
Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (Macmillan, 1990)
Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde (Verso, 1995)
Edward Timms and David Kelley, eds., Unreal City: Urban Experience in Modern European Literature and Art (Manchester University Press, 1985)
Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism, (Verso, 1989)