From the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, artists and writers engaged in rich, multi-layered and often contradictory positions in relation to the rise of mass culture. In this seminar, we will look at mass culture as a multi-dimensional sphere in which objects, papers, spaces and screens displayed the growing array of ideas and images that were produced, purchased, and exchanged. Rather than think hierarchically about the divisions between producers/consumers, factory/salon, élite/masse, we will try to push into the contact/clash zones that brought the struggles around economic modernity into dialogue with the spectacles, pleasures, and fantasies of mass culture. Although the political dimension of mass culture (especially as it relates to techniques of display and distribution) is important to the work we will be doing over the semester, the purpose of this seminar will be to focus on commerce itself as a category in the work of avant-garde writers, artists, and film makers. We will be working across an international bibliography of theoretical texts and examples of artists and writers who either participated directly in the creation of mass cultural artifacts or were avid consumers/commentators of them.
Students should contact Professor Mendelson with questions in advance of enrolling in the seminar. Students will be expected to take on a heavy load of reading and research and produce, by the end of the semester a finished piece of written scholarship, which may be a state-of-the field paper and bibliography or an original piece of writing based on archival/museum research. For those students in MFA programs, who are interested in enrolling, they are welcome but should think ahead about the kind of project they will need to complete by the end of the term.
Incompletes will not be granted, except in the case of a medial or family emergency.