Cityscapes of Modernism

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
08 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module combines the study of literature, film, and art to give students a thorough and creative insight into the aesthetic practices and cultural contexts of international modernism.

The modernist arts were vitally shaped by the experience of metropolitan life. In this module we will try to map modernism by revisiting its urban space. As we shall see, modernist works of art did not only describe the pertinent place(s), but also took the form of imaginatively structured urban-space narratives: they spoke in an urban voice, innovatively representing the acceleration of time and the kaleidoscopic vistas of city-dwellers, as well as their modernist emotions and thoughts. Our readings and discussions will be structured around the following three cultural capitals of modernism, settings of vibrant artistic and political activities: Paris, Berlin, and New York. To recreate and explore the cultural and historical space of each city, we shall be watching fiction films and documentaries, reading literary texts, look at paintings and photographs, and consult city maps of the period relevant to each city. Our discussions will be complemented by the reading of pertinent theoretical texts.

Module Supervisor's Research into Subject Area
Professor Littau is a distinguished scholar of technological modernity and its effects on aesthetics, literature, and cinema, who has published widely on the topics studied on this module.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

1. To give students an overview and critical understanding of aesthetic practices and cultural contexts of international modernism
2. To give students the opportunity to analyse in depth, a range of cultural texts in the contexts of the major cosmopolitan cities from which they originate or which they address

Module learning outcomes

At the end of this module, students will have:

1) been introduced to, and given the opportunity to analyse in depth, a range of cultural texts in the contexts of the major cosmopolitan cities from which they originate or which they address;
2) developed a sophisticated understanding of the following key categories and concepts: modernity, modernism, the avant-garde, dada, surrealism, post-modernism, flâneur, dérive, montage, mechanical reproduction, city-symphony, Weimar cinema, “American Dream”.

Module information


PRIMARY WORKS students should purchase
Auster, Paul, City of Glass, in The New York Trilogy (London: Faber and Faber: 1992)
Brecht, Bertolt, The Threepenny Opera, trans. Ralph Manheim and John Willet (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
Dos Passos, John, Manhattan Transfer [1925] (London: Penguin, 1987)

PRIMARY SHORT TEXTS downloadable from Talis
Apollinaire, Guillaume, 'Zone', in Alcools, trans. Donald Revell (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1995), pp. 3-11
Baudelaire, Charles, 'To a Woman Passing by', in The Flowers of Evil, trans. James McGowan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 189
Benn, Gottfried, 'Express Train'
Calle, Sophie, 'The Shadow' and 'Twenty Years later', in Sophie Calle: M'as-tu vue (Munich: Prestel, 2003), pp. 101-112, 113-124
Calle, Sophie, Suite vénitienne. Jean Baudrillard. Please Follow me, trans. Dany Barash and Danny Hatfield (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988)
Hoffmann, E.T.A., 'My Cousin's Corner Window [1822]', trans. Ritchie Robertson, in The Golden Pot and other Tales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 377-401
Poe, Edgar Allan, 'The Man of the Crowd [1845]', The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982), pp. 475-481
Van Hoddis, Jakob, 'The Cinematograph', in The Total Artwork in Expressionism: Art, Film, Literature, Theatre, Dance and Architecture (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011), p. 46

FILMS screened in LTB10
Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, dir. Walther Ruttmann (Germany, 1927)
Cabaret, dir. Bob Fosse (US, 1972)
Crazy Ray [Paris qui dort], dir. René Clair (France, 1923/4)
Man with a Movie Camera, dir. Dziga Vertov (Soviet Union, 1929)
Modern Times, dir. Charlie Chaplin (US, 1936)
Wings of Desire [Sky over Berlin], dir. Wim Wenders (Germany, 1987)

FILM to watch on Vimeo/YouTube before class
Ballet Mécanique, dir. Fernand Léger (France, 1924)
The Lumière Brothers' First Films (France, 1895-1897)
Manhatta, dir. Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler (US, 1921)

PRIMARY CRITICAL ESSAYS downloadable from Talis
Baudelaire, Charles, 'The Painter of Modern Life' (Sections III. An Artist, Man of The World, Man of Crowds, and Child; IV. Modernity; IX. The Dandy), in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Press, 2006)
Benjamin, Walter, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (First Version)', trans. Michael W. Jennings, Grey Room 39 (2010), 11-38
Benjamin, Walter, 'The Flaneur', Charles Baudelaire. A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism (London: Verso, 1997), pp. 35-66
Breton, André, 'The First Manifesto of Surrealism', in Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969)
Debord, Guy, 'Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography', 'Theory of the Dérive' and 'Definitions', in Situationist International Anthology. Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. Ken Knabb (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006)
Simmel, Georg, 'The Metropolis and Mental Life', in Simmel on Culture. Selected Writings, ed. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone (London: Sage, 1997), pp. 174-185
Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, 'Railroad Space and Railroad Time', The Railway Journey. The Industrialisation of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1986), pp. 33-44
Wenders, Wim, 'An attempted Description of an indescribable Film. From the first treatment of Wings of Desire', in The Logic of Images. Essays and Conversations (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp. 73-83

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: Weekly 2-hour lectorials (a combination of lecture, interactive seminar discussions, and self-directed workshop). Films are available on BoB (box of broadcasts) via Talis so that you can watch them in your own time.


This module does not appear to have any essential texts. To see non-essential items, please refer to the module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Participation marks    5% 
Coursework   Essay (3,000 words)    95% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Karin Littau, email:
Professor Karin Littau
LiFTS General Office, email Tel. 01206 872626



External examiner

Prof Duncan James Salkeld
University of Chichester
Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature
Available via Moodle
Of 50 hours, 20 (40%) hours available to students:
30 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.