Modern Sappho: Poetry, Sexuality, and Theory
The ancient Greek poet Sappho, associated with the isle of Lesbos, comes to us only in fragments. We invent Sappho through stories, translation, and projection: and where we can’t bear the silence we fill in the blanks. Some of Sappho’s most dedicated inventors are early 20th-century writers, who found in the myth of Sappho new ways of forging art, new idioms for desire between women, and new forms adequate to the shocks of modernity. How can we understand Sappho’s meaning and legacy—for contemporary theory, poetics, sexuality, and erotics? What’s modern about Sappho?
In this course, we’ll consider the legacy of Sappho in a range of modernist cultural artifacts, including translations of Sappho, landmark entries in lesbian fiction, objects from visual culture, and an array of poems that draw on the idea of Sapphic “lyric.” We will ask: What uses did modernism have for the poetry and the myth of Sappho? What is a Sapphic poetics? How should we understand the figure of the modern lesbian, and what role does Sappho play in developing this form of identity? To what degree do theories of love between women take up or depart from Sapphic themes? Is there an aesthetics of Sappho? A politics? A hermeneutics? An erotics? How should we understand the modernist interest in reaching back to classical forms and altering them to suit a very different context? What does it mean to read or translate Sappho, now and then? Primary texts and critical supplements are likely to include Mary Barnard, Judith Butler, Anne Carson, Djuna Barnes, Diana Collecott, Longinus, Louise Brooks, H.D., Nella Larsen, Deborah E. McDowell, Marion Mills Miller, Supriya Nair, Yopie Prins, David M. Robinson, Bonnie Kime Scott, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 10 — July 01, 2021