EAS3252 - Poison, Filth, Trash: Modernism, Censorship and Resistance

2021/2 Module description

StaffProfessor Jana Funke - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

Modernist authors and filmmakers pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in terms of racial, sexual, gender, national and class politics as well as aesthetics. As a result, they had to confront the threat and reality of censorship. This module invites you to explore different forms of censorship, ranging from self-censorship and editorial interventions to postal seizures and government-imposed bans. You will learn about the reasons why certain texts were considered dangerous, obscene or immoral, engaging closely with ideologies of race, sexuality, gender, nation and class that underpin censorship. You will examine transnational networks of circulation and explore the different strategies authors and filmmakers developed to resist censorship. You will debate in what circumstances censorship can be productive or even necessary and explore the longer histories behind concepts like freedom of speech, age restrictions and content warnings that are still relevant today.

This module is suitable for all students. You will have the chance to read literary and filmic texts in tandem with other relevant historical sources and theoretical debates. 

Module aims

Through discussions, presentations and lectures, you will engage critically and creatively with modernist literature and film in order to:

  • discover different forms of censorship and learn how these have shaped the production and reception of modernist literature and film
  • investigate why certain texts were censored, asking what censorship reveals about historically and culturally specific concerns about race, sexuality, gender, nation and class
  • explore how modernist texts were affected by censorship, reading literature and film in tandem with legal, scientific and other historical sources
  • examine how modernist authors and filmmakers engage with themes related to censorship, such as repression, freedom of speech, power and corruption, in their work
  • debate under what circumstances censorship can be productive, necessary or even vital

Teaching is by two-hour weekly seminars (or similar), which will give you a chance to discuss the literary and filmic texts in-depth and explore relevant historical, critical and theoretical contexts. There will be additional one-hour lectures each week to offer further contextual information and film screenings. The assignments invite you to go beyond the set reading and viewing and explore additional authors, filmmakers, texts and themes based on your own interests.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed and critical understanding of the ways in which modernist culture was shaped by different forms of censorship
  • 2. Relate modernist literature and film to other relevant historical sources (e.g. legal or scientific) and to the socio-political contexts out of which they arose
  • 3. Analyse how modernist writers and filmmakers responded to the threat of censorship in their works
  • 4. Engage critically with ideologies of race, sexuality, gender, nation and class that underpin censorship

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Analyse literature and film and relate their concerns and modes of representation to different social, political, economic and historical contexts
  • 6. Demonstrate advanced skills in the close formal, thematic, generic, comparative and historical analysis of different kinds of fiction and film
  • 7. Research and evaluate relevant critical, historical and theoretical materials for the study of film and literature

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Through module participation, demonstrate advanced verbal communication skills as part of a group
  • 9. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographical skills, a capacity to construct a coherent and substantial argument, an ability to write clear and convincing prose and develop planning, organisational and problem-solving skills
  • 10. Through research for e.g. seminars and assignments, demonstrate advanced proficiency in identifying appropriate primary and secondary materials, information analysis and work on your own initiative

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that this module will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • “Moral Poison”: Influence, Corruption and Contagion
  • Hicklin and Comstock: Legal Frameworks of Censorship
  • Defining Pornography and Obscenity
  • Censorship and Racism
  • Patronage and Editorial Interventions as Censorship
  • Perversion for Profit: The Appeal of Subversion
  • Defending the Nation: Censorship during WWI
  • Queer and Feminist Experiments

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars (or similar)
Scheduled learning and teaching11Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching33Film screenings
Guided independent study103Presentation (individual)
Guided independent study131Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1352000 words1-7,9-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for follow-up conversation
Presentation1515 minutes1-8, 10Feedback sheet with opportunity for follow-up conversation
Essay 2503000 words1-7, 9-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for follow-up conversation

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1Essay (2000 words)1-7, 9-10Referral/deferral period
Presentation1500 words write-up of presenation1-7,10Referral/deferral period
Essay 2Essay (3000 words)1-7, 9-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary reading:

  • James Baldwin, Another Country (1962)
  • E.M. Forster, Maurice (1971)
  • Nella Larsen, Quicksand (1928)
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)


  • Borderline, dir. Kenneth Macpherson(1930)
  • Different from the Others, dir. Richard Oswald(1919)

Secondary reading:

  • Judith Butler, Excitable Speech (1997)
  • Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals (2019)
  • Allison Pease, Modernism, Mass Culture and the Aesthetics of Obscenity (2000)
  • Rachel Potter, Obscene Modernism: Literary Censorship and Experiment (2013)
  • Lisa Sigel, Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815-1914 (2002)
  • Whitney Strub, Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right (2010)

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Key words search

modernism; censorship; sexuality; gender; race; nation; class; queer; feminist

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