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The University of Southampton

ENGL2093 Contemporary Fiction and Visual Culture

Module Overview

Technological developments in the twentieth century led to the emergence of a new visual mass culture; the expansion of the modern art system into a globalized market saw visual art arguably claim the cultural centrality once occupied by literature. How are contemporary writers engaging with these changes, and what can studying this engagement tell us about the state of fiction now? This module will explore the widespread engagement with visual art and culture in the contemporary novel in English. It will examine the ways in which this engagement informs central concerns of contemporary fiction, such as the legacy of modernism, reflections on history and memory, and transnationalism. By reflecting comparatively on encounters between fiction and art, and by studying works of contemporary art criticism and theory, this module will also introduce you to key topics in visual studies which will help inform your analysis of contemporary culture: the spectacle, the gaze, the medium, the museum, new materialism, the archive, relational aesthetics, and more.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• study interactions between contemporary fiction and visual art and culture • relate the work of contemporary writers to key topics in visual theory • connect the formal practices of contemporary writing to the concerns of contemporary cultural criticism • develop critical vocabularies for the evaluation of contemporary fiction

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • gain a knowledge of major figures in contemporary fiction
  • critically assess and evaluate visual theory
  • develop the distinct skills involved in analysing writing of your own time, such as conducting original biographical research, or engaging with literary criticism in the public sphere.
  • improve your essay-writing skills


The syllabus of this module will serve to introduce you to a diverse range of contemporary writers, and to cover selected topics in visual and aesthetic theory that will help you make sense of their engagement with visual art and culture. Each week your focus will alternate between a contemporary novel and a topic in visual theory. For example: a week reading David Foster Wallace’s short stories in Oblivion (2004) will be followed by learning about Guy Debord’s theory of the spectacle; Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World (2014) will be followed by the feminist art histories of Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock; or Teju Cole’s Every Day is For The Thief (2014) will be followed by Okwi Enwezor’s accounts of African photography. As you move back and forth between pairings of novels and visual theory, you will have the time to subject the novels to detailed close readings, and reflect on how their forms and concerns relate to visual art and culture. Lectures will introduce a writer or topic, and model approaches to their interpretation. In seminars, you will connect fiction and visual art through presentations, arguments, discussions, and close textual and visual analysis. Written assignments will enable you to further develop your skills of analysis and argument through consisting of one short essay comparing literature and visual material, and one long essay on a topic of your choice. The module will also incorporate a visit to the University’s John Hansard Gallery to visit and review a contemporary art exhibition such as British Art Show 8. While the module readings will vary from year to other, representative novels you might study on this course would include: Paul Auster, Leviathan (1992), W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (1996), Chris Kraus, I Love Dick (1997), Tom McCarthy, Remainder (2004), Nicola Barker, Clear: A Transparent Novel (2004), Don DeLillo, Point Omega (2010), Shelia Heti, How Should a Person Be (2010), Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), Ivan Vladislavic, Double Negative (2011).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • lectures • seminars • private consultation • feedback on written work Learning activities include: • reading texts and viewing visual art • production and delivery of presentations • seminar discussions • writing essays This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Preparation for scheduled sessions47
Completion of assessment task49
Wider reading or practice9
Follow-up work9
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Mitchum Huehls (2016). After Critique: Twenty-First-Century Fiction in a Neoliberal Age. 

Griselda Pollock (1988). Vision and Difference. 

Peter Boxall (2013). Twenty-First-Century Fiction: A Critical Introduction. 

Nicholas Mirzoeff ed (2002). The Visual Culture Reader. 

Clare Bishop (2012). Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. 

Hal Foster et al eds (2011). Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. 

David James (2012). Modernist Futures: Innovation and Inheritance in the Contemporary Novel. 

W. J. T. Mitchell (1986). Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. 

W. J. T. Mitchell (1994). Picture Theory. 

Alworth, David J (2016). Site Reading: Fiction, Art, and Social Form. 

Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, eds (2002). Art in Theory 1900-2000. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 35%
Essay  (2500 words) 65%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Total costs associated with the module for the purchase of books will not exceed £90

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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