MSA Modernist Studies Association 6th Annual Conference

Seminar Topics :

Please Note: Seminar Registration is now closed. If you would like to attend a seminar, please contact the seminar leader at MSA8 and request permission to audit the seminar.

• Click on the titles below to read full descriptions •
• Instructions for joining a seminar are available on our Registration Page
• Deadline for seminar registration is July 15, 2006 (after this date, permission to join required).

Leading a Seminar (Information for Seminar Leaders)

About Seminars:
Seminars are one the most significant features of the MSA conference. Participants write brief "position papers" (5-7 pages) that are read and circulated prior to the conference. With no more than 15 participants, seminars generate lively exchange and sometimes produce networks of scholars who continue to work together beyond the conference. The format also allows most conference attendees to seek financial support from their institutions as they educate themselves and their colleagues on subjects of mutual interest. Seminars are two hours in length.

Expanding the Search for Creative Memory

Leader: Ben Alexander

2. Treason
Leader: Erin Carlston

Beyond Plural Modernisms, What?

Leaders: Michael Coyle &
Debra Rae Cohen

4. Women and Periodical Culture

Leaders: Barbara Green &
Mary Chapman

5. Modernisms and the State
Leaders: Matt Hart &
Jim Hansen

6. Modernism and the Book Trade

Leader: Huw Osborne

7. Occult Modernisms
Leader: Demetres

10. T.S. Eliot Archive
Leader: Frances Dickey

11. Hysteria, Trauma, and the Role of the Double in Modernism

Leaders: Nancy Gish &
Michael Cotsell

12. New Light on Women Modernists
Leader: Tutta Palin

Modernism and the Utopian, Revisited

Leader: Douglas Mao
14. New Approaches to the New Criticism

Leader: John Donald Kerkering
15. Modernism and Narrative in Literature and Art
Leader: Stephen Kern
16. Modernism and Celebrity
Leaders: Jonathan E. Goldman & Aaron Jaffe
20. Modernism, Pulp, Noir
Leader: Lisa Fluet

Manuscript: Expanding the Search for Creative Memory

History is both mediated and fragmentary.  While a creative manuscript may offer a privileged opportunity to trace the gestation of a text, archives constitute a more general and fragmented embodiment of creative and cultural memory.  As modernism continues its gradual fade into history, the challenge to contemporary scholars to locate new points of entry into modernism’s creative record has increased.
The purpose of this seminar is to identify peripheral insights into modernism’s material record (ranging from institutional records, to personal papers, to oral history) and to consider strategies for their scholarly alignment and configuration.  We will then introduce to our discussion archival tools (including finding aids and survey files) in order to identify and locate new intersections between popular understandings of what constitutes modernism’s material record, and evidences that are sure to reveal latent pressures within that record.
Such methodological discussion lends naturally to more theoretical concerns.  Questions to be raised may include: Can poignant evidences reside within material absences and historical silences?  Are all forms of forgetting, that is, losing material evidence, inherently damaging to later historical constructions?  What does information migration mean to the process of creative evaluation?


The execution of Roger Casement. Ezra Pound’s radio broadcasts. The Rosenberg trial. Ann Coulter’s diatribes against American liberals. The concept of “treason” has continued to resonate in the 20th century even as the notions of the nation-state and national allegiance on which the term would seem to depend have been subjected to violent rearrangements. How have modernist artists and writers imagined political and national allegiances, and what it has meant to betray them? Have changing understandings of treason conditioned the possibilities of art? Is there a relation between the figures of the artist and the traitor? Papers drawing historical and cross-national comparisons especially welcome.

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Beyond Plural Modernisms, What?

Seven years on from the MSA’s inaugural “rebranding” of an old and embattled Modernism as “the New Modernisms,” it seems time to take stock. To what extent has the reclamation of the term Modernism for a new inclusivity, born of the recognition of a plurality of Modernist aesthetics and purposes, served its purpose? At what point does ever-expanding plurality render useless the governing concept, or perhaps just the general descriptor? Does the recent boomlet of new taxonomies – Late Modernism, Intermodernism, Marginal Modernism – mark a implied nostalgia for a central, uber-Modernism, a discomfort with the plural, or a new revitalization of our plural “brand”?
We invite position papers that explore – either macro- or microcosmically – these issues, with an eye to the overwhelming question, “what’s next”?

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Women and Periodical Culture

This proposed seminar continues a conversation begun at MSA 7 during a panel devoted to "Modernism beyond the Little Magazines." At MSA 8, we intend to focus our attention on women's involvement in periodical culture. Separate studies of women's magazines, feminist periodicals, and women's engagement with little magazines and newspapers have begun to map aspects of the field, but since these studies have come from a variety of disciplines (literary studies, media studies or communications, history) and address various national contexts, the central questions that organize this new subfield have not yet emerged. This seminar will bring together scholars from various disciplines engaged in examinations of women's involvement as editors, writers, publishers, etc.--in the periodical cultures of modernity including women's magazines, little magazines, advocacy journals, feminist periodicals, newspapers, and "slicks." By exploring various "archives" of periodical culture in a conversation that is comparative in nature, we hope to highlight some of the central opportunities and hurdles connected with this emerging area of study.

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Modernisms and the State

This seminar proposal follows on from a panel we co-organized for last year's MSA 7 conference in Chicago: "Zones of Exception: Modernism and Sovereignty."  That panel, which featured three excellent papers on subjects as diverse as the limits of transgression as a model for political community, the history of the sovereign author, and the ethics of "damaged life," was well attended and generated much lively discussion.  Moreover, the CFP attracted over 30 abstracts that we could not accept for the panel, many of which seemed rather promising.  For these reasons, we would like in 2006 to expand the conversation into seminar format, widening our focus beyond the theorization of sovereignty offered by Giorgio Agamben in order to investigate the relation between modernisms and the state in a variety of settings, historical and theoretical.

Seminar Description
Much has been written in the last two decades about the formative role of the nation in the history of cultural modernity.  But has our focus on national imaginaries and national cultures obscured the mediating function of the state? What would it mean to theorize modernism from the perspective of the security state or welfare state?  How can modernity and the modernist text be read via questions of policy, legitimation, and sovereign power?
Topics for discussion might include, but need not be limited to:

Modernist States of Emergency (e.g., the Defence of the Realm Act; Martial Law in Ireland; the Spanish Civil War)
The State and Empire
Thinking Beyond "the Other"
The Limits of Hegemony as a Cultural-Political Theory
The Need for Hegemony as a Corrective to Theories of Sovereign Power
State/National/Transnational Relations
Welfare State Modernisms
Modernism, the State, and Social Reform
The State, Citizenship, and Ex-Patriate Identities

We are eager to read abstracts that are literary, theoretical, or historical in focus.  In keeping with the theme of MSA 8, we are especially interested in projects that reflect archival labor.  Depending on the response to this proposal, we will consider selecting several papers for publication as an edited collection on the intersection between modernist cultures and recent political theory.


CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Modernism and the Book Trade

The story of modernism is also the story of the book trade.  We often forget that before authors mean anything, they must first to be published, printed and disseminated through the mechanisms of the literary market.  This is especially true for modern authors who, despite recent interventions challenging “The Great Divide,” are still too often read in opposition to the market upon which they depend.  This seminar proposes to situate modern literature within some of the networks of literary production and circulation.  It calls for a discussion of the book trade in all of its manifestations, including small printers, publishing houses, booksellers, distributors, reviewers, publisher’s readers, editors, and agents.  We are concerned not only with established vehicles of modernism, like The Critereon or the Hogarth Press, nor only with the canonical figures of modernism, but also with neglected smaller printers and publishers, marginal experiences of authorship, popular publication, or any story that is “off the radar” of contemporary modernist studies.  This seminar poses questions that are necessarily located in the archive, where the submerged record of
modernism meets the official record.


CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Occult Modernisms

This seminar will consider the relationship between Occultism and Modernism and explore manifestations of the occult in modernist poetry. One possibility is to examine H.D.’s spiritualist activities during WWII as they issue forth in her practice (in a work like Trilogy but also in published and unpublished works such as The Gift, Majic Ring, and The Sword Went Out to Sea (1947))--of mixing mythological and occult archetypes,
tossing them into her alchemical / etymological crucible, melting, fusing, and altering them to produce her own idiosyncratic amalgam. This seminar, then, invites responses to H.D.’s and other modernist poets’ occult affinities and posits the question of how occult discourses of the unorthodox interact with other elements in the work of modernist poets.


Latin America and the Modernist Imaginary

Asturias in Paris. Hughes in Havana. Galvão in Moscow. Cendrars in Rio. In the struggle to create original, subversive, and subjective vaguardist literature, how did Latin American artists reconcile autochthonous representations—whether linguistic, phenotypical, sociocultural, or otherwise—with European-influenced desire for the exotic Other? What did European and North American modernists seek in Latin America, and what did they actually find? Participation in this seminar will involve discussion and analysis of early twentieth-century artistic ideals such as simultaneity, cosmopolitanism, and primitivism as they applied specifically to trans-Atlantic and trans-American intersections and interstices.

Publication After Long Silence: Implications of Posthumous Publication

What are the problems and potential of works taken "out of the archives" and published posthumously? Many modernist works have been published after an author's death for a variety of reasons.  Because of Wilfred Owen's premature death, only four war poems were published in his lifetime.  In our drive to unearth neglected works and authors, posthumous publication seems particularly frequent for authors whose lack of authority or access to normal publication mechanisms prevented them from publishing in their lifetimes. Fragments of works by prominent authors (James Joyce's Stephen Hero, Rebecca West's Sunflower) are often published in order to "complete" our sense of their works--even though these authors chose not to publish or finish these works in their lifetime.   Fiction by prominent poets or poetry by popular novelists often see the light only after the authors' deaths ( H.D.'s Astrophel).  What are the aesthetic, cultural, economic, or political implications of posthumous publication?


This year is the tenth anniversary of the publication of  Inventions of the
March Hare
.  In this seminar we will explore the impact of these new poems
on our understanding of Eliot and modernism generally.  We also seek papers
on other discoveries from the Eliot archive, as well as reflections on the
challenges raised by working with the various Eliot collections (Harvard,
New York Public Library, Cambridge, etc.). We will assess the importance of
March Hare but also exchange ideas and suggestions about exploring this
archive in the future.

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Hysteria, Trauma, and the Role of the Double in Modernism

In the iconography of the Salpêtriére; in the doubles of Dostoyevsky, Baudelaire, and Stevenson; in Eliot's and Woolf's representations of post-War trauma; in twentieth-century theater, hysteria is central to modernism. While hysteria is generally understood through psychoanalysis, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century psychology offered alternative models.  Archival studies of then-current psychology and forms of representation reveal new ways of understanding modernist culture.  This seminar will consider interdisciplinary treatments of trauma, doubling, and fragmented consciousness--what Eliot called, in Laforgue, "dédoublement of the personality against which the subject struggles."

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Modernism and the Utopian, Revisited

At MSA 3, I led a seminar on modernism and the utopian. I believe that now, five years later, this rich topic deserves another run. Once again, the seminar will ask how modernist writers imagined – or resisted imagining – healthier environments, perfected societies, more equitable social orders, brave new worlds. Once again, papers locating utopian yearnings in unlikely places will be welcome, as will treatments of herlands, notional countries, and impossible futures in dialogue with the artistic or political real. Also sought, this time around, will be work on modernist inflections in theorists and critics of utopia from Fourier to Le Corbusier, from Mannheim to Benjamin, from Arendt to Berlin and Jameson. And although modernism will be the resolute focus of our inquiry, participants will also be asked if they want to reflect on the meanings of utopia at the present time, when the most massive effort at social reorganization in recent memory has been sponsored not by a radical left but by American neoconservatives.

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

New Approaches to the New Criticism

In keeping with the MSA 8 conference theme, "Out of the Archive," this seminar returns to key texts of the New Criticism.  While successors to New Criticism dismissed it along with the often reactionary politics of its proponents, a return to this archive promises to recontextualize the New Criticsm within modernist debates over aesthetics, culture, and politics, debates that*once excavated from the New Critical archive*reveal neglected genealogies of contemporary scholarly concerns.  Possible topics include corporeality and New Critical anthropomorphism; regionalism, modernist anthropology, and the New Criticism; the politics of poetic form; New Criticism and the "aesthetic turn"; New Criticism and the New Historicism; Ecocriticism and New Criticism.


CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Modernism and Narrative in Literature and Art

Suggested topics: In modernism, as compared with realism, are there historically distinctive narrative techniques such as unreliable narrators, “weak” plots, impressionism, stream of consciousness, interiorization of action, and unresolved endings? Consider the modernist subversion and reworking of substantive personal, courtship, family, national, imperial, and religious narratives. Are formal and substantive innovations related? How? Might Lyotard’s definition of postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives” also apply to the modernist period? Discuss the decline of narrative in visual art and might it be related to the weakening of plot in the novel? How does abstraction impact narrative art or possibly even literature?

CLOSED--Please do not select this as a seminar choice on your registration form

Modernism and Celebrity

Recent work in modernist studies has substantially illuminated the problem Huyssen identified as "the great divide." Celebrity has remained under-theorized in this connection, because, in part, it bears on aspects of authorship, authorial self-fashioning, and cultural authority that tend to be serial blind-spots of modernist studies. We propose a seminar seeking to understand the interaction of these two key words, exploring interstitial forms of celebrity and modernist affect, identity, commodification, value effects, personality, charisma, theatricality. We specifically seek papers that view modernist aesthetics alongside the dynamisms of celebrity in order to reconsider both.

Children’s Literature and Modernism

What place does children’s literature hold in the history of modernism? What role has this literature played in shaping modernist ideologies of identity, internationalism, social responsibility, originality, and play?  Juliet Dusinberre (Alice to the Lighthouse) and others have begun to address these questions, and this seminar will seek further answers.  Papers might address modernist sites of influence and interpolation, the political activism of children’s authors, cross-over and dual-audience texts, the relationship of text and image, and the conditions of production for children’s literature in the modernist period.

How To Do Things With Modernist Drama

    Obscene?  Naturalistic? Estranging?  Many plays with apparently different aesthetic criteria are labeled ?modernist? and many with similar aesthetics espouse radically different political visions.  Considering recent work on performance and performativity, this seminar will explore links between artists as diverse as Ibsen, Shaw, Brecht, and Beckett?focusing on a fairly widespread dissatisfaction with ?ordinary? language.      Wittgenstein characterized himself as ?bringing words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.?  Is something analogous needed with performances of modernist theatre?  In what ways does the avant-garde rejection of the ?ordinary? become problematic?  How extra-ordinary is performing the natural or the everyday?

Good Ideological Housekeeping: The Cultural Work of Modern Women’s Magazines

From Ladies’ Home Journal to Time and Tide, interwar periodicals multiplied and addressed women’s real or imagined needs to define their public roles as consumers and producers of culture. What ideological work did popular magazines and feminist journals perform as outlets for women’s creativity, as contested sites in the making of ‘proper’ femininity, and as material products designed to influence social identities? Participants are invited to share archival research that informs, questions, and or transforms how we think about modernist authors in relation to popular culture, advertising, advice columns, and current events.

Modernism, Pulp, Noir

This seminar invites consideration of the keywords “pulp” and/or “noir” in conjunction with “modernism.”  How and why have these words come to be used together—in new modernist studies, film studies, American studies? How has “modernism,” in turn, served as a useful means to situating pulp authors, classic films noirs, B-movies, international thrillers, and other forms of popular culture within the disciplines of literary and cultural studies? Given the expansive nature of “pulp” and “noir” as categories, do they offer us ways of conceiving modernism beyond strict national affiliations? Although not a requirement, papers dealing with archival research into pulp and noir are encouraged.

Murder and Modernism:  Re-reading Detective Fiction Between the Wars

Dubbed the “Golden Age” of detective fiction, the period between the World Wars produced some of the best-known mysteries of the 20th Century.  This seminar will explore the frequently ignored relationship between these mysteries and coeval modernist works.  In exploring this relationship, possible questions of interest include:  why does the murder mystery flourish in an era responding to the tragic losses of war?  How are the intellectual rigors of Modernism and mysteries linked?  How do both genres negotiate modes of transparency and opaqueness?  Other possible considerations include epistemology(-gies), narrative form and/or authority, and relationships to political and social currents.

New Light on Women Modernists

This seminar focuses on the vitality of new kinds of archival or other material in order to alter and multiply views on women modernists and women’s modernism. Traditionally, private archives have been considered the most obvious source. Within modernity, however, material can also be found in the expanding public domain, including both commercial and ideological women’s magazines, advertisement, travel literature and touristic material etc. New readings of more “traditional” types of sources can be discussed, too. Formally uninnovative landscape imagery, for example, can record the kind of mobility that has been seen as a central characteristic of the New Woman.

Audio/Visual Equipment

For all inquiries, contact:

Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the James Joyce Quarterly, the
Modernist Journals Project
, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, and the
Departments of English and Foreign Languages.

Organized by Sean Latham, Holly Laird, Joseph Kestner, and Bruce Dean Willis.

Image credit: The Chauffeur by Christopher Nevinson (courtesy of the Modernist Journals Project)

Webmaster: Matt Huculak,