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Modernist Personae and the Legacy of Double-Consciousness

This panel revisits W.E.B. Du Bois's famous articulation of the problem of racial double-consciousness in relation to modernist literary practice. It considers ways in which modernist writers recast what Du Bois saw as a debilitating split between "two unreconciled strivings" into a powerful model for literary production that could be both autobiographical and experimental. How do we understand authors who seem to have intentionally resisted "merg[ing]" contradictory versions of themselves into a coherent authorial identity? And in a modernist moment that lauded irony, fragmentation, and the use of personae, what is the relationship between these aesthetic techniques and the lived experience they claim to mask (or as Du Bois might have it, to veil)? A case in point is Jean Toomer, whose conversion to Gurdjieffian mysticism after writing the modernist masterpiece, Cane, has both puzzled scholars and led them into reasserting a classical division between his written work (as finished, expressed, materialized) and the lived experience that exceeds it (ineffable, mystical, immaterial). And yet, Toomer's copious autobiographical writings post-Cane may also be seen as (and, indeed, appear to avow) a form of practical double-consciousness associated with the Gurjieffian principle of "non-identity," whereby any single authorial "truth" is always already destabilized by its potential re-formulation. "Mysticism," it turns out, is thus one of the ways Toomer resists a hegemonic—and so, mystifying—reception of his work.

This panel invites papers that explore authorial personae that negotiate between lived experience and its cultural and aesthetic encoding, seeking to reconcile "low" modernist memoirs and ethnographies with "high" modernist abstraction. Papers may address Harlem Renaissance writers like Toomer, who redoubled themselves; or, to consider how, and to different effects, others like Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, or Ralph Ellison, may have sought less to lift Du Bois's "veil" than to understand race itself as a paradigm for the broader contradictions, and possibilities, of authorship. We also welcome papers that broadly consider modernist personae within their social and autobiographical contexts.

Please send paper proposals of 300 words and short scholarly bios (no more than three sentences) to Ingrid Diran (igd3@cornell.edu) and/or Cecily Swanson (chs32@cornell.edu) by April 4, 2012.

Conference Location: Las Vegas, United States
Conference Starts: October 18, 2012
Conference Ends: October 21, 2012

CFP Submission Deadline: April 04, 2012

For more information, contact: Ingrid Diran

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