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MSA 17: Rethinking Modernism and the First World

MSA 17, Boston. I am trying to put together a last-minute panel on modernism and the First World War. The board has agreed to accept panel proposals by the original deadline of 1 May.

In his seminal article “Modernity and Revolution” Perry Anderson claims that “the imaginative proximity of social revolution” is conducive to the modernist aesthetic. Rather than addressing the prospect of socio-political change in the work of modernism, this panel is interested in the actual encounter between modernism and conflict. It asks whether and how the early twentieth-century experimentation with modernist forms and ideas could be (or was indeed) retained in light of the outbreak of the First World War. Many have argued that this was not the case. The meeting that Charles Masterman convened in early September 1914 to recruit leading Edwardian authors in the war effort (among them Bennett, Bridges, Hardy) set the tone for how the conflict was to be written at home. In the literature generated on both fronts, Paul Fussell argues, traditional and technically prudent literary conventions persisted. But where were the modernists? What work has been done within the field of modernism studies to address this question mainly focuses on the impact of the conflict on the oeuvre of the canonical high modernists of the 1920s. Taking its cue from Vincent Sherry’s The Great War and the Language of Modernism, this panel seeks to relate contemporary modernism to the context of the period 1914-1918. It especially aims to extend Sherry’s argument by exploring the work (both literature and journalism) of modernists in the army. These may include T.E. Hulme, Wyndham Lewis, John Dos Passos, Ford Madox Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Aldington, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, C.R.W. Nevinson or Mary Borden.

This panel is interested in contributions on the relationship of contemporary modernism and the First World War; on modernist experimentation in war literature as well as trench journals and hospital magazines, war ephemera, film and paintings by official war artists; on how the representation of war experiences might demand modernist forms (fragmentation, time out of joint etc.); on the idea of both modernism and WWI as 'states of exception'; on the fate of individual modernists in the army (institutional authority); on the relationship of war poetry and its avant-garde precursors, especially Imagism; and, generally, on the reconsideration of canonical war writing (the likes of Owen and Sassoon) in the development of literary modernism.

Please submit abstracts of 200-300 words and a short scholarly bio to Cedric.VanDijck@UGent.be by April 30.


Conference Location: Boston, USA
Conference Starts: November 19, 2015
Conference Ends: November 22, 2015

CFP Submission Deadline: April 30, 2015

For more information, contact: Cedric Van Dijck

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