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MSA 18: Modernism and the Language of Enlightenment

Modernism and the Language of Enlightenment

Proposed panel for MSA 18 (November 17-20; Pasadena, CA)

Adorno and Horkheimer'€™s account of mass culture as a product of the "enlightenment"€ tendency toward order and conformity is well known and widely influential, and important work by Andreas Huyssen, Michael North, Mark Wollaeger, Nancy Bentley, and others has convincingly established the depth of modernism's association with mass culture. In light of such contributions to the project of historicizing modernist aesthetics, this panel proposes to refocus our attentions on the particular conception of language that Adorno and Horkheimer outline in Dialectic of Enlightenment. According to the authors'€™ account, "€œthe distinction between word and object was unknown"€ in the world of myth (Jephcott translation), but Enlightenment thought alters this linguistic situation; the authors point to Odysseus'€™ misrepresentation of his identity to Polyphemus as a pivotal moment that severs the essential unity of word and thing. Under this "demythologizing of language,"€ the word "€œis allowed only to designate something and not to mean it."€ This process reaches its fullest development in the modern language of advertising slogans, wherein linguistic signifiers come to represent nothing beyond the manufactured products for which they arbitrarily stand.

This panel invites papers exploring how modernist literature engages with Adorno and Horkheimer's theory of language. How might we understand this theory in the context of the historical moment that produces modernism? How might returning directly to Adorno and Horkheimer'€™s text enable us to productively reconsider the relationship between the language of modernism and that of advertising and mass culture? How might modernist texts illustrate, elaborate on, or challenge this notion of the arbitrariness of linguistic signification under enlightenment thought? How might modernist representation either be complicit in or resist the various forms of human oppression that Dialectic of Enlightenment associates with rationality? Papers are encouraged that elaborate on Adorno and Horkheimer'€™s vision of language and/or extend this vision to readings of specific modernist texts. Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to Greg Chase (gregchs@bu.edu) by March 31st.


Conference Location: Pasadena, CA, USA
Conference Starts: November 17, 2016
Conference Ends: November 20, 2016

CFP Submission Deadline: March 31, 2016

For more information, contact: Greg Chase

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