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MSA 18: "Genre-Art and Resistance: Mass Culture and Leftist Modernisms"

Genre-Art and Resistance: Mass Culture and Leftist Modernisms
Organizer: Eric Keenaghan (University at Albany, SUNY)
MSA 18 Pasadena, CA

In their famous “Culture Industry” essay, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer complain that mass culture (here talkies, specifically) “leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to respond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality.” Mass cultural products embody the “most rigid of all styles,” which seemingly suffers a “lack of style.” If the spontaneous response or reflective distance of audience members is disallowed, then the culture industry, especially in wartime Europe and the United States, impedes political consciousness and thus inhibits active resistance. Genre-work, lacking style and thinking and imagination, is supposedly the mediocre stuff of popular complacency.
Modernist scholars have challenged the suppositions such as Adorno and Horkheimer’s that avant-garde or high modernist experiment and formalism are ipso facto modes of aesthetic resistance. Critics have recuperated vernacular cultural forms and commodity culture to explore how they have informed modernist style, often with an eye toward ideological critique and sometimes social or ethical transformation. Many leftist-identified artists also drew on popular forms to develop not just identity- or class-based forms of political consciousness but also national, transnational, and cosmopolitan consciousnesses. Indeed, mass culture opened spaces in the guise of generic forms—potboilers, historical romances, and espionage film—and “serious” artists, working under noms de plumes or under their artworld and activist names, exploited these forms and worked in culture industries for the purposes of cultivating resistant popular readerships, sometimes even earning income in the process.
Presenters are sought for this proposed panel or roundtable (format TBD) to explore how modernist authors and artists have worked within culture industries and with its forms, rather than against them, in their development of politically leftist and other progressive projects challenging liberalist complacencies, conservative cultural and political retrogression, and/or totalitarian and fascist authoritarianism. Possible papers might include (but are not limited to) accounts of leftist and progressive authors and artists who actually worked in Western culture industries, studies of authors and artists who appropriated culture industry forms in their own experimental modes, or politically and aesthetically informed theoretic examinations of early to mid-twentieth century popular cultural forms and the cultivation of consciousness, imagination, or understanding. Strongest consideration will be given to proposals tying their subjects to considerations extending beyond author or text-specific studies. Papers that address transnational or planetary approaches to modernist studies and political literatures are also desired.
Please submit abstracts (between 200 and 300 words), along with a brief c.v., to Eric Keenaghan (ekeenaghan@albany.edu) by Friday April 8.


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

CFP Submission Deadline: April 08, 2016

For more information, contact: Eric Keenaghan

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