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MSA 18: The Politics of Compartmentalization

The opening lines of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s chapter, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Culture,” identify capitalism’s ubiquity not only through film, television, and advertising images, but also through the concrete structure of the urban environment. “Gleaming towers” reveal a move towards “unleashed entrepreneurial systems.” The flimsy construction of suburban bungalows forecasts that they will soon be discarded “like empty food cans,” while the city housing projects “designed to perpetuate the individual as a supposedly independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling make him all the more subservient to his adversary—the absolute power of capitalism.” This latter description, in particular, announces the failure of a Corbusien model of urban planning and instead accuses the “independent unit” of subjecting individuals to further regulation of their bodies and behaviors, of creating a compartmentalized isolation that forecloses community, and of more firmly entrenching a commodity-driven value system that maintains capitalism’s uneven power structures.

Horkheimer and Adorno’s brief discussion of the compartmentalized dwelling bears the traces of Kracauer, Benjamin, and Simmel but more generally, its mode of critique also resonates with modernism’s broader interest in the possibilities of space—its capacity to resist or reinscribe capitalism. Particularly, notions of physical compartmentalization, the “individual unit,” and its political, mental, and aesthetic consequences, undergird many seemingly disparate modernist projects. The twentieth-century resurgence of the Romantic ideal of the artist’s studio as space that insulated the artist from the outside world provided Abstract Expressionists with a model for artistic activity that turned inward as an implicit rejection of Cold-war capitalism. In Anzia Yezierska’s collection, How I Found America, the tenement’s failure to properly compartmentalize its residents from one another often produces a sense of community amongst working-class neighbors, who eventually band together and unionize. Finally, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou visually produces experiences of the uncanny and subverts capitalist rationality precisely by suggesting and then violating the parameters of the living space as a container, impossibly allowing Paris apartment doors to serve as portals to a seaside retreat.

This panel, then, seeks papers that address the intersection of compartmentalized space, aesthetics, and political critique in a range of modernist media. How are compartmentalized spaces manipulated or mobilized in modernist aesthetics and to what end? How are ideas of community, privacy, or invasion routed through representations of these spaces and what are the aesthetic and/or political consequences of these? How do notions of class dovetail with the idea of compartmentalized space? Are there aesthetic methods that specifically endorse or resist the ideal of enclosure? How do representations of compartmentalize space seek to revise art and the artist’s relationship to capitalist modes of production? How can discussions of the compartmentalized space be used to focalize capitalism’s uneven consequences for men and women, for male and female artists?

Please send 200-word abstracts, a short scholarly bio, and technology requirements to algreen@msu.edu by 4/10.


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

CFP Submission Deadline: April 10, 2016

For more information, contact: Anna Green

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