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Modernism and the New Materialisms

If ecocriticism was slow in coming to modernist studies, it has arrived with a bang in the last several years. At least four monographs that combine modernist archives with ecocritical approaches have been published since 2015, and special issues of both Modernism/modernity and Twentieth Century Literature in the same period have dedicated themselves to ecology, the nonhuman, the inhuman, and the posthuman. One key ingredient in modernist studies's belated adoption of ecocritical concerns has been the suite of theoretical works referred to under the umbrella of "New Materialisms," a point made by both Jeffery Mathes McCarthy and Kelly Sultzbach in their respective ecocritical monographs. The New Materialisms' focus on the agency of matter, rather than more traditional ecocritical concerns like wilderness, nature, the "local," and so on, has been a fruitful tool with which to think through the nonhuman politics of modernist texts that are often avowedly urban, cosmopolitan, or otherwise unconcerned with the "green" themes that occupied ecocritics of the 1990s and 2000s.

2018, however, marks the ten-year anniversary of Alaimo and Hekman's collection Material Feminisms, where many of the thinkers and ideas that would come to constitute the "New Materialisms" were first brought together between two covers. This panel proposes to analyze and re-evaluate the relationship between modernist studies and the New Materialisms, particularly in light of recent critics of the movement who argue that the "nonhuman turn," in the words of Julian Murphet, embraces an "ontological enthusiasm . . . [that] amounts, in fact, to a species of ideological quietism." Modernist studies itself once faced similar accusations of political quietism, and because of this modernist studies has evolved into a complex and politically engaged discipline that is well suited to tackling the thorny issues surrounding New Materialist theory. How, for example, might we discuss material agency in the modernist period in the context of the suffrage movement--itself a struggle to gain political agency--or the continued disenfranchisement of African Americans under Jim Crow? What are the roles of machines and mechanization in modernist representations of material agency? What is the role of primitivism in modernist accounts of nonhuman agency? How might New Materialisms help us understand 20th century popular culture, rather than only canonized "high" modernists? This panel seeks papers that respond to these, or any other questions, that might enrich and complicate our understanding of the relationship between New Materialist theory and modernist art.

Please submit 300 word abstracts and a short bio to Kyle Murdock (kyle.murdock@mail.utoronto.ca) by April 1, 2018.

Conference Location: Columbus, Ohio, USA
Conference Starts: November 08, 2018
Conference Ends: November 11, 2018

CFP Submission Deadline: April 01, 2018

For more information, contact: Kyle Murdock

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