MSA Conference


MLA 2009
The following sessions were held at the MLA 2009 Convention in Philadelphia, December 2009.

Monday, 28 December
150. Unboxing Modernism: Beyond the Divides
10:15-11:30 a.m., Liberty Ballroom Salon A, Philadelphia Marriott
Program arranged by the Modernist Studies Association

Presiding: Melba Cuddy-Keane, Univ. of Toronto
Speakers: Ann L. Ardis, Univ. of Delaware, Newark; Michael Leja, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Anita Patterson, Boston Univ.; Steven G. Yao, Hamilton Coll.

Wednesday, 30 December
758. Modernism’s Popularity
1:45-3:00 p.m., 305-306, Philadelphia Marriott
Program arranged by the Modernist Studies Association

Presiding: Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
1. “Popularization through Pedagogy: Ezra Pound’s Pedagogy of Networks,” Ellen C. Carillo, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
2. “Popular and Modernist: Kipling and Joyce Reconsidered,” Amanda Sigler, Univ. of Virginia
3. “The Modernist Photobook: Narrating the Popular between Literature and Photography,” Patrizia Carollo McBride, Cornell Univ.

Note: Mike Chasar, who was originally scheduled to present his paper “Popular, Pigeonholed, and Pissed: Vachel Lindsay and the Institutionalization of Modern Poetry,” in this panel, has unfortunately had to cancel his attendance at MLA.

Abstracts for MLA Sessions

“Unboxing Modernism: Beyond the Divides”

This session will address current trends in modernist studies that transgress definitional categories often treated as mutually exclusive. We will discuss the way recent work challenges putative divides between, for example: high/pop; secular/sacred; public/private; experimental/traditional; subjective/objective; aesthetic/ethical; elite/democratic; British/American/World; theory/history; big/small circulation. Have we reached the stage where we seek not merely to argue for alternative non-canonical traditions, but actually to abandon essentialist divisions and analyse all writing in this period as participating–albeit in different ways–in one mixed and mingled world? What follows if we adopt Porter Abbott’s approach: “Modernism is an historical category like romanticism, and like romanticism it is a multi-faceted, international complex of issues and artistic attitudes.” That’s not to say there weren’t differences (unboxing both releases modernism from limiting categories and enables more complex perceptions of diversity); but breaking down what Jeffrey Schnapp terms the “silos” may also reveal some interesting “connects.” We think this will be an exciting session, where we can stimulate optimism about the future of modernist studies, astonish people (perhaps) with the range of work that is being done, and stimulate those in attendance to continue to open up new questions, new areas in the future.

“Popularization through Pedagogy: Ezra Pound’s Pedagogy of Networks”
Ellen C. Carillo, University of Connecticut, Storrs

"Popularization Through Pedagogy: Ezra Pound's Pedagogy of Networks" explores Pound's largely ignored pedagogical projects in order to argue that he took an interest in the new reading public and population of students that was emerging in America, and the education system he thought was failing them in the early twentieth century. Pound sought to revive (what he called) this "flaccid organism" through a range of pedagogical efforts from the writing of textbooks to proposing a College of the Arts. Like the "network narratives" that characterize a great deal of modernist literature, each one of Pound's pedagogical projects is dependent upon his fashioning a particular network that he thought integral to the education of this newly-expanded population of students and readers. Undermining the role of the teacher in the education system, Pound's College of the Arts depends upon a network of professional artists (as opposed to teachers) as did the little magazines wherein he sought to create a very specific rendering of what would later be called modernism. With the goal of providing unmediated access to literature, Pound reprinted literature and poetry in its entirety with minimal and sometimes no editorial comment in his textbooks and anthologies, demanding that readers fill in the gaps that exist among the different texts with these literary networks. Although Pound and other literary modernists continue to be unfairly characterized as intentionally alienating readers, Pound sought out the new population of readers because— in his mind— the ultimate, political goals of his pedagogical projects could not have been achieved without them. These pedagogical projects are as much his legacy as The Cantos.

“Popular and Modernist: Kipling and Joyce Reconsidered”
Amanda Sigler, University of Virginia

Combining close reading with archival research, my paper readdresses literary Modernism through carefully focused reappraisals of the periodicals that proved indispensable to its international transmission. Extending and modifying the contributions of scholars such as Lawrence Rainey and Mark Morrisson, I interrogate the boundaries between consumer culture and Modernist aestheticism. Within this framework, my paper takes Rudyard Kipling and James Joyce as case studies to probe the limits of Modernism. Examining both little magazines and popular journals, I conduct reappraisals of Ulysses as it was serialized in the avant-garde Little Review, and of Kim as it was published in two popular monthlies, McClure’s and Cassell’s. A closer look at Kipling and periodical culture unveils how Kim’s serialization, in the context of surrounding advertisements, foregrounds Modernist anxieties about popular culture and aesthetic pursuits—anxieties that become especially evident when we consider the original periodical publication of Ulysses alongside evidence from the Little Review archives in Milwaukee. Far from being a text isolated between its own covers, Ulysses in the Little Review is cast as a key element of the magazine’s advertising campaign. Just as Cassell’s and McClure’s used Kim to promote the sales of magazine issues, so the Little Review appropriated Joyce’s work for purposes that were commercial as well as artistic. These intersections suggest that Modernism and commercial culture operate in more engaged ways than we generally assume. In order to evaluate properly the emergence and reception of Modernism, I argue, it is necessary to return to a serious study of periodicals – not only the little magazines with which Modernism is so closely associated, but also the mass market periodicals that reviewed and published Modernist (and proto-Modernist) works while also providing advertisement and distribution models so central to Modernism’s spread across national and international borders.

“The Modernist Photobook: Narrating the Popular between Literature and Photography”
Patrizia Carollo McBride, Cornell University

This paper examines the cross-pollination of literary and visual modes of semiotic encoding that shaped the new genre of the photobook in Germany and the United States during the 1920s and 30s by examining the pedagogical strategies that helped a mass audience adapt traditional literary skills in order to ‘properly’ read stories composed of still images. While contemporary debates in the United States emphasized the documentary value of the straight photograph and made literal correspondence to reality the depository of photography’s truth claim (Paul Strand, Walker Evans), many practitioners of photography in Germany were averse to associating photography’s truthfulness with its ability to precisely reproduce appearances (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Jan Tschichold, Werner Gräff, John Heartfield; see also Bertolt Brecht’s and Walter Benjamin’s critique). In their attempts to harness the medium’s aptitude for exact reproduction without conflating exactitude with truth, these artists reflected on and experimented with new modes of reportage and story-telling predicated on assembling text and image in a deliberately anti-naturalistic, anti-illusionistic mode. In so doing, they often drew on the semiotic and rhetorical strategies deployed by contemporary advertisement, which in some cases was part of their professional training (especially Tschichold and Heartfield). The productive tension created by these contrasting approaches to the narrative character of photo-reportage are problematized in a paradigmatic comparison of Walker Evans’s and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1936) and the unpublished photobook (Album) of German montage artist Hannah Höch (ca. 1934). While Höch’s self-conscious collage of images clipped from Weimar-era photo-magazines may seem like a far cry from the aura of immediacy and authenticity that typifies Evans’s depression-era photographic narrative, the semantic coherence and rhetorical force of her book relies on a complex web of analogical references that buttresses its narrative structure and reinforces its pedagogical aims (here I draw on Barbara Stafford’s concept of visual analogy). As I conclude, Evans’s (ostensibly) documentary narrative and Höch’s montage of photographs from the last years of the Weimar Republic lend themselves not only to reconstructing the activist pedagogy of seeing that underlies the two artists’ approach to photography and narrative, but also to address larger issues that accompany the rise of the modernist photobook as a complex genre that straddles consumerist culture and high-brow artistic practice, entertainment and pedagogy, visual and literary media.