MSA 11: The Languages of Modernism
Montréal, Québec, Canada
November 5-8, 2009
Delta Centre-Ville


Update. September 4, 2009:
SEMINAR REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED

1: Modernist Languages and the Classical Tradition
Leader: Meryl Altman

Consideration of modernism’s transnational and translational “contact zones” includes its crucial, fraught engagements with the languages and literatures of ancient Greece and Rome. How do modern writers write with or against “imagined communities” of the ancient world, in ways that both reinforce and fracture individual and communal writing identities? How do creative modernisms, both canonical and oppositional, negotiate relation with or exclusion from academic institutions and administrative mechanisms of empire? How do appropriations from “dead” languages intersect with expatriation, exile, marginalization, migration in livied space? What sorts of linguistic and formal innovations does this enable-and what gets left out?


2: Modernism’s Anarchisms
Leaders: Allan Antliff and James Gifford

What are the histories of anarchism and modernism? How can anarchism be defined vis-à-vis modernism? This seminar considers anarchism's impact on the visual arts, literature, music, film, etc. Both modernism and anarchism are contested terms linking diverse groups in disparate locations and times, and we invite reconsideration of received definitions in various media. This seminar considers anarchism's impact on modernism through specific individuals or movements as well as the politics of aesthetics: from The Egoist to Tiger's Eye, neo-impressionism to minimalism, Margaret Anderson to John Cage, Russia to Japan.


3: Modernism and Nostalgia
Leader: Tammy Clewell

Jean-Francois Lyotard challenged modernism as a nostalgic practice. Modernism, he argued, betrays its own representation of psychic, linguistic, and social fragmentation by imposing a unified form on modernity’s ruptures. On this score, modernist aesthetics constitutes a last bastion of metanarrative authority; it replaces lost truth, transcendence, and certainty, and hence supports a regressive status quo. This seminar revisits the question of modernist nostalgia. How do modernist texts employ, critique, and/or move beyond their own nostalgic formulations? Especially welcome are papers that give new texture to the presumed nostalgia of modernism’s investment in form, memory, duration, and politics.


4: Middlebrow / Modernist
Leaders: Debra Rae Cohen and Faye Hammill

In 1925, Punch characterized middlebrows as people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like. Middlebrow resistance to modernist difficulty, middlebrow appropriation of modernist prestige, modernist contempt for middlebrow pretentions, are only the jumping-off points for this seminar. What other tensions, aspirations and anxieties does the slash mark of our title conceal? What are the dynamics between the languages of modernism and those of middlebrow culture? Can the middlebrow ever be modernist? And what challenges and opportunities are created for modernist studies by current research on middlebrow texts and tastes?


5: Musical Languages and Musical Cultures
Leader: Edward Commentale

This seminar will explore the possibilities of theorizing modernism from a musical rather than a literary perspective. We will consider musical texts and contexts as they use specifically sonic forms and genres to reflect and respond to historical transformations often defined as modern. We will be less concerned with music as a metaphor for an alternative kind of literary writing, but music itself as a unique language with its own material and formal constraints, and we will consider a wide range of performances (both high and low, acoustic and electronic, Western and non-Western) as they suggest novel configurations of time, space, community, and expression, and thus alternative forms of publicness and public exchange.


6: Modernist Ephemera
Leaders: Leah Culligan-Flack and Sarah Keller

In The Cantos, Ezra Pound revisits and revises T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land: “These fragments you have shelved (shored).” Pound challenges Eliot’s notion that the ephemeral and fragmentary can “shore” against “ruin,” and accentuates the act of preservation inherent in his and Eliot’s modernist project, while maintaining or preserving Eliot’s original language. Moreover, he draws attention to a significant tension underlying modernism and modernist studies between ephemerality and preservation. This tension opens several lines of inquiry: how do modernist artists working in various media represent or employ ephemera and fragments? How does modernist attention to surfaces and to medial transmission reflect on the possibilities for preservation and continuity? How might we trace the points of intersection between ephemera as it is manifested in modernist art—cinema, painting, literature, music, sculpture, etc.—and as it gives rise to particular kinds of modernist scholarship (e.g., archival and object studies)? We welcome a broad range of papers exploring any aspect of this tension in modernism and modernist studies.


7: Plantation Modernism / Modernity
Leader: Mary Lou Emery

Considered by Caribbean intellectuals, such as C. L. R. James, a matrix of modernity, the plantation system played a generative role in the cultural languages of modernism. “Cries of the plantation,” as Martinican writer Edouard Glissant has called, for example, the arts of the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, and modernismo, have shaped modernist cultures world-wide. Possible paper topics include processes of creolization in language, music, visual art, architecture, and literature; modernist arts of the black Atlantic and transPacific; modernist literatures of the southern U.S. and the Caribbean; plantation cultures and the environment; plantation narratives and landscape; and the ongoing cultural political, and economic legacies of the plantations.


8: Modernist Sincerity
Leader: Lisa Fluet

In 1971, Lionel Trilling argued that there is “nothing to match the marvelous generative force that our modern judgment assigns to authenticity.” He defines the attraction of authenticity as “the downward movement through all the cultural superstructures to some place where all movement ends, and begins.” Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is positioned as “the paradigmatic literary expression of the modern concern with authenticity.” Notably, Trilling does not suggest the inauthentic, the mechanical reproduction, or the copy as contrasts to the authentic. Instead, he presents “sincerity,” or the labor to articulate “a congruence between avowal and actual feeling,” as the previous, contrasting stage in moral and cultural life. Sincerity is “revised” out of importance by modernism’s elevation of authenticity, through characters, perspectives, and formal experiments that underscore the erasure of a division between “within and without.” This seminar asks how we might reconsider the persistence of sincerity as a formal or thematic principle in modernist fiction, film, poetry, and criticism. How does the attempt to achieve congruence between avowal and actual feeling remain a concern for characters, as well as narrators, in modernist fiction—in Conrad, Greene, Forster, West, for example? In what ways might British WWI poetry revisit the ethical terrain of sincerity? How might the modernist critical prose of Eliot, Woolf, or Lawrence, situate the more social claims of sincerity in critical practice?


9: Twentieth-Century Studies: Modernist Studies without Modernism
Leaders: Colin Gillis and Andrew Goldstone

This seminar invites papers that critique the use of “modernism” as an umbrella term for the cultural production of the entire world in the first half or the entirety of the twentieth century. We are less interested in alternate sweeping descriptions of the whole era than in models that distinguish many currents and tendencies in the cultural field, recognizing that there is no reason why all the significant cultural activity of this period could be subsumed under therubric of “modernism” or even “modernisms.” We envision this seminar comprising two kinds of papers: papers about particular non-modernist tendencies and movements (e.g., the social realist novel of the 1930s) and papers that define cultural fields beyond, or in conflict with, modernism (e.g., the neo-baroque).


10: Modernism, Science, Science Studies
Leaders: Craig Gordon and Anne Raine

While critical work on modernism and science has begun to engage with science studies, much of this work continues to understand itself as a process of translation between various modernist idioms, on one hand, and the languages of science on the other. This seminar will explore the implications of engaging more fully with the more complex forms of “translation” or “articulation” theorized by Bruno Latour and other science studies scholars. What is gained or lost by grounding the study of modernism and science more fully in the methods of science studies? To what extent are science studies models based on laboratory practice useful for the study of literary and cultural production? To what extent can or should modernist science and cultural production be assessed from the perspective of later developments (e.g. the designation of some scientific models as obsolete, shifts in the status of particular sciences such as physics or biology, or the intersection of systems theory with postmodern poetics)—and how might science studies inform such assessments? How might a fuller engagement with science studies help us think about how our critical work participates in broader discussions about science and culture (such as popular manifestations of the “science wars,” or critical responses to science studies by practicing scientists)?


11: Modernisms and the Politics of New Formalism
Leaders: Jim Hansen and Erich Hertz

Much has been written over the three last decades about the political troubles that inspire and are caused by a strenuously formalist approach to literary criticism. But has our focus on “formalist critical cultures” obscured underlying questions about the ideological valences of the work of art’s potential for re-thinking formal, generic, and even political categories. What would it mean to theorize modernist studies from the perspective of the history of literary form? Can the concepts of political subjectivity and historicism be attached, then, to questions of political borderlines, empire, translation, sovereign power, and alterity? Topics for discussion might include, but need not be limited to: the relation between formalism and historicism; the potential for an activist formalism; form as a re-thinking of the Other; global avant-gardes as a challenge to normativity; sovereign power and theories of authorship; transnational modernisms and literary genre; the relation between Marxist critique and literary formalism; social reformers vs. modernist experimentation; expatriate identity, translation, and form. We are eager to receive papers that are literary, theoretical, or historical in focus.


12: New Modernisms in Canada
Leader: Dean Irvine


The past two decades have witnessed a resurgence in modernist studies in Canada. Concurrent with the founding of Modernism/Modernity in 1994 and inaugural MSA conference in 1999, the millennial turn coincided with the emergence of a new generation in Canadian modernist studies. This period has seen the publication of critical monographs, biographies, essay collections, anthologies, and critical editions, the organization of several international conferences, and the launch of major collaborative research projects. As was evident at MSA 2006 in Vancouver, the MSA includes a significant body of researchers working in Canada, many of whom address Canada's modernist authors and artists (e.g., A.M. Klein, P.K. Page, Irving Layton, Elizabeth Smart, Emily Carr, Bertram Brooker, the Group of Seven), transnational connections between international modernists and Canada (e.g., Malcolm Lowry, Wyndham Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Elizabeth Bishop), and archival materials in Canada. At once a retrospective and prospective on modernist studies in Canadian literature, theatre, and visual art, this seminar addresses the state of Canadian modernist studies. Papers might address Canadian modernists and their work; they might also interrogate the factors behind the conspicuous lack of recognition of Canada's contributions to the cultural formations of modernism--whether national, international, or transnational; colonial, postcolonial, or diasporic; antifascist, socialist, communist, or anarchist; masculinist, feminist, or queer. How can we integrate Canadian modernists into the canons and curricula of an unevenly globalized field of modernist research and pedagogy?


13: Transnational Modernisms and the Languages of Psychoanalysis
Leader: Walter Kalaidjian

On the relation between expatriate writing and the talking cure, Ernest Hemingway famously quipped, “Corona Portable Number Three. That’s been my analyst.” In revisiting the Freudian field (including Freud, Lacan, Mannoni, Fanon, Klein, Winnicott, Kernberg, Vergès, Žižek, Young-Bruehl, etc.), this seminar will explore and interrogate the intersection of transnational modernisms and the languages of psychoanalysis. Papers are invited that will examine such topics as the cultural location of psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice; the political analysis of social desire, fantasy, anxiety, and/or trauma in the psychic exchange between empire and colony; the psychoanalysis of national narrative in modernist representation.


14: Articulating Mid-Century Modernism
Leaders: Peter Kalliney and Marina MacKay

How have recent trends in the field affected our understandings of late or mid-century modernisms (1930-1970)? Has, for example, the imperative to globalize modernist studies prompted us to reconsider such familiar landmarks and contexts as the highly politicized 1930s, the symbolic death of modernism in World War II, the stifling atmosphere of the Cold War, and the political militancy of decolonization movements? We invite papers that engage the regional, national, and international geographies of modernism at mid-century. In keeping with the conference theme, we are especially interested in documenting patterns of formal, rhetorical, and symbolic self-representation and exchange during this period.


15: Modern(ist) Dance
Leader: Catherine Gunther Kodat

Recent ground-breaking work by scholars such as Rhonda Garelick, Felicia McCarren, and Susan Manning makes clear that the time is ripe for a seminar on the place of dance within modernist studies. Seminar papers may address not only dance's contribution to modernism but also the question of what constitutes "the modern" within dance itself. Papers addressing aspects of modern dance (from Isadora Duncan to Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and after); modern ballet (Fokine, Nijinsky, Lifar, Nijinska, Massine, De Mille, Balanchine, Tudor, Ashton); modern theories of expressive movement (Delsarte, Dalcroze, Laban); or theoretical/methodological issues involved in connecting dance and modernism all welcome.


16: Multilingual Modernisms
Leader: Joshua Miller

Attention to multilingual expression within the contexts of imperial expansion, racialized violence, and demographic changes due to refugeeism, immigration, and migration offers important contexts for modernist forms of linguistic experimentation. This seminar invites papers on the mixed-language texts of modernism broadly conceived, including early cinema, ethnographic and linguistic studies, global and artificial languages, mass assembly, avant-gardism, and popular culture. What are the fused languages of modernism, and what are their afterlives? Which texts should be recovered or reinterpreted under this rubric? What does the inclusion of artworks employing combined idioms mean for understandings of modernism/modernity, nationalism, race, cosmopolitanism, sexuality, or translation?


17: What the Roast Beef Said: Object Lessons of Modernism
Leader: Gabrielle Moyer

“If you bungle Handy Andy, I'll kick your football for you.” This threat is posed to Leopold Bloom not by a person but by “The Hoof.” The personification of things and the objectification of persons in Joyce’s “Circe” episode of Ulysses points to the inverted, perverted world that Bloom wants to escape, but it also points to a trend in modernism where speaking parts or human parts are given to what is neither human nor alive. If the focus of modernist studies has traditionally been on “the self,” this seminar redirects attention to the pivotal, disturbing, humorous life of objects. Is a metaphysical inversion—the death of subjects and the life of objects—the best way to describe this trend or are there other, better ways of understanding it? The goal of this seminar is to generate a discussion about the complex language of the non-living and the inhuman in modernist works, with the goal of expanding our view of modernist linguistic experimentation. Possible papers might study the grammar of this language, its varying instantiations in Symbolism, Surrealism, Dadaism and Futurism, its role in formal experimentation, its relation to rhetorical tropes, its ethics (when do objects become subjects and subjects become objects?) its appearance in diverse media (film, advertisements, propaganda) or diverse places (department stores, zoos, trenches), its divergence from or similarity to other languages.


18: Modernism and New Cosmopolitanism
Leader: Nels Pearson

The seminar will focus on reading modernist literature (and art, media, culture) through the lens of the shifting definitions of cosmopolitanism in critical approaches to global democracy. “Actually existing cosmopolitanism,” “critical cosmopolitanism,” and debates about the viability of more grounded, particularized, embodied forms of transnational thinking, feeling, and belonging are certainly relevant to postmodern and contemporary world literature, but they can also help revise and expand our understanding of literature, art, and culture associated with modernism (in any of its phases, modes, or locations). This seminar will examine, then, how emergent discourses of cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics can inform and enrich our reading of modernist texts.


19: Infrastructuralism: Modernization, Modernism, Narrative
Leader: Michael Rubenstein

In our current financial crisis, the term “infrastructure” is invoked with increasing frequency and plaintiveness, meant no doubt as a return to New Deal era concerns and orientations, especially to public works projects whose means and ends amount to something like a “social good.” This seminar interrogates our understanding of infrastructure both in the modern era and in our own. We’ll consider the importance of infrastructural development to (post)modernist and (post)colonial literature, and revisit debates in modernist studies and postcolonial studies about literature’s conception of the role of the state. Topics might include education; electricity and water supply; telecommunication; transport; credit, debt and banking; and their representation in literature.


20: Vernacular Modernisms / Modernist Vernaculars
Leader: Morag Shiach

Building on recent work in film studies and in architectural theory, this seminar will investigate the impact of the vernacular on our understandings of modernism. “The vernacular” is both a linguistic and and a stylistic term, which engages in potentially very productive ways with questions of the local and the global, and of the periodization of modernism. Seminar participants are invited either to present a vernacular cultural practice and locate it within critical and theoretical debates on modernism or to consider the ways in which the concept of the “vernacular” might address some of the historical complexities of the moment of modernism.


21. Seminar: Digital Modernism
Leader: Jeffrey Schnapp

The seminar will explore emerging models of digital scholarship within the field of modernist studies, with an emphasis on opportunities for innovative work that explores post-print, hybrid digital-print, and “new media”-based scholarship, as well as mixed reality approaches to collaboration, archives, and cultural programming. Presentation of a prototype of the new open source virtual world Sirikata (alpha release – Spring 2009; beta release – November 2009) with a virtual classroom, conference, and performance space, as well as three natively digital virtual galleries and two replica virtual museum spaces will be integrated into seminar discussions.


22: Teaching the Magazines of Modernism
Leaders: Robert Scholes and Mark Gaipa

The expanding resources of the Modernist Journals Project now offer many opportunities for teaching modernism, and we are in the process of developing our teaching resources under the guidance of Mark Gaipa. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to explore and develop this resource in the following ways. We will invite participants to do one of these things:
a. Write about their experiences using the MJP archive for teaching
b. Propose assignments for one or more magazines, like our Poetry set
c. Make the case for adding one or more magazines not presently on the MJP site, providing the necessary information about a source for the originals
d. Make suggestions for improving the use of the MJP in the classroom


23: Indigenous Languages, Double Writing, and Modernist Voicings
Leaders: Maria Tymoczko and Laura O’Connor

This seminar is concerned with modernist writing in an indigenous or minority language, and writing in a colonial language that interfaces with an indigenous language. We’ll explore the poetics of “double-writing,” a term to encompass writing in a colonial tongue that is inflected by an indigenous language and writing in a lesser-used language within earshot of an encroaching dominant language, as well as modernist writing that employs heteroglossic strategies in a central way. All these modernist voicings offer alternate models of modernism and foreground modernist preoccupations with language per se.


24: Abstraction
Leader: Jeff Wallace

This seminar will explore the wide and often contradictory work undertaken within modernism by the concept of abstraction, invariably a 'reproach' (Osborne) in modern philosophy, yet a signifier of emancipation and enlightenment in the arts. What are the languages of abstraction? As well as inviting new approaches to key theoretical sources -- Worringer, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich -- the seminar hopes to open out more varied perspectives on the play of the concept within modernist writing: the gendering of abstraction; abstraction and cultural difference; Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism; professionalism; socialist-modernism; Frankfurt school; and Deleuzian modernism, as examples.


25: Feminism, Modernism, Woolf
Leaders: Rebecca Wisor and Jean Mills

The efforts of early feminist scholars to recuperate the work and image of Virginia Woolf are often credited with having brought feminist literary criticism and the discipline of women’s studies into being. Marked by the publication of Jane Marcus’s Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy, this historical moment would radically alter the focus and language of modernist literary studies. This seminar invites proposals that consider historical, cultural, ideological, aesthetic, or linguistic perspectives on the confluence of “feminism” and “modernism”—past, present, or future. How have various constructions of “feminism” produced, complicated, or reversed various constructions of “modernism,” and vice versa? How does the concept of “feminisms” impact our understanding of “modernisms,” and vice versa? And what might both “isms” have to offer one another for the future by way of methodology or theory?




Seminar Word Cloud:

cloud