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Children’s Literature and/in Modernism


What place does children’s literature hold in the history of modernism? What role has this literature played in shaping ideologies of identity, nation, social responsibility, originality, and play during the modernist period? What expectations does this literature have for its dual audience of child and adult? In her landmark study Alice to the Lighthouse (1987, 1999), Juliet Dusinberre began to answer these questions, joined by others during the past twenty-five years—in particular, Kimberley Reynolds, whose study Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain, 1910-1949 (Oxford UP, 2016) shows the extent to which literary histories from the 1960s through the 1990s consistently excluded children’s literature from conversations about modernism. Situating children’s literature not only within modernism but also within modernity, Reynolds argues, can “give a sense of what radical children’s literature told children about themselves, their bodies, the world they were growing up in, their contribution to culture, the future, and the ways in which they could bring about change”—and, in doing so, “changing how we think about publishing for children […] by learning” what a particular country “wanted to tell the next generation about its past, present, and future” (41). This seminar will seek further answers to those opening questions, keeping in mind the benefits that Reynolds outlines. Papers might address modernist sites of influence and interpolation, the political activism of children’s authors in literary and informational texts, the perspective of the modern(ist) child, cross-over and dual-audience texts, the role of genre, the relationship of text and image, and the conditions of production for and the reception of children’s literature in the modern(ist) period. Participants will provide position papers (6-7 pages in length) to circulate in advance of the seminar. Discussion during the seminar itself will be organized around the areas of interest emerging from the seminar papers, so all participants have opportunity to engage.

Critical Mass: Feminist Modernism and Its Afterlives


In the spirit of Sarah Ahmed’s recent assertion that “a feminist movement is not always registered in public,” this seminar invites participants to consider public and private feminist modes in the space of modernist innovation and its afterlives. Though street level, critical mass manifestations of suffragism dominate our understanding of first wave feminism, even the earliest writers and thinkers of this era expressed ambivalence toward the galvanizing rhetoric of (public) gendered unity. If the biopolitical suffragism of such popular activists as Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes buoyed cultural interest in and acceptance of sexology and gender parity—focusing on women’s bodies in public spaces, political institutions, and the boudoir—other first wave writers and thinkers emphasized more private, refractory feminist modes. In A Room of One’s Own, for example, Virginia Woolf insists on the essential differences amongst the many, private “rooms,” noting that they “differ so completely; they are calm or thunderous; open onto the sea; or, on the contrary give onto a prison yard; are hung with washing; or alive with opals and silks; are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers.” We imagine this seminar as an opportunity to interrogate together the clash or commerce between these public and private feminisms, particularly as they take shape in the experimental modernist moment via: embodied poetics (DADA, fashion, sexualized bodies, advertising, etc.), manifestoes (eg. Valerie de Saint-Point’s “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman,” Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto,” etc.), essayistic re-imaginings of the female intellect (à la H.D.’s erotic jellyfish “over-soul”), narrative/poetic innovations that accommodate new feminist, feminine, and queer subjectivities (Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Stein's Lifting Belly, etc.), and instances of what Emma Heaney has referred to as modernism’s tendency to borrow the sexological trans feminine as the embodiment of sexual anarchy. Questions to consider include: Where do biopolitics and (modernist) poetics collide? How does the classroom (or indeed the seminar format itself) replicate/produce a private or public space for feminist discourse? How did public institutions of modernism bolster/interrupt/ignore/integrate feminist politics? How do recent interventions into modernist theory and history from gender theory and trans studies call for a rethinking of feminism's activation of public and private modes of art and life? Participants will pre-circulate short papers (6-8 pages) that address these and other related questions and topics, and discussion on the day of the seminar will aim to integrate all participants’ critical contributions, in the spirit of collective engagement.

Feminist Theory and the Magazine

Leaders Invited participants

In two landmark special issues, the first in 1989 and the second in 2015, Victorian Periodicals Review took up the question of theoretical approaches to periodicals. The pieces published in these volumes on issues such as time, repetition, network, and genre remain relevant today and still support new teaching and research in modern magazines. Though feminist periodicals and the women’s commercial press have received an uptick in critical attention in recent years, there has been no similar sustained interrogation of the benefit that feminist, queer, and sexuality studies might bring to the study of magazines. Though there is no dearth of theoretically innovative approaches to magazines drawing from feminist methods, from Margaret Beetham’s A Magazine of Her Own (1996) on to contemporary takes on the fashion magazine in the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies (2020), it tends to be the case that when scholars are clustered together in rooms, special issues, or essay volumes, we do so around a periodical genre (little magazines, for example), or magazine title, or theme/problem (seriality, for example), or national and period-based contexts, rather than feminist methods. This seminar offers an opportunity to think together about our methods of investigation and invites speculative, experimental, playful, or exploratory meditations on the impact of a critical method or approach drawn from feminist studies (defined as broadly as possible to include queer theory, sexuality studies, black feminist theory, intersectional approaches, transgender studies, masculinity studies, feminist disability studies, feminist approaches to the archive, feminist materialist studies and more) upon any object of study drawn from the modern magazine archive. What can feminist theory unlock in the periodical archive? What happens when identity-based theories of race, class, sexuality, and gender meet the materiality of the periodicals page?

Literature and Action

Leader Invited participants

This seminar asks of modernism: how did it attempt to intervene in the world? In “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” Virginia Woolf notes that a work of great literature should be complete in itself, and should not make a reader feel she needs to do something after reading it, such as join a society or write a check. But what if the point of literature is, specifically, to activate the reader to do something, including taking political action? Can we discern, either in modernism, adjacent to it, or as a separate literary ideal altogether, the project of activating and intervening, making changes in the present, and reshaping the future? Or, to take another tack, how might literature be put into action by other forces, perhaps beyond the author’s intention? For this seminar, I invite papers—feel free to think of them as provocations and thought experiments—that take up the prospect of an activist literary project in the 20th century (and beyond). Participants might consider writers who aim for their work to propel some larger goal, or might look in a less author-focused way at how literature can be enlisted to broader purposes, or may consider more collective models of literary action. Any genre of literature from anywhere in the world is welcome for consideration, and topics might include gender, race, geopolitics, work, empire, ecology/climate, economics, war, migration or other areas where literary culture might be imagined—or even asked—to provoke change. 5-7 page position papers will be circulated to the group in advance of the conference for discussion.

Misfits, Perverts, and Other Modernist Sexualities


Scholarship in queer modernist studies has recently turned its attention to misfits, perverts, eccentrics, and other forms of sexuality that fall outside available categories. Examining these defunct, inchoate, vestigial, and other non-normative organizations of eros and sexuality, this seminar strives to understand the encounter between individual modernist subjects and the increasing calcification of the hetero/homo binary. We’re interested in exploring the archives of these non-fitting lives, the vocabularies, affects, texts, sites, and practices through which individuals construct misfit sexualities. How do misfits negotiate, dispute, dodge, and experience historical shifts in sexuality? What existing discourses or older styles of subjectivity provide resources for fashioning nonce sexualities and their erotic repertoires? Do modernist aesthetic practices and literary forms provide affordances for the construction of these alternative sexualities? How do modes of eccentricity illuminate dominant categories and help us to understand sexuality’s taxonomic construction and also its imbrication with the colonial and racial taxonomic projects of the era? What attention is needed to what happens at discursive interstices, to palimpsestic effects, to effects of translation and poly-languaging, to willful or unwilled silences? Building on a wave of scholarship in queer of color critique, we will explore the relation between these sexually inchoate or unyarded subjects and processes of racialization to ask how sexuality is reconfigured when flesh rather than subjectivity becomes its anchor. How might these subjectivities record or engage historical events or how might they themselves be historical? Are these sexual subjectivities or erotic practitioners unique or do they coagulate into sexual subcultures or affective sodalities? In what ways are they constructed through logics of gender, class, age, religion, and other axes of difference? We will open by having the discussion leaders trace themes and intellectual throughlines among the papers for 10 minutes each and then move to a general discussion.



No migration without labour. No “carrying across” without “carrying.” Whether we are discussing the “trans-” of translation, transnationalism, transgender identities, transference, or the coordinated movement of bodies through and across space, we cannot avoid considering the laborious elements of crossing through, changing over, passing beyond, or even going back. Can we “figure” migration without attending to labour? How does migration condition and affect the aesthetic labour of modernist innovation? As a principle, or even an injunction, Ezra Pound’s “make it new” still offers a helpful gloss on the political and aesthetic demands of modernist projects in various forms. In the context of this demand for newness, we might even see migration as the making modern of modernism itself, in the propensities of crossing through, changing over, passing beyond, or even going back to generate “new” material and metaphorical configurations. What indeed is the status of “newness” in migration? Does thinking of migration as a condition of modernist writing help us understand its complex mediation of tradition? In many ways, the “figuration” of labour can help us better understand the connections between migration and modernist innovation. As Gayatri Spivak notes in An Aesthetic Education: “Culture alive is always on the run.” Indeed, movement as critical method in Spivak’s work appropriates modernist themes for diverse purposes; see the “feminist shuttling” between “capitalism as modernity and reproductive heteronormativity,” for example. Or, consider Ishmael Reed’s 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo, where the “Jes Grew” dance-virus—aesthetic-innovation-become-involuntary-affliction transposes the aspirant formal and social freedoms of jazz into the discourse of racial contagion, prompting reflection on the racial and capitalist logics of “carrying,” and renewing thinking about the effortful dimension underlying the “virality” of culture. This seminar therefore promises an interdisciplinary conversation about the effortful and productive nature of migrations, considered broadly. What are the intersections between the labour theory of value, biopolitics, and deconstructions of the subject/subjectivity in modernist writing, for example? How might a focus on the labour of migration help us understand anew modernist critiques and explorations of “the subject,” “sovereignty,” and “belonging,” in the context of political economy and the reproduction of global capital?

Modernism and “the Whiteness problem”: Filling Gaps, Identifying Investments


The phrase “the Whiteness problem” ironically invokes earlier designations “the woman problem” and “the Negro problem” to suggest both distinctions and relationships among attempts to source a social issue in a singular identity feature. The 2022 MSA seminar on whiteness seeks participants engaged in revisiting modernist artists and makers through their self-representations, elisions, or sublimations of whiteness; it also invites self-reflexive considerations of scholarly method, pedagogy, and theory in modernist studies. This seminar embraces and forwards the 2022 conference theme by interrogating whiteness as crucial to understanding what modernism, and modernist studies, was, is, and will be as we contemplate the field “100 Years On.” The seminar is fueled by a sense of urgency and deliberation in addressing concerns about the resilience of white dominance, a topic of concern for scholars as we confront racialized discourses around nationalisms and globalizations, in modernist times and today. We invite participants to rearticulate modernist whitenesses considering the ample evidence that, first, white dominance has always already been a global conversation in modernist communities. Cross-cultural work in Whiteness Studies—in which seminal works are not at least 25 years old—has identified similarities in the effects/affects of whiteness as a globalized historical phenomenon deeply imbricated in imperialism and productive of differences that enable the analysis of whiteness as a historical and geographical category. Comparatist approaches that decenter Anglophone cultural contexts, or analyses that center aboriginal Australian, mixed-race Brazilian, or creole Caribbean works are particularly welcome. We also encourage contributions that examine the heterogeneity of whiteness or systems that enable or constrain the recognition of whiteness. Participants may examine whiteness intersectionally as a category produced dialectically with both its racialized and ethnicized “others,” gender (especially masculinity), language, age, dis/ability, class, and sexuality. We seek a dialogue that crosses continents, media, institutional affiliations, and disciplines.

Modernism and Seriality


Although the designation of the “annus mirabilis” as the official launch of modernism tends to reinforce the primacy of its individual productions (Ulysses, The Waste Land, Jacob’s Room) and thus a conception of modernist autonomy that can feel, these days, rather passé, 1922 also marked, for instance, the birth of BBC radio and of Reader’s Digest, the launch of The Criterion, Il Mondo and Camera, the release of film serials like Speed and The Timber Queen, and even the broadcast debut of Walter Camp’s “Daily Dozen” exercise regimen. Rather than viewing these and other cultural productions as mere background to an ascendant, experimental literary modernism, this seminar takes the serial, or the serial work of art, as a central facet of modernism in its own right, and one through which we might even look back on those celebrated individual works with fresher eyes. What might it mean to read modernism through the lens of such serial productions? What does the modernist serial work tell us about modernism’s relation to practices of labor, dissemination, and reception? What can seriality teach us about modernism’s presence and influence upon a diverse and incredibly saturated media ecology? Finally, and more broadly, how can the modernist serial more productively inform our understanding of modernism in 2022? We invite position papers and other speculative interventions that deliver perspectives on and through modernist seriality, and that represent a wide range of disciplines and fields—music, media studies, print culture and book history, periodical studies, film studies, sound studies, and comics studies, among others—to join us in tracing how the making of modernism was never a singular affair.

Modernism at Farm & Garden


Modernism and modernity’s social ideologies, aesthetic practices, and environmental histories were often connected to new forms of food production and horticulture, perhaps as early as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1851), which drew on his “forcing frame” and greenhouse experiments as Head Gardener at Chatsworth. Later, from Kropotkin’s linking of anarchist sciences to the French market garden, Du Bois’s writings on cooperatives, the ejido’s role in the Mexican Revolution, and the New England homesteading movement championed by Helen and Scott Nearing, intellectuals grounded major social ideologies of modernization and its alternatives to concrete food production practices. Relatedly, gardens are central themes in modernist literature and art the world over, as well as arenas of thought for gardener-writers including Vita Sackville-West, Karel Čapek, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Simon Cutts, and Jamaica Kincaid. Scholars like Richard Morse, Sonya Posmentier, and Allison Carruth highlight how global modernism might be viewed through comparative agrarian histories, John Dixon Hunt historicizes the values of modernism’s own landscape architecture, and Robert Pogue Harrison establishes a philosophy of cultivation in relation to the garden’s cultural history. This seminar seeks to build on such work. We welcome brief papers that explore social ideologies, aesthetic practices and environmental histories that read modernism (broadly conceived) to the farm and garden.

Modernist Beginnings, Origins, and Foundations


Consider modernist approaches to the beginnings of stories, the origins of events, or the foundations of thought. Why did Joyce, Woolf, Ford, Stein, Proust, Barnes, Faulkner, or other modernists create uncertain beginnings of their stories? Suggestive for fiction is Melba Cuddy-Keane’s “Virginia Woolf and Beginning’s Ragged Edge” on anti-beginnings of stories that are “never ultimately traceable to a point of origin,” and in which readers do not search for a beginning but rather “listen in” to a story that is “already under way” (in Brian Richardson’s Narrative Beginnings). How have modernists questioned assumptions about the origins of personal existence, family heritage, or nationhood? How have they questioned precepts about the grounding of science on clear axioms and postulates or about the comprehension of space and time as universal frames of reference? Papers might consider also increasing knowledge as well as new questions about of the origins of the universe (cosmology), Earth (geology), life (biology), humans (evolutionary theory and genetics), families (degeneration theory and eugenics), language (linguistics), or nations, or ideas about the foundations of thought in Nietzsche (genealogy), Freud (psychoanalysis), Jung (individual psychology), or Heidegger (existential analysis). As a historian, I invite contributors to consider why modernists probed such distinctive beginnings, origins, or foundations specifically in the years 1890–1930.

Modernist Institutions


In the wake of the unfortunate passing of Lawrence Rainey, whose groundbreaking The Institutions of Modernism (1999) appeared over twenty years ago, this seminar aims to explore and interrogate the value of thinking about modernism in and through institutions. What does institutional theory get us as modernist scholars? How does modernist literature situate itself in relation to, and within, a wider institutional network, ranging from informal publication networks and practices to organized formal institutions at local, state, and transnational levels? What happens when authors seek to represent institutional life within modernity’s bewildering variety of institutional forms, from local bureaucracies, psychiatric hospitals, schools, or prisons? How are political energies channeled through institutional forms like writers’ congresses (think 1935 and the International Writers’ Congress for the Defense of Culture) or ad hoc groups or associations spearheaded by writers and intellectuals? Authors’ associations like PEN or transnational bodies like the League of Nations (with their focus on intellectual cooperation) or UNESCO would be especially welcome axes of study for this seminar. While the seminar will tend to focus on formal institutions with a degree of self-reflexive agency and power, the seminar will invite a wider reflection on how modernism has constituted itself as an institution in its own right through scholarly conferences and professional associations like the very thing we are now doing. What are the limits of critique given such a state of affairs?

Modernist Monuments Reconsidered


Susan Sontag writes of the onslaught of photographs as reminders of the past, which create an experience of “too much remembering” and not enough contemplation (Regarding the Pain of Others, 115). Keeping in mind Sontag’s suggestion for less memorialization and more reflection, this seminar considers what and how monuments, landmarks, anniversaries and traditions obscure as they attempt to memorialize. This question is frequently raised in iconic modernist literary texts—we might think, for example, of Nelson’s Statue or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway; the visit to Glasnevin Cemetery in Joyce’s Ulysses; or Eliot’s The Waste Land itself a fraught memorial to WWI soldiers. Interrogating the utility and adequacy of memorialization is particularly provocative in postwar and postcolonial rebuilding in the early and mid-twentieth century: how are historical and cultural narratives reshaped through memorialization, what is excised, and what remains unacknowledged? The removal of monuments in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and the recent activist success in reframing public history makes this question of what and how we memorialize (or refuse to memorialize) especially urgent. We welcome papers that explore topics related to the reconsideration of memorialization, such as: how literary modernist texts address the challenges of memorialization while also, inevitably, becoming part of the process of memorializing and becoming memorialized; how modernist studies reinforces (or interrupts) exclusive and inadequate rituals of memorialization; how modernism aestheticizes memorialization; what modernist studies can learn from the cultural and historical lessons of recent activist movements that insist on the public acknowledgment of white supremacist violence in existing memorials and the rebuilding of public memory on a more inclusive foundation. We further invite speculative possibilities of alternative landmarks or memorials from feminist, queer, trans, Black studies, ethnic studies, and disability studies perspectives.

Modernist Poetics: New Genealogies of 'Making the Work' in Modernity


This seminar takes up the conference rubric, Making Modernism, as a question of “poetics”–a discourse of “making the work.” Poetics may be either immanent to a modernist work of art or a supplement to it; it is an aesthetic or theoretical reflection that offers a blueprint for how the “work” is made and how to read it. Poetics may take the form of a separate instance of writing, a preface or explanatory essay external to the work of art, or it may be described or enacted in the work itself, as a set of instructions to the reader on how work may be read. In this seminar, we will seek new ways of understanding modernist poetics, at or beyond the epochal date of 1922, as a response to the crisis of modernity. Modernist poetics is often characterized as “formalist,” after avant-garde manifestos, the New Critics, or the Russian Formalists. For this inquiry, Eliot’s “Notes” to The Waste Land and his editorship of The Criterion would be as important for modernist poetics as the poem itself. Extending this principle, Joyce’s turn to writing “Work in Progress” and its serial publication in transition from 1927 on would depart from the modernist masterpiece into another kind of writing; Stein’s “Composition as Explanation” (1926) would supplement the publication of Geography and Plays (1922); and McKay’s development of vernacular prose romances from Home to Harlem (1928) to Banana Bottom (1933) would augment the formal poetics of Harlem Shadows (1922). After 1922, a reflection on the “making of the work” emerges in numerous works of poetics that address the modern present and its “condition of possibility.” Such a deliberate inquiry into the making of the modernist work motivates the prose/poetry dialectic of William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All (1923); it is found in the self-reflexive explorations of women authors such as Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Laura Riding, and Djuna Barnes; it extends to the social discourses on poetics in the Harlem Renaissance and the Popular Front; it is everywhere in the manifestos of the avant-garde, especially surrealism; it appears in the turn to fascism in Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis; it is central to key works of Critical Theory such as Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” and Theodor Adorno’s writings on modernism. This seminar invites literary, historical, cultural, and theoretical inquiry into works broadly seen as “poetics” in modernism. What will count as a key work in modernist/modern poetics is the task of participants to determine; our aim is to establish a broad and productive series of works that represent the aesthetic, cultural, political, and critical “making of the work” under conditions of modernity. In so doing, it seeks a broad discussion on modernist poetics in line with our earlier work on contemporary examples in A Guide to Poetics Journal and Poetics Journal Digital Archive (Wesleyan UP).

Other Scenes of Teaching

Leaders Invitied participant

Scholarship on the institutionalization of modernism (by scholars like Gerald Graff, Langdon Hammer, Gail McDonald, and Leonard Diepeveen) has long stressed the affinity between modernist aesthetics and the university—or, more specifically, the post-war American research university. Yet this line of critical thinking has tended to overlook the diversity of educational systems and structures that existed within the first half of the twentieth century and, with this, modernism’s proliferation among these other scenes of teaching. Consequently, this seminar seeks to explore the relationship between modernism and the educational institutions and practices that have typically found less space in our scholarly narratives:

This list is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive. This seminar invites work that addresses how modernist authors and other literary figures from this period encountered, or were themselves educated in, such institutional environments. It is also interested in considering how modernism as a subject infiltrated and informed these various spaces and practices.

Slow Thinking in the Maelstrom


The many rhythms of modernity have tended to be framed through speed and suddenness: shock, trauma, quick cuts, events, acceleration. We have been slower to attend to slow violence (Nixon), slow death (Berlant), slow life (Puar). While we may be said to be catching up to slow print (Miller), slow universities (O’Neill), slow critique (Badley), slow causality (Choi and Leckie), and slow media (Rauch), the rhythms of research and writing clash again and again with those of the news, of the world in layered crisis, of performance reviews, of Twitter; of manifold urgencies, in short. In this proposed seminar, we are seeking participants willing to share short position papers about slowness, in the belief that slow modernism, slow eros, slow feminism, slow ecocriticism, slow materialism, among other varieties of slow thinking—ruminating, dwelling on, caring for, and sitting with—have something valuable to offer as a way of engaging frenetic times past and present. Slowness for us marks a problem and a set of questions, not a panacea. We’re seeking to develop analyses and practices of slowness not merely as a space of opposition or alternativity, but as active ways of intervening in the reproduction of the present. We’re therefore interested in new kinds of analytical purchase slowness might offer on urgencies both modernist and contemporary as a method, object, or aesthetic.

Surrealism on the Move


This seminar explores the significance of travel, migration, and exile upon the creativity of surrealist artists and upon the evolution of the movement in the 1930s and ’40s away from the conceptual premises established in Paris under the aegis of André Breton. If surrealism begins as a relatively parochial affair in the salons of Paris in the 1920s, with its movement limited to the urban dérive, by the 1930s it is an art of continental and global wanderers. Whether it is in the transatlantic movement of European artists such as Leonora Carrington, South Americans such as Leonor Fini, or Breton himself, under the pressure of war, to the USA and Mexico, the permanent, yet unstable European settlement of an American artist such as Lee Miller, or the trans-European journeys of the British poet and painter Roland Penrose, “wandering” and resettlement will be crucial for the long-term development of surrealism. This seminar seeks contributions that map these movements and explore their impact, with particular attention to artists already on the margins of surrealism because of gender and/or ethnicity, who redefine their practice as a consequence of transnational and continental migration. What are the implications of new languages and social practices? Of new networks of friendship, and the transformation of old ones by distance? Of new sites and modes of publication and exhibition? Do these changed conditions allow us to re-map Surrealism as a whole?

Trans Modernisms: Approaches, Problems, New Directions

Leaders Invited participants

1922 saw the publication of Jennie June's The Female-Impersonators, a personal account of genderqueer communities in New York. While the histories, cultural productions, and representations of such communities are often addressed under the rubric of “queer modernism,” others have argued that a transgender analytic is necessary to apprehend the role of gender nonconformity within modernism. Some have asserted that fictional trans figures—e.g., Woolf’s Orlando—played a central role in establishing modernist aesthetics and dismantling conventional notions of gender. Others, like Emma Heaney, assert that such readings rely too heavily on queer theory’s tendency to erase trans materiality, allegorizing the trans subject as an overdetermined symbol of transgression. In The New Woman, Heaney argues for distinguishing between “expert” definitions of trans femininity and “vernacular” notions that emerge from the cultural practices and productions of “fairies, mollies, and Maryannes” (9). Others, following Jessica Berman, have examined the conceptual resonances that exist between the “trans” in transgender and the “trans” in transnational. Additionally, scholars such as Chris Coffman have used transgender theory to reconsider the gender expressions of queer modernist figures such as Gertrude Stein. This seminar invites scholars to reflect on extant approaches to trans topics within modernist studies, investigate methodological conundrums, and propose paths forward. Seminar participants will submit position papers of 5-7 pages, which will be circulated in advance. The two-hour seminar will be broken into thirds. In the first block, participants will assess the current state of trans approaches to modernist studies. The middle third will be devoted to addressing potential problems in considering modernist objects from a trans perspective, with special consideration to frictions that exist between trans studies and queer studies. In the remaining third, participants will propose possible futures for trans modernist studies. This seminar aims to foster thoughtful new contributions to the study of trans modernisms.

Transracial Circuits, Transnational Modernism

Leader Invited participants

Nella Larsen saw Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives as a powerful meditation on Black experiences, and had “Melanctha” in mind as she wrote Quicksand. Langston Hughes revisits Poundian imagism in poems such as “Chord” and “Subway Rush Hour”—the latter a direct response to “In a Station of the Metro,” pushing the principle of condensation further than ever, and assigning races—and racial connections—to Pound’s “faces.” Wallace Thurman and Richard Bruce Nugent found themselves moved by James Joyce’s Ulysses, which offered a compelling connection between the Celtic Revival and the New Negro movement, as well as their own ambivalence to Harlem’s institutionalization. Like Stein, Pound, and Joyce, these authors were unafraid to critique the very terms of their work’s legibility. What could be more avant-garde?

This seminar takes its cue from Jahan Ramazani, who has argued that disciplinary boundaries tend to obscure the complex networks and cultural overlap of a transnational poetics. This is particularly true for modernism’s Black writers. The problematic appropriation of Blackness as “primitivism” by largely white, European and American artists has been well documented. What has yet to be fully explored, however, is the extent to which Black modernist writers saw themselves reflected in, and contributed to, the larger currents of the period: Questions of shock and rupture, alienation and homelessness, the fragmentation of consciousness, the disparity between the seen and the felt. Participants will consider how formal experimentation migrated in both directions across national and racial borders—as foundational in Passing as in To the Lighthouse, in Infants of the Spring as in Finnegans Wake—in order to become what we know it as today. As our world grapples with widespread anti-Black racism, modernist studies must consider how Black artists of the period have suffered from the move to adjectival pigeonholing, preventing a fuller appreciation of their rich contributions to modernist aesthetics.

Seminar Overview

Seminar information (seminar title, description, and names of seminar leaders and any invited participants) is typically made available on the conference website prior to the opening of registration. MSA members sign up for seminars during conference registration by selecting up to three seminars (ranked in order of preference); members are placed in a seminar according to their ranking and available space. Most seminars have a cap (usually 15, including the leader[s] and any invited participants) and unless otherwise indicated they are set to have no auditors by default. The seminar registration period typically closes about a month after registration opens.

In advance of the seminar meeting at MSA, participants produce short papers in response to the seminar topic description and share them with the entire group through whatever mechanism the seminar leaders devise. All participants are to read all of the participants’ papers—a process that aims to ensure careful and significant dialogue on the topic. Seminars take place at MSA in blocks of two hours and thirty minutes. Typically, the first two hours are devoted to specific discussion of the topic by seminar participants and the final thirty minutes typically allow room for questions, general discussion, and/or participation of auditors, if relevant.


Seminars are typically led by anywhere between one and three leaders who have some experience or knowledge foundational to the seminar topic, and who can represent different professional stages or institutional statuses.

Some seminar leaders choose to invite a few people to join a seminar in some special role—usually scholars with special interest or expertise in the topic. It is entirely up to seminar leaders whether to exercise this option or not. All seminar leaders are welcome to invite up to two invited participants and can determine their precise role. Seminar organizers are, however, strongly urged to require invited participants to produce papers or prepare responses for the seminar in order to feed the dialogue of the seminar and to make the best use of everyone’s time.

Seminars function best when they foster considered, sustained intellectual dialogue anchored in the work that seminar participants circulate in advance and a lively conversation among peers during the seminar itself. Repeated experience suggests that seminars also function best when all participants, with the exception of the seminar leader(s), produce fresh, written work for the occasion.

The MSA encourages seminar leaders to discuss with invited participants the role they will play in the seminar in the earliest stages of the planning process.


Seminars are limited to a set number of participants. By default, auditors are NOT permitted; seminar leaders may, however, choose to allow auditors but must inform the conference organizers.


Seminar leaders should set firm guidelines for each seminar from their first or second contact with seminar participants. These should include, at a minimum:

Other guidelines are up to individual leaders and can lend seminars their unique styles. In the past, some leaders have provided a list of recommended readings and/or a list of questions the group should consider. Some have assigned participants to generate detailed critiques of each other’s work in pairs or small groups, in addition to all of the participants reading each other’s work. Leaders have also given specific paper guidelines guiding content (encouraging or discouraging textual, theoretical, or methodological analysis, e.g.).


The seminar leader acts as a facilitator, rather than an instructor, in conducting this discussion among peers. It is the seminar leader’s job to ensure that the dialogue is inclusive; a leader must not allow one or two participants to dominate and should exercise the chair’s prerogative to steer discussion in a way that includes everyone. No responsibility is more important than making sure that everyone gets to participate fully, and that everyone’s submission gets attention.

A version of this document outlining seminar leader strategies and past experiences is typically distributed to seminar leaders in the late spring. [formulated by Rebecca Walkowitz, lightly updated by Rebecca Walsh in 2019 and Elizabeth Evans in 2021]