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Modernist Studies, Contemporary Problems: Towards a Comparative Literature of Objects, Genre, and Mediation

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Organizer: Alexander Jones

Co-Organizer: Wyatt Sarafin

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In the past decade, modernist studies has been animated by the issue of periodization. As a concept, modernism has been projected backwards and forwards in space and time. Attempts to clarify the “when” of modernism have ultimately led modernist studies to the doorstep of contemporary. If we now have late modernism, metamodernism, and cosmodernism broaching the present, we also have arguments “against periodization” (Hayot), proposals for “literary transhistory” (Bronstein), and assertions that modernism is nothing more nor less than the “creative and expressive domain” of any modernity (Friedman). But what does it mean to propose the contemporaneity of modernism when modernism itself is being detached from time and history?


This panel seeks to balance accounts of the contemporaneity of modernism (James) with alternative conceptualizations of the contemporary through genre (Martin), media archaeology (Guillory), site specificity (Alworth), and the new materialism (Tompkins). These alternative methodologies have counterintuitively relied on the deep histories of genre, media, and objects to think through the contemporary moment—starting in the present and then heading deep into the past and back again. As such, the goal of this panel is to find a possible link between two seemingly disparate approaches: carving up and periodizing modernism (or not) on the one hand, and the generic, medial, and material objects that lend modernity its rich and varied contours on the other.


This is to say the problem of the contemporary is fundamentally linked to that of media and mediation. As literature departments continue to incorporate media studies into the curriculum, there will be an increasingly urgent need to account for rifts in method -- the "web 1.0" of continental philosophy and "web 2.0" of literary historicism. Rather than simply ascribe a crude pejorative to a school of thought, we seek to bridge methodological division by placing both approaches in conversation with one another. 

 

We thus ask a number of questions: 

 

1. Where do these differing versions of the contemporary meet, if at all? Are they in tension? What can putting the two in conversation tell us about the insights and blind spots of the other? 


2. What is the contemporary's proximity to the local, the historical, and the planetary? Does the contemporary yield to modernism? Or vice versa? 


3. Does the contemporary take shape in particular genres, particular media, or particular objects? If it does, what does this tell us about the vitality of modernism, assuming that there is a "contemporaneity" to modernism at all? 


4. Are late modernism, metamodernism, and cosmodernism portable to other arts? Or are they most useful when asking questions about literature? Do other disciplines like art history, theatre and performance, and area studies think modernism and the contemporary in tandem--or, rather, as separate spheres of inquiry? 

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