Modernism and Totalitarianism 5/4/11 -- 6-9/8/11

full name / name of organization: 
Patricia Rae/Modernist Studies Association (MSA)
contact email: 

"In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one hand are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy. Any writer or journalist who wants to retain his integrity finds himself thwarted by the general drift of society rather than by active persecution."

George Orwell, "The Prevention of Literature" (1946)

Proposals are invited for a possible MSA session on the subject of modernism and totalitarianism.

Modernist writers' and artists' experimental approaches to history and memory, their emphasis on the interior life of the individual subject, their strategies for sincere self-expression and for the indirect communication of thoughts and feelings, came under heavy fire from the progressive left in Britain, continental Europe, and the Americas during the 1930s. The same experiments gained new currency, however, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, particularly for writers and artists on the non-Stalinist left.

The ascent of Fascism and Soviet-style Communism, and of what James Burnham called the "managerial state" in Western capitalist democracies, provoked a renewed appreciation for modernist literary strategies, especially those concerned with expressing and communicating a free and private self. The new relevance of modernist experimentation was debated in literary journals such as Horizon and Partisan Review, and a "second wave" of modernist writing gathered strength in the early 1940s. Here, we see experiments first developed during, or even prior to, World War I, revived, revised and granted new political legitimacy.

Proposals welcome on any aspect of the debate about the revival of modernist strategies in the face of totalitarianism or the "managerial state," in any national context, in the late 1930s or 1940s. Proposals should be no more than 300 words in length and should be accompanied by a brief autobiographical statement.

Deadline for submission of proposals: Sunday, April 10, 2011

Conference Date: October 6-9, Buffalo N.Y.