Cities, Centers, and Limits in Post-1945 American Literature (March 17-20, NeMLA 2016)

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Tim Clarke, Caroline Holland

The city is a frequent topos in the literature of modernism and post-modernism, traceable from T. S. Eliot's "Unreal City" of The Waste Land to the imagined Guadalajara of John Ashbery's "The Instruction Manual," and yet, our sense of urban space grows less certain after 1945, when both the city and its literature change rapidly in step with the new post-war world. These times of mounting anxiety over city space and its expanding limits--from suburbs and slums to the growing insularity of neighborhoods--also give rise to a problem of literary periodization: where does modernism end, and what succeeds it? Should we speak of a "long modernism" (Amy Hungerford 2008), or do the aesthetics of the period demand another name altogether? Does the ambiguity of this age where centers and peripheries clash and cease to be clearly defined suggest that "spatialization means reperiodizations" (Susan Friedman 2006) of post-war American writing?

This foregrounding of city space also obligates us to consider how the imaginary metropolis affects marginalized spaces inhabited by real people. From Allen Ginsberg to LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), formal experimentation often claims to offer a means of resisting the marginalization, insularity, and self-containment of urban spaces; to that end, our panel also seeks to question the notion of the city as an illegible space that resists representation. In addition, we hope to provoke discussion about what really constitutes "experimental" writing in urban space, and whether "socially conscious" urban writers (such as Lorraine Hansberry or John Rechy) are themselves experimental.

Following up on recent efforts to establish the post-1945 period as a distinct field of critical inquiry, our panel seeks papers that investigate the strategies employed by writers of the 1945 to 1975 period to address urban ecologies and construct the turbulent, often problematic space of the post-war city.

Abstracts of up to 300 words can be submitted at the NeMLA submission page until the deadline of September 30th. Please contact Tim Clarke (tclar089@uottawa.ca) and Caroline Holland (caroline.holland@mail.utoronto.ca) with any further inquiries.

http://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/15866