UPDATE: [American] MSAX panel: Modernism and the Network Narrative

full name / name of organization: 
Wesley Beal
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Over the last quarter-century, the fields of critical theory have converged
on a common buzzword, connectivity, which has acted as the linking
mechanism for a constellation of divergent fields converging onto a common
objective. Corresponding to this surge of “connectivity theory” we also
see arise a distinctive “network narrative”— a subgenre that represents
human connectedness and its accompanying group formations. Together with
the boom in connectivity theory, these narratives mark a “connectivity
turn” that has defined the theoretical and literary production of the late
1900s and 2000s, with the network narrative exemplified in works like Don
DeLillo’s Underworld (1997) or Paul Haggis’s Oscar-winning Crash (2005).
But arguably such literary representations of connectivity reach further
back into the twentieth century—in such figures as the constellar linking
projects of the hardboiled detective fiction of the 1920s, in the
interpenetrating “four-way conveyor system” of Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy
(1930-36), or in the frantic mob of West’s Day of the Locust (1939).

Following the conference theme “Modernism and Global Media,” this panel
will consider the network narrative as we find it in modernism. Well
before the connectivity turn of the later 1900s, narratives of the
modernist period were already dealing with connectivity as it arose in the
international conflicts, urbanization, immigration, and technological
developments that defined the era. Indeed, Randolph Bourne seems to have
anticipated the connectivity turn of the later century when he wrote in
1916 that the concept of the melting pot had failed as a metaphor for the
U.S. and that it should be replaced by his theory of “a federation of
clusters”—a figure evocative of a network, even if it doesn’t precisely
cohere with the language of connectivity theory as we recognize it today.
How do others of the modernist period anticipate the connectivity and
networking dynamics that came to dominate the later 1900s? What are the
means by which modernist network narratives represent connectivity? What
are the historical and technological contexts of modernist conceptions of
connectivity and networks? How can we “retrofit” frameworks of
contemporary connectivity theory to the network narratives of modernism?

Papers dealing with connectivity in any narrative form are welcome, and the
panel welcomes projects working with any national literature or theoretical

Please send abstracts of 350 words and a brief (2-3 sentence) scholarly
biography to Wesley Beal at wbeal_at_english.ufl.edu by 1 May. The annual
conference of the Modernist Studies Association takes place in Nashville,
TN from 13-18 November 2008. The conference website is

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Received on Mon Apr 21 2008 - 17:50:12 EDT

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