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CFP: “Modernism and Trust” at MSA 11, Montréal, Québec, Nov 5-8, 2009
full name / name of organization:
John Attridge (Université Paris 7); Leonard Diepeveen (Dalhousie University)
Modernism and Trust at MSA 11, Nov 5-8, 2009
The aesthetic innovations of modernist art and literature radically changed the role of trust in the relationship between artists and their publics. The novelty and difficulty of much modernist writing left critics and readers with no reliable measure of authenticity, creating the permanent possibility of hoaxes like Witter Bynner’s fictitious “Spectra” school of poetry. This condition of doubt was exacerbated by a crisis of critical authority: as Virginia Woolf observed in 1923, there was no longer any “centralising influence” to counter the “ungenerous distrust of contemporary genius.” In the face of radical novelty and in the absence of unified canons of taste, such distrust was a common response. Some early readers of Ulysses, for example, were prone to conclude that “a gigantic effort has been made to fool the world of readers,” while Judge John M. Woolsey’s ruling on the novel’s decency insisted, on the contrary, on Joyce’s honesty and sincerity: “I hold that ‘Ulysses’ is a sincere and honest book.” The very necessity of affirming such an opinion puts us in the realm of trust: Joyce’s sincerity could be the object of more or less judicious belief, but not of apodictic knowledge.
Lawrence Rainey has recently described the “deep, ‘quasi-religious’ or systemic trust requisite both to melodrama and modernity, trust independent of immediacies of context and inductive knowledge,” but such direct considerations of the topic are rare in modernist studies. On the other hand, the territory demarcated by “trust” abuts several of the discipline’s key concepts, such as sincerity, authority, cultural capital, advertising, professionalism and mass culture. Trust also articulates such concepts with recent work in modernist reception studies, by foregrounding the suspicious responses that modernism aroused, and the mechanisms by which modernist authors sought to authenticate their writings. And, turning to the content and concerns of modernist texts, the theme of trust also seems particularly pertinent to a literary movement so marked by existential isolation and epistemological doubt. Trust, then, suggests itself as a neglected tool in modernist scholarship and one that will shed light on some of the central concerns of the field.
For MSA 11 in Montréal (November 5-8, 2009), we are looking for paper proposals that address the issue of modernism and trust. Possible topics include: