Blowing Up Babel -- MSA 11 Nov 5-8 2009

full name / name of organization: 
Margaret Bruzelius / Smith College
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for MSA 11 -- The Languages of Modernism, nov 5-8-2009

Blowing up Babel - escaping language in modernism
Margaret Bruzelius

This panel seeks to explore modernist attempts to circumvent the limits of language by exploding the barriers that language erects between signifier and signified. Such efforts seek to forge immediate and uniquely effective communication either by focusing on sound or on the visual aspects of language, free of the baggage of "normal" speech. This panel will explore the links between artistic, reformist and rationalist attempts to invent a truly "modern" language. Schwitters in Germany (the "Ursonate") and Khlebnikov and Kkruchnykh in Russia (Zaum) re-invent language by concentrating on new sound combinations that create new perceptions and new languages. In another vein Zukofsky attempts homophonic translations of Catullus in order to liberate in English the "living matter" that inheres in the sound of Catullus' Latin. Perhaps more commonly, others seek to revivify language and strengthen its connection to the "real" by focusing on the visual. Freud interprets dreams by elaborating aural/visual puns; Abraham and Torok develop his idea in a "cryptonymy" (The Wolf Man's Magic Word),their systematic retracing of the Wolf Man's dream vocabulary through a multilingual register of puns linked to images. The Scots poet Ian Hamilton Finlay revivifies words in concrete poems and installations including his "Little Sparta" garden. In a rationalist, reformist vein Otto Neurath devises the isotype system as a clarifying visual supplement to linguistic communication. On the fringes, mad reformers such as the Australian Charles Bliss invent "semantography" or blissymbolics in order to provide a means of impartial, universal communication. Currently, the Chinese artist Xu Bing is "writing" The Book from the Ground , a novel written entirely in signage.

I am looking for papers that explore any aspect of such efforts to either supplement or replace language by focusing on sound or sight. Please send 300 word proposals and brief bio by May 1.