MSA 11: Aesthetic Depictions of Violence in Modernist Literature, 1890-1940

full name / name of organization: 
Dr. Jennifer Gilchrist
contact email: 
jengilchrist@gmail.com

Abstracts sought for a proposed panel at the 11th Annual Modernist Studies Association Conference in Montreal, Canada, November 5-9, 2009.

When, in 1891, Oscar Wilde rhetorically asked, “What is the death of a vague individual if it enables an immortal word to blossom and to create, in Keats’ words, an eternal source of ecstasy?” his l’art pour l’art glorification of aesthetic violence was surely intended to provoke reactions from middle-class Victorians. Stylistic renderings of violence, however, run throughout British, Irish, Continental and American modernist literature. Walter Benjamin’s famous 1936 diagnosis, that mankind’s “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order,” provided an early definition of fascist modernism, but scenes of physical and psychic violence in modernist texts continue to complicate our readings of these works.

This panel seeks to examine the roles aesthetic violence play in international modernist literature between 1890 and 1940. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

• Contextualizing the role(s) of aesthetic violence in movements such as Futurism and Vorticism.
• Anti-Enlightenment violence and the cult of the instinct
• Female modernists’ participation in, and/or resistance to, aesthetic violence
• Anti-colonial modernist depictions of violence
• Literature of the Harlem Renaissance and the aesthetics of primitivism and/or slavery
• Modernist literary use of psychoanalytic theories of the oedipal complex and castration
• Modernist interpretations of violent mythology
• Apocalyptic modernist visions
• Destruction as renewal in modernist literature
• Modernist depictions of war

Please send a brief biographical statement and abstracts of no more than 300 words to Dr. Jennifer Gilchrist (jengilchrist@gmail.com) by May 1, 2009.

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ethnicity_and_national_identity
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twentieth_century_and_beyond