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CFP--Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 36.2 M
full name / name of organization:
English department of National Taiwan Normal University
Guest Editor: Frank Stevenson
This special issue, entitled “M,” focuses on the significance, literally the signifying force of the letter “M.” Any interpretations are possible but the editors particularly had in mind the “economic” senses of “M,” as in money, Marx, mass production. In this context, the deep central “V” in “M” might suggest extremes. Kenichi Ohmae, the Japanese business strategist and writer, says we are becoming an “M-shaped Society”: as the traditional distribution pattern changes, the middle class is disappearing and people are becoming either richer or poorer. Indeed, already in the mid-19th century Benjamin Disraeli, in his novel Sybil or The Two Nations (1845), deplored what he saw as a gulf in England between the “Two Nations,” the nations of capital and labor, rich and poor. Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto three years later in 1848, and the specter of that work continues to haunt not only Europe but the world.
In perhaps a further expansion of this economic meaning, “M” also can stand for modernity, metropolitanism, mass media. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) presented audiences with a futuristic capitalist dystopia set in the year 2000: the factory owners live in luxury on the upper floors of the corporate city-state’s extraordinary Art Deco skyscrapers while the workers live underground, laboring to sustain the lives of the privileged. In the “M” of McDonald’s the mass media join forces with mass production: like other all-American labels (“Microsoft” and “Mickey Mouse”) the “McDonald’s” brand helps to spread this fast-food giant’s products to every corner of the globe, and the Golden Arches brood like an ever-watchful, glowing mother hen over our civilization and its discontents. The sociologist George Ritzer even uses the term “McDonaldization” to describe the process by which an entire society takes on the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant.
We see the mesmerizing force of an increasingly global pop culture in our iconic sports stars (Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan), movie stars (Marilyn Monroe) and singers (Madonna, the other MJ, Eminem). Indeed, “M” thrives in its crossing of global space and time-zones, sending out its rhizome-like tendrils in every conceivable direction. Moreover, its historical echoes are literary and religious as well as economic, political and cinematic. For instance, “M” may stand for Mary (the Virgin Mary but also Mary Magdalene) and motherhood in general as well as for our latter-day Madonna. It also may signify Mephistopheles and the monstrosity of Faust’s desires which this agent of Satan encourages, or Melville’s monstrous white whale Moby Dick and the monstrosity of Captain Ahab’s obsession with killing it. In fact “M” can suggest death itself (morte) and murder, as in Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” or the 1954 American film, “Dial ‘M’ for Murder.”
“M”—nourished by lassez-faire and greed and pure desire—is perhaps an out-of- control desiring-machine, an impulse which urges people to go to extremes, to embark on the path of pure becoming: becoming-intense, becoming-money, becoming-might (power or pure contingency), becoming-M. How vast might be the multiple and molecular traces and folds of such a monstrous machine? This special issue of Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies on the theme of “M” em-phasizes, then, the multifarious manifestations of this letter. It invites papers on any subjects which mark the significance of “M.”