ACLA Seminar (March 29 - April 1): The Modernist Self and its Discontents

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Ben Tam, Cornell University / Nan Zhang, Johns Hopkins University
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The American Comparative Literature Association's 2012 Annual Meeting will be held at Brown University from March 29 to April 1.

Seminar Theme: The Modernist Self and its Discontents

While social crisis calls for reform and redress that entail institutional effort and collective action, it also tends to dislocate the self from its familiar emotional, cultural, political, and ethical positions. Created around the period of what Ezra Pound called a "botched" civilization, the modernist literature in the twentieth century often foregrounds the relation between self and portentous social forces and examines the experiential and affective complexities in great depths and innovative forms.

This seminar will explore how an historically generated sense of crisis in the twentieth century finds subtle and profound expression in representations of self in the modernist literature. Threatened by war, the alienating force of industrialism, economic depression and poverty, the inadequacies of liberal capitalist democracy, the growth of authoritarian power, and so on, how does the self strive to maintain its integrity, identity, and agency?

This seminar also welcomes papers that interrogate, conversely, the extent to which the self is constructed by its conventional constituents such as "sovereignty" and "self-governmentality" when the self, confronted by what Georg Simmel called the "overstimuli of the metropolis," fails to perform its autonomy. Modernism's encounter with affect theory seems to suggest that an underdramatized self may well find its place and survival in precarious times, and that the discourse of the seemingly stable self may continually be complicated by new theoretical apparatuses in "lateral agency." We invite papers that address these issues of the modernist self from all ranges of critical perspectives.

Proposal Submission Method: A 250-word abstract of your individual paper and a brief bio (50 word max.) should be submitted through the ACLA website at Be sure to select "The Modernist Self and its Discontents" as you submit your proposal. Submission deadline is November 15, 2011.

Please note: It is not necessary to be a member of ACLA in order to submit a seminar or paper proposal. However, upon notification of proposal acceptance, all presenters must be both 1) registered for the conference and 2) current members of the ACLA for 2012 in order to participate.

For any inquires about the seminar topic or registration process, please contact Ben at