Late Modernism and Spectacle, MSA 14 Las Vegas (Oct. 18-21)

full name / name of organization: 
Modernist Studies Association
contact email: 
tjboynton@depauw.edu

The last decade has produced a definition of Late Modernism as an array of aesthetic practices united by a departure from the hallmarks of early and high modernism. "Late Modernism,” as defined by texts such as Fredric Jameson’s A Singular Modernity and Tyrus Miller’s Late Modernism, takes shape as a program aimed at revising modernist practices of formal and ideological innovation originally designed to generate critical distance from the dominant social norms, political trends and popular-cultural modalities of early twentieth-century Euro-America. In Miller’s words, Late Modernist aesthetics attempts to “register the ways in which intense social, political, and economic pressures . . . increasingly threatened the efficacy of high modernist form.” Late Modernism, from its retrospective, midcentury vantage, destabilizes modernism’s aesthetic strategies by re-exposing them to the historical forces they were conceived to combat.

Given the central place occupied by capitalist reification among modernism’s critical targets, the commodity-centered concept of Spectacle proffered by Guy Debord’s classic Society of the Spectacle would seem to present a highly fruitful point of access to Late Modernism’s revisionary project. If, as Debord declares (toward the close of the Late Modernist period staked out by Jameson and Miller), “The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life,” its particular “pressures” must surely occupy a prominent place among the determinant historical forces of the Late Modernist turn—and in any critical account thereof.

How does the modernist program of resisting commodification in general and the commodifying agency of “Spectacle” in particular come to be troubled and revised in Late Modernism? What aesthetic forms result from Late Modernism’s critical revisions of modernist cultural politics? How does Late Modernism position itself relative to the midcentury intensification and geographical dissemination of Spectacular media such as radio, film and television and the concomitant spread of celebrity phenomena, tabloid journalism and mass politics? Does a critical potential persist in Late Modernism relative to the midcentury onrush of Spectacle? How does the program of Late Modernism help clarify and address the social, political and aesthetic issues accompanying the Euro-American, and incipiently global domination of Spectacle in modernity and postmodernity (its “total occupation of social life”)? This prospective panel seeks to contribute to the understanding of Late Modernism as a theoretical and literary-historical entity and to probe this entity’s distinctness from both preceding, early/high modernist practices and succeeding, postmodernist practices through attention to its engagement with “Spectacle.” Queries and abstracts of 300 words should be directed to tjboynton@depauw.edu by March 23.

cfp categories: 
cultural_studies_and_historical_approaches
film_and_television
modernist studies
popular_culture
theory
twentieth_century_and_beyond