Textual Spectacle: Questioning Visual Materiality, Modernist Studies Association (MSA 14), Las Vegas, October 18-21

full name / name of organization: 
Elizabeth Bonapfel / New York University

Walter Benn Michaels's critique of materiality ("The Shape of the Signifier," 2004) argues that a materialist position is ultimately a subjectivist position because it relies on a person's perspective, and therefore identity, to read that text's material components. Michaels ultimately questions the deconstructive critique of the sign, which turned the "sign" into "marks" and "traces."

In accordance with this year's MSA 14 theme, "Modernism and Spectacle," this panel invites papers that explore the relationship between the physical materiality of the page and literary textual meaning. Given the fact that modernist authors experimented with visual effects such as page layout, typography, punctuation, and other textual "marks" alongside related developments in syntax, semantics, and voice (interior monologue, stream of conscious narration), this panel seeks to ask how the so-called materiality of the visual page contributes to, or calls into question, literary textual "meaning" in modernism.

What uniquely constitutes a "material" signifier in modernism? How "spectacular" is the page? What elements, or combination of elements, compose visual materiality as deployed in literary texts? What is a modernist visual text? How does visuality (broadly defined) contribute to text and its deployment of syntax and semantics? Are new "marking" strategies in text part of the spectacular culture of modernism? Does a materialist reading of the page necessarily evoke a subjectivist reading, as Walter Benn Michaels argues? If so, where is the space for the reader, or how can we "read" material elements of texts? What alternative criteria or vocabularies are available to assess and describe the visual and textual strategies of representation used by modernist authors? What do these strategies of representation enable in modernist texts?

Please send 350-word abstracts by April 1 to Elizabeth Bonapfel (elizabeth.bonapfel@nyu.edu)

Please note: This CFP is for a proposed panel, and is therefore not a guaranteed session. The panel must first meet approval by the MSA; this selection process occurs after the MSA receives panel proposals on April 6, 2012. In accordance with the MSA policy as listed on the website, "All those who attend the MSA conference must be members of the organization with dues paid for 2012-13 (MSA membership runs from July 1 until June 30 each year.)" http://msa.press.jhu.edu/conferences/msa14/cfp.html