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Modernity, Ideology, and the Novel - December 31, 2012
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Modern Horizons Journal
For the June 2013 issue of Modern Horizons we invite essays that explore the various philosophical, literary, artistic, and political aspects of modernity, ideology, and the novel.
Although since its emergence as a dominant genre in the 18th and 19th centuries the novel has held an important place in artistic expression and the cultural landscape, with the huge political upheavals and cultural disintegration of the 20th century, the novel has come to be recognised as perhaps the most significant literary art form to measure and critique the ongoing and increasingly fundamentalist tendencies of modern political, religious, and cultural thought. In contrast, while popular and academic theory has addressed and engaged with political, religious, and cultural realities, they have often assumed a reactive stance, and have tended to slip into ideological frameworks. Ideology, on this ground, must be understood in terms of dogma: that is, as a spotlight that touches an aspect of life (whether political, religious, or cultural) but which leaves the fullness of everyday life unaddressed. Unlike a tradition of thought—a landscape of meaning with a capacity for newness and difference—an ideological approach to human existence frames ideas within a closed and preconceived system of meaning. This approach is not only problematic in its practical manifestations—as Nietzsche states, a system of thought is always already inadequate in the face of life—but it also does not allow for a theoretical space in which to engage with the rich possibilities that lie outside ideological thinking. As limited as ideological thinking is, however, many dismissals or attempts to critique ideology unfortunately partake of the same closed and prejudicial way of thinking. Indeed, the impulse toward ideology may be inherent in any theoretical mode of thought which neglects the particular and the concrete.
In the art of the novel, however, we have a tradition of representation and presentation of human reality that lies over against ideology and abstract theory. We understand the art of the novel to be a prosaic exploration of the edifying and idolatrous aspects of culture and thought (whether political, religious, or philosophical); on this ground, the novel is seen in stark contrast to the abstract dimensions of theory. Indeed, we hold that the treatment of ideas and tradition in novels is part of an essentially different mode of engagement than that of theory. For while theory tends toward abstraction, the novel cannot forget the concrete; and while theory may obscure difference by way of general insight, the novel remains, with its emphasis on the particular, an antidote to (ideological) systems of thought, whatever their content. Therefore, the novel provides an essential critique of theory and ideology while it approaches everyday human life and meaning in a manner akin to the impulses of a ‘modern’ way of thinking, a thinking that is understood as an open and attentive stance toward the concrete and the particular.
If ideological and dogmatic forms of thought struggle to apprehend the realities of existence, the novel, with its emphasis on particular stories and concrete situations, inherently resists both absolute meaning and the idolatrous temptations of ideology which obscure or frame reality rather than clarify it. This resistance has been recognised and articulated by many theorists of the novel. In Mikhail Bakhtin’s essays on the novel for example, novelistic discourse is provisional and open-ended, offering realities that are ‘internally persuasive’ rather than authoritative and determined externally; and Georg Lukács connects the novel to the loss of a sense of totality in the modern world and speaks of the transcendental homelessness of the modern subject. For Hermann Broch, the novel is genuine insofar as it clarifies and offers insight into the theological and cultural grounds of everyday life. In a similar vein, René Girard understands the art of the novel to be an exploration of the mimetic tradition founded on theological insights and their adaptation or rejection. Walter Benjamin, in contrasting the impersonal basis and abstract reception of the novel, recognised that the novel was important for understanding modern forms of experience. Finally, Milan Kundera sees the novel as an essential measure for and critique of the worst forms of modern theoretical abstraction and reduction of meaningful experience and expressions of cultural realities.
Novelists, too, have depicted and critiqued religious, political, and philosophical ideology. Some major contributions to this novelistic discourse include Fyodor Dostoevsky, who gave his characters theological and philosophical insights and worked out their limits in his dialogical prose, as well as Thomas Mann, who elaborated on the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers, creating what he considered his masterpiece—a novel of profound depth and length. On the other hand, Salman Rushdie acquired a death sentence for his ironic treatment of Islam in The Satanic Verses, and Nikos Kazantzakis measured his distance from Christianity in his novels on the lives of St Francis of Assisi and of Christ. While DH Lawrence held the novel and its particular presentation of life over against the ‘winding sheets of abstraction,’ Marcel Proust examined the place of memory and culture in the making of modern identity. Franz Kafka illuminated the individual’s confrontation with the law and provided a defense of the individual over against the dark systems of modernity, while Gustave Flaubert critiqued the received ideas central to so much of modernity and represented the vicissitudes of the difficult transition from provincial life to that of the big city. And while Louis-Ferdinand Céline explored ideas of freedom in regards to the individual living the concrete realities of existence (freedoms that all too often clash with the way modern culture and ideology are played out), Bohumil Hrabal used earthy humour to soberly confront the implications of existence in the shadow of political regimes. Finally, a novelist such as Witold Gombrowicz, in political exile, contested the pieties of the displaced through his thorough rejection of both the real and potential ideological idolatries of the insulted and the injured.
Possible essay topics may include but are not limited to:
- epistemology in/and the novel
Accepted essays will be published in the journal Modern Horizons. Modern Horizons seeks to address, through examining a variety of ideas and artistic works, the endlessly open question of what is meaningful in what we are living.
The name ‘Modern Horizons’ comes with two emphases in mind. We include the word ‘modern’ because we begin with the arts, thoughts, and experiences of our own time. There is an essentially ahistorical sense to our idea of ‘modern,’ as we seek to avoid questions of periodisation or ideas of historical necessity. Our second emphasis is on ‘horizons,’ in the hermeneutic sense of the meeting of disparate interpretations and vantage points through conversation. The notion of horizons is essential to our way of thinking because, from the perspective of our own time and place, we seek to examine and interrogate those inherited, negotiated, and created forms of art and thought which matter directly or indirectly for us, here and now. This thought will involve the ongoing effort to raise, engage with, rehabilitate, and think about ideas that have impact today as they shape and are shaped by us; to this end, we solicit contributions with an emphasis on engagement and insight—contributions whose aims reach beyond their pages.
The essays published in Modern Horizons take the form of thinking in public; that is, we wish to serve as an outlet for thinking that bridges academic and non-academic subject-matter—not as essays tied finally to a particular text, but in the form of exploratory endeavours which may participate in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human in this world. This aim will be echoed in papers that embody a deliberately essayistic form, whether personal, essential, critical, hermeneutic, or public.
Each issue in Modern Horizons is theme based; these themes may be explored through essays on literature, philosophy, painting, music, architecture, or other forms of art. The freedom afforded by our non-affiliation with a specific academic institution is deliberate, as we desire to link public and academic worlds. This position allows us to explore ideas that are often neglected by academia or the public voice.
Modern Horizons is a peer-reviewed journal and welcomes a variety of submissions: essays, dialogues, interviews, and critical-reviews, in either French or English.
Submissions of approximately 1000-5000 words will be considered for publication. Please direct submissions to email@example.com as an attachment in .doc format, following MLA style guidelines.
Deadline for submissions is December 31, 2012.