Historicizing Formalism (MSA 15, Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2013)

full name / name of organization: 
Modernist Studies Association
contact email: 
jocelyn@berkeley.edu

“The basis for every art form is always conflict,” writes Viktor Shklovsky. The same might also be said for the discourse of formalism itself. Indeed, for all its emphasis on aesthetic autonomy and material specificity, the history of formalism in the modernist period is in large part the history of its contact with, and contamination by, the apparently debased and instrumental cultural forms (science, technology, advertising, mass media, etc.) from which it ostensibly sought deliverance. How did modernist aesthetics arise out of the contradictory desire to safeguard, but also distress, the separation of art and life? How does our understanding of modernist experimentation, and the discipline of literary studies that was erected to interpret it, change if we attempt to account for the conflictual genealogies of literary aesthetics? This panel for the 2013 Modernist Studies Association Conference seeks papers that historicize and theorize the tenability of “formalism” (new, old, or otherwise) in comparative contexts, examining how critical concepts of form are enmeshed in the moment, the medium, the institution, and the culture.

Modernism was always characterized by a radical break with previously established techniques, but how does a self-conscious reevaluation of form lead to, or result from, formalism? For that matter, what exactly is the difference between form and formalism? What other rubrics for thinking about art (psychology, popularity, medium specificity, abstraction, organicism) challenged the notion of “form” in the modernist period? By isolating and comparing multiple versions of “formalism” that differ temporally, culturally, and disciplinarily, this panel seeks to address the critical debates of our era by first investigating how the modernists themselves approached problems of readership and criticism. Once we return “form” to its history, can we remain satisfied with it as an intrinsic term of literary study? Or may we object, along with Virginia Woolf, that the concept of form is an “alien substance...imposing itself upon emotions which we feel naturally”?

Welcome topics include:

The relationship between aesthetic autonomy, material specificity, and modernist temporality

Revisiting New Critical perspectives on the modernist canon

Perspectives on form and formalism that cross institutional and disciplinary boundaries

Questions of how the modernists linked the aesthetic and the philosophical

Analogical treatments of form and medium in modernist music, art, technology, or science

Readings of how modernist readership changed over time

Please submit a 250-word abstract and a brief (2-3 sentence) scholarly biography to Jocelyn Rodal (jocelyn@berkeley.edu) by Wednesday, March 13.

cfp categories: 
interdisciplinary
international_conferences
modernist studies
science_and_culture
theory
twentieth_century_and_beyond