Negotiating Archives of Redemption in Modernism, MLA 2015 Special Session Proposal

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Christopher Langlois, University of Western Ontario
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In Religion and Violence, Hent de Vries argues that the "critical resources of the historical phenomenon called religion […] constitute an immense archive of concepts and figures, practices and dispositions, whose analytical yet highly ambiguous potential for the present age we have not yet begun to fathom" (35). This panel assumes that the concept and figure of redemption represents such an archival site that, in the midst of the "return to religion" that we are witnessing today, is worth our time re-opening. While the concept of redemption no doubt carries with it longstanding debates within the philosophical and theological heritages of Western culture, it is also heavily implicated in how the literary history of modernism developed against the backdrop of twentieth-century modernity. The motivation for this panel comes from the idea that modernism originates in the twentieth century where the promise of redemption is bankrupted by the historical ascendency of secularism. Modernism aimed (in part) to realign an historical present that had become unmoored from the faith that at any instant the slate of historical existence could be wiped clean of its complicity in political injustice and ideological catastrophe. Looking at redemption from the perspective of modernism's literary history is perhaps a way to expose the dimensions of narrative and fiction and the participation of the aesthetic imagination in the ongoing desire to preserve and represent the promise of redemption.

Insofar as redemption itself is a complex figure and concept, one that is not restricted to historical or theological sites for its articulation, papers might wish to consider how redemption is diversely manifested in a variety of cultural ways and forms. Papers might consider how the concept and figure of redemption is at play in the work of Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, David Jones, to name just a few. Papers are also welcome to consider the role of literary and cultural modernism in archiving redemption solely from a theoretical and/or philosophical perspective. This approach might wish to engage with the work of Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Maurice Blanchot, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy, Alain Badiou, Simon Critchley, again to just name a few. With the MLA presidential theme of "negotiating sites of memory" in mind, however, papers should at the very least demonstrate an interest in figuring out how and to what degree the texts and theory of modernism archive any one of the political, cultural, historical, psychological, aesthetic, philosophical, and/or theological memories of redemption that are still very much with us today.

Please send inquiries and/or 300-500 word abstracts and brief CV by 15 March 2014 to Christopher Langlois,