CFP: Autonomy and Commitment in Modernist British Literature (France) (11/30/06; CERVEC, 3/30/07-3/31/07)

full name / name of organization: 
Christine REYNIER

Call for papers
Autonomy and Commitment in Modernist British Literature

A CERVEC Conference (EA 741)

Universit=C3=A9 Paul Val=C3=A9ry-Montpellier III-France

30-31 March 2007

After the cycle of conferences on Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth Ce=
ntury Literature and Arts,1 this conference will be the first of a new four=
 years' cycle on Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth Century Literature an=
d Arts. Modernist literature will be the focus of this first conference whi=
ch means to explore the links between autonomy and commitment in literature=
In Vision and Design, Roger Fry extols the virtues of art, =E2=80=9Cits fre=
edom from necessary external conditions=E2=80=9D and Virginia Woolf echoes =
him when, in some of her essays, she opposes the artist and politics, regre=
tting the 1930s poets' political commitment which, according to her, spoils=
 their poetry. She thus posits the necessary autonomy of art and its being =
at odds with commitment.
Since modernist times, this line has been taken up by such critics as the N=
ew Critics or the structuralists who have defended the thesis of a self-suf=
ficient work of art. Concomitantly, and in the wake of T.S. Eliot, the stre=
ss on intertextuality that characterized the works of some of them, Barthes=
=E2=80=99s demise of the author and correlative encomium on intertextuality=
, seem to point at the impossibility of autonomy through ceaseless referenc=
e to tradition. Later schools of criticism=E2=80=94cultural, feminist, marx=
ist, post-colonial studies, etc.=E2=80=94have on the other hand insisted on=
 the connection between literature and the socio-political context. Should =
we come to the conclusion that the so-called autonomy of the work of art is=
 fundamentally deceptive and finally impossible? Is commitment intrinsicall=
y linked with literature and autonomy nothing but a form of respect for a c=
ertain class-determined ideology? Or should the two concepts be re-thought =
and re-defined individually and in relation to each other? If autonomy, bot=
h from the socio-historical context and the literary context or intertext, =
is unthinkable, does it mean that literature is necessarily synonymous with=
 commitment? Responsibility? Must literature be an instrument of warfare, e=
xpounding a message, defending a political point of view? Are such politica=
lly committed writings literary or =E2=80=9Cdidactic=E2=80=9D, as Woolf wou=
ld have it, servile and simply cultivating a clear conscience? Are there an=
y limits to commitment, as Adorno suggested when he wrote that after Auschw=
itz poetry was inconceivable? Or does literary commitment start in such cir=
cumstances and become indispensable at that point? Asserting that the liter=
ature that grapples with the world of history and politics is the only comm=
itted form of literature may well be to assume that the world can be read d=
irectly and that literature is necessarily mimetic, even if its aim is to d=
enounce the world it copies.
Wouldn't there be other forms of commitment, aesthetic, religious, amorous =
or ethical ones, indirect forms of commitment that would be in keeping with=
 the essential indirection of modernist writings? Such forms of indirect, a=
lmost unconscious, commitment could well be exercises in the understanding =
of the world as well as tokens of the literary. Rather than being at odds w=
ith autonomy, they would be grounded in some sort of autonomy of the work o=
f art and would open onto some form of universality, or alterity, which, ra=
ther than provocation and action, would privilege emotion, humour and pleas=
ure, but also solidarity, all implying the reader's involvement.=20
These are some of the tracks that the readers committed to modernist litera=
ture are invited to follow, pursue further or question in this first confer=
ence on Autonomy and Commitment in Modernist British Literature that will t=
ake place at the University Montpellier III on 30-31 March 2007.vProposals =
of about 300 words should be sent by November 30, 2006 to Jean-Michel Gante=
au ( and Christine Reynier (

1 See our first volume: Christine Reynier & Jean-Michel Ganteau eds, Impers=
onality and Emotion in Twentieth Century Literature, Montpellier: Publicati=
ons de Montpellier3, collection Present Perfect 1, 2005. Forthcoming: Imper=
sonality and Emotion in Twentieth Century Arts.

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Received on Sun Jul 09 2006 - 09:29:32 EDT