CFP for Wordless Modernism at MSA 11, Nov 5-7, 2009

full name / name of organization: 
Maureen Chun, Jonathan Foltz (Princeton University)
contact email: 

CFP: Modernist Studies Association 2009
MSA 11: The Languages of Modernism

Montréal, Québec, Canada, 
November 5-8, 2009

Wordless Modernism: Grammars of the Sensible

"Is there, we ask, some secret language which we feel and see, but never speak, …any characteristic which thought possesses that can be rendered visible without the help of words?"
— Virginia Woolf, "The Cinema" (1926)

As Woolf's essay on the cinema testifies, literary modernism was marked by parallel desires to reinvigorate literary language (through repetition, stylization and indirection), and at the same time to supplant the abstractions of language with the supposedly more direct idiom of image, perception and sensation. If, as W.J.T. Mitchell has argued, the "linguistic turn" of the early twentieth century took place alongside a concomitant "pictorial turn," how does this change the way we approach modernism's engagement with visual media and theories of sensation? This panel invites papers that investigate the visual and verbal inflections of modernist texts, and the formation of and experimentation with what Woolf calls "secret languages" occupying the border between the two. How did literature learn from and seek to incorporate the disorderly stream of images of a stubbornly mute physical world? How were developments in the literary field linked with the emergence of new media in articulating a language of the senses? How were experiments in the abstraction of language countered by an interest in abstraction in the visual arts? How was the language of interiority challenged or supported by the visual, understood as a trope of externality?

Papers may address works of literature, film or philosophy.

Possible topics include:

• Semiology and Art; Peirce; the resistance to or readings of signs, syntax, and symbolism in modernism
• Aesthetic Psychology/Psychoanalysis; art and aphasia
• Photo-Cinematic Modernism; Imagism, surrealism, expressionism and the status of the verbal (as opposed to visual) image
• Audio-Visual Culture; modernism and sound
• Literature and the World – Sensation/Universalism/Globalism
• Race and Representation
• Aesthetics, Ethics, Politics; the ethics of representation
• Medium Specificity
• Classicism/Primitivism
• Technology and Representation
• Trauma and Spectatorship

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to and by May 1st, 2009. This panel will have to be reviewed by the MSA.