Speaking of Grief: Death and Language in Modernism (MSA 11, 5-8 November 2009, Montréal, Québec, Canada)

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Daniel Moore (Queen's University, Canada)
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If the Holocaust motivated aesthetic theorists and writers to rethink the premise of the literary mode altogether, stated in one form by Theodore Adorno in his 1951 claim that to write "poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," early-twentieth-century writers tended to respond to the most violent and rife deaths of their time by zeroing in on words themselves. We may find the most prominent meeting of fatality and diction in the modernist period in attacks on languages of militarism and commemoration launched from a host of quarters, in particular by ex-servicemen following the Great War. "Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow," Hemingway's lieutenant Frederic Henry would say, "were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the number of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates." But modernist writers without combat experience, individually and collectively, also developed and made cases for taking diction and syntax in new directions amid mass destruction of life in Europe. From bombarding typefaces in the journal Blast to redefinitions of 'melancholy' in psychoanalysis to clear prose in "Politics and the English Language," fatal violence again and again prodded modernists to reconstruct language, changing the way it was used and the meanings it carried.

This panel is interested in how modernist studies might work through the relationship between death and language, especially since the topic of violent ends has garnered much attention in recent political and theoretical work. For instance, Hemingway's turn to "concrete" words, a move Orwell seconded in the '30s and '40s, seems to run against the current tide of trauma studies, which often sees inaccuracies or inexactness of language as paradoxically bearing truthful, reliable witness to violence. If indeed "there is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror," Slavoj Žižek has said in Violence (2008), does it follow that modernist critics need to reconsider the language projects of Hemingway, Orwell, and other modern realist writers?

Topics to consider might include:

- speech/rhetoric of public commemoration
- dead languages and modern poetry
- violence, death and new techniques in visual arts
- death and punctuation
- death and translation
- death and dialogue
- languages of grief
- funerary and obituary discourses

Please send 300-word abstracts and brief CVs to Daniel Moore, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada (4dwm5@queensu.ca) by 1 May 2009. This panel is proposed and needs to be reviewed for acceptance.