House Work: Masters and Servants in Post-Modern Culture

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House Work: Masters and Servants in Post-Modern Culture

41st Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 7-11, 2010
Montreal, Quebec - Hilton Bonaventure

While servant narratives have been popularized for centuries, there seems to be a resurging interest in these stories in recent decades. Many contemporary British and North American writers, filmmakers, and television executives have turned to canonical and contemporary master/servant relationships as their subject matter. Films like The Remains of the Day and Gosford Park garnered numerous Oscar nominations and substantial box office profits. PBS created such classics as Upstairs, Downstairs and Manor House, as well as revived P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels, not to mention the numerous servant roles reprised in various Masterpiece Theater productions. Even mainstream American television has piloted its own versions of the British servant in shows as wide-ranging The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to reality TV's more popular Supernanny.

The question remains: why are Americans so interested in stories about British servants? In Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson provides one possible answer. He argues that post-modern culture has "the obvious ideological mission of demonstrating, to their own relief, that the new social formation in question no longer obeys the laws of classical capitalism, namely, the primacy of industrial production and the omnipresence of class struggle" (3). However, while democracy's goal may be to convince us that we live 'beyond' class structures, those structures continue to influence our society in hidden ways. Perhaps one reason American audiences, in particular, remain interested in these servant narratives is because they make visible what we pretend isn't actually there: class structure and struggle. This panel will explore shows, films, and texts from both the past and present within a post-modern context. Possible topics and/or questions include:
• Why are contemporary American audiences interested in British servant narratives?
• How do British and North American texts interpret and explore servant characters differently or similarly?
• What role do gender and/or race play in servant narratives?
• Power dynamics in master/slave narratives
• The role of cleanliness, cleaning, cooking, and other forms of work in the home
• How have nanny narratives evolved from servant narratives?

Please send 300 word abstracts to
Deadline: September 30, 2009

Please include with your abstract:
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A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee)

Participants must become members of NeMLA by December 1, 2009. Travel to Canada now requires a passport for U.S. citizens. Please get your passport application in early.