« Dey don't belong » : Exclusion and integration in American interwar literature. May 13th, 2011.

full name / name of organization: 
Université Rennes 2, France

American society in the aftermath of WWI is distinguished by an effort to define itself resulting from a desire of emancipation from the then prevailing European model. All over the country important transformations took place with industrialization and the growing impact of capitalism or multiple immigration waves. On cultural and artistic grounds, such an incentive can be exemplified by the emergence of new forms. Furthermore, the influence of modernism (epitomized for instance by The Armory Show of 1913), flourishing cultural renaissances in the first half of the 20th century (such as the Chicago Renaissance, the New York Little Renaissance or the Harlem Renaissance), the Little Theatre movement (Washington Square Players, Provincetown Players) and the growth of the Little magazines (Liberator, Dial, Seven Arts, Little Review, Broom), all came to signal a characteristic will to break with established norms and standards. Inside the metropolis, communities were formed beyond the margins of the Establishment. The metropolis can be seen as the locus of the connection between, on the one hand, social and aesthetic divisions, and on the other, signs of exclusion and rejection affecting some communities and which tended to become some of the major concerns of literary productions during the interwar period. In New York for instance, neighborhoods such as Harlem or Greenwich Village, were places of innovation and creation, which provided these artistic, ethnic and cultural communities with an alternative to normative values and gave birth to literary productions dealing with the theme of belonging/exclusion, and aimed at integrating new forms out of preexisting ones.
From these observations, this one-day conference proposes to examine the tension between artists' marginal communities and the social mainstream, and the way this tension might be linked to experimentation with new forms breaking with traditional ones, and with conflicts related to the idea of belonging or exclusion dramatized in the literary productions of the period. Are the issues of problematic belonging/assimilation – be they the result of a spontaneous break up with norms, or, on the contrary, the expression of rejection by others – to be read as echoes of the conflict between new creative impulses and constraining norms? In addition, how are these new forms and productions embedded in a process of rejection in reaction to normative practices or to an authoritative discourse? To what extent, and with what mechanisms, do they attest to a quest for belonging? Likewise, has one to belong to a community to be given the right to tackle questions within it?
This one-day conference seeks to explore the theme of belonging/exclusion present in interwar American literature, by analyzing the strategies deployed there and the impacts on aesthetic, linguistic, ideological and discursive grounds. One might imagine a link between the question of a compromised assimilation, as found in the literary productions of the period, the marginal nature of the communities and the various renaissances ensuing from WW1, along with the aesthetic rupture with mainstream norms, in order to show how these different aspects reveal or come in conflict with the other two.

Please send your proposal (an abstract of 300-400 words together with a short academic CV) to Gwenola Le Bastard (gwenola.lebastard@univ-rennes2.fr), Maëlle Picouleau (maelle.picouleau@univ-rennes2.fr) and Anthony Larson (anthony.larson@univ-rennes2.fr) by January 15th , 2011.

Propositions may be in French or in English.

"Dey don't belong" The Hairy Ape, Eugene O'Neill, scene 1.