Nathanael West: New Readings and Perspectives, 2-3rd September 2011

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University of Huddersfield
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University of Huddersfield, 2nd-3rd September 2011
Deadline for Proposals: March 31st

"Do I love what others love?" was the proud motto (from Goethe) on West's personal bookplate (designed by S.J. Perelman). It captures the creative and critical antagonisms his work excited in his contemporaries and in each generation of readers and critics who have felt themselves obliged to rescue him from frequent episodes of unmerited neglect and critical misunderstanding. A radical modernist, embracing avant-garde experimentalism in the 1930s just as many of his friends on the left were bowing to the dogmas of socialist realism, West has always been gloriously at odds with dominant literary trends. Considered by some in the years following his death to be the equal of Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, his critical reputation has suffered over the years, partly owing to his relatively slender oeuvre, and partly to the difficulty of situating his work in relation to the literary, political, and cultural currents of his day. Traduced as nihilist in the 1950s, he was later condemned as misogynist by fundamentalist feminism, and then selectively rehabilitated by the postmodernist enthusiasm for cinema and mass-culture. West's work no longer languishes out of print, and it is over a decade since the Library of America published its extensive selection of his works. With a new biography just published (Marion Meade, 2010), it his high time to take stock once more of this perennial genius of critical rediscovery.

A thorough reappraisal of the works of Nathanael West is long overdue. In the 1990s, studies of West tended to situate his novels within co-ordinates bounded by modernism and its fixation with 'high' art; avant-garde movements (surrealism in particular) and their tendency towards radical experiment; and the mass culture phenomena of the 1930s including cinema, comic strip, and journalism. Whilst the debate in each of these fields has moved on thanks to recent scholarship, no re-evaluation of West's work has accompanied these developments. Equally, trends in twenty-first century literary, cultural, and gender theory have yet to apply themselves to Nathanael West, and historicist perspectives on the print culture and material culture of the period have largely passed him by.

This conference will therefore attempt to address the recent neglect of West's works, and to re-establish his voice as one of the most intriguing and distinctive of the 1930s.

Abstracts (250 words) on any aspect of Nathanael West and his writings are welcome, and should be sent to by March 31st 2011.

Queries and enquiries to David Rudrum (