Transnational French Modernisms - 7-8 July 2016

full name / name of organization: 
Sam Bootle, Rebecca Ferreboeuf, Zoë Roth (Durham University, UK)

Transnational French Modernisms
7th-8th July 2016, Durham University, UK

Keynote speakers:
Dr. Jonathan Eburne (Penn State)
Professor Susan Harrow (Bristol)
Professor Debarati Sanyal (Berkeley)

The rise of France's colonial empire in the 19th century shaped French culture as a global arena and framed the emergence of modernism. Anxieties around the foreign, the exotic, and otherness animated iconic metropolitan works. Writers and artists from the colonies, such as Aimé Césaire and Assia Djebar, later used modernist aesthetics to challenge dominant historical narratives and state power. From the nineteenth century to decolonization, the modernist map of francophonie stretched across North America and the Caribbean to West Africa and South-East Asia. French modernism and empire building are intertwined (Lebovics 2014), but the relationship between French colonial expansion and modernist aesthetics remains unexplored. Debates about the racial and colonial dimension of modernism are largely confined to Anglophone modernism (Walkowitz 2006; Sheshagiri 2010), while francophone postcolonial theory often emphasizes literature's political message over its aesthetic dimension (Bishop 2014). Without an understanding of the way colonialism and transnational exchanges shaped the French modernist imaginary, however, we elide the ethnic and cultural diversity of French culture.
This conference will connect debates about colonialism in Anglophone modernism to francophone writing, visual culture, and performance. By shifting attention away from the metropolitan, urban experience of modernity towards the transnational scope of modernisms in French, the conference will explore the interconnection of French colonial power and modernist aesthetics. In contrast to the metropolis-colony model, our conference will rethink French modernism as a transnational constellation of colonial and metropolitan spaces. Our animating question will be where was modernism, rather than when was modernism. What institutional, disciplinary, and ideological investments prevent thinking French modernism as transnational? What is the relation between modernist aesthetics and the global flow of capital, goods, and people? Do we maintain cultural imperialism by imposing a metropolitan concept of literary history on francophone artistic production?
We encourage submissions that cover the global map of francophone modernisms, including the Levant, sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Louisiana and Quebec, the Indian subcontinent, and the South Pacific. Submissions can cover but are not limited to the following questions and topics:

Possible topics include:
• Race, empire, and modernism;
• Decolonization, the 'postcolonial', and aesthetics;
• Colonial writers and artists imagining 'post'-colonial communities;
• Cultural exchanges between colonies;
• Tensions between autonomous and committed art;
• Transnational political communities and modernism (communism in Vietnam and Algeria; fascism in Romania and Tunisia);
• The intersectionality of sexuality, gender, and class in transnational French modernisms;
• Modernist memory cultures;
• Tensions and differences between avant-gardes and modernism in French transnational cultures.
• Alternative geographies of modernity.

Supported by the Modern Humanities Research Association and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Durham University.

Abstracts (no longer than 300 words) should be sent to by January 30, 2016.

Organizers: Sam Bootle, Rebecca Ferreboeuf, Zoë Roth