Through a Glass Darkly: Utopia/Dystopia and the Avant-garde (Jacksonville, FL, November 4-6, 2016)

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South Atlantic Modern Languages Association
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Marxist critics from Adorno to Fredric Jameson have emphasized the revolutionary potential of modernism in its effort to project viable alternatives to capitalism. Indeed, one of the central goals of avant-garde artistic production is the radical break from existing norms, with experimentation serving as a means of liberation from artistic values and institutions deemed both oppressive and outmoded. But it is also, to varying degrees, a rhetoric of reform. This panel seeks to explore the connection between avant-garde practices and utopia/dystopia: forms of critique in which the deficiencies of our present social, political, and economic institutions become apparent, either through a depiction of an ideal social order or, in the case of dystopia, one in which these conditions, through a process of imaginative extrapolation and intensification, are seen to promote an atmosphere of active oppression and dehumanization. What sorts of claims are being advanced by experimental works that might plausibly be labeled utopian or dystopian? Are they explicit or merely implicit? Are they progressive or reactionary in nature, or some distinctively modernist or postmodernist hybrid of the two? We are interested in papers on utopian/dystopian rhetoric in specific literary texts or in the theoretical or philosophical arguments of avant-garde literary movements. Some possibilities might include the utopian language adopted by modernist manifestos to promote movements like futurism and vorticism, or the substantial but largely neglected body of social criticism these artists left behind (Pound's Guide to Kulchur, Eliot's Idea of a Christian Society, Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas). Alternatively, papers might explore how avant-garde social critiques throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first have sometimes very memorably taken the form of dystopia, whether in fiction (Zamyatin, Huxley, Burgess), film (Goddard, Kubrick, Gilliam), or criticism (e.g., poststructuralism's attempt to liberate itself from the "tyranny" of conceptual thought and representation).

Please send a 300-word abstract and brief bio to by May 1, 2016.