The Ambivalent Goods of Decadent Modernism

deadline for submissions: 
February 20, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Tim Clarke
contact email: 

This CFP seeks co-panelists for a proposed panel at the upcoming Modernist Studies Association conference (Oct 17-20) in Toronto, ON.

In recent years, modernist studies has become increasingly attuned to the uses of decadence as a critical framework for interrogating the ethical, aesthetic, and political tensions of modernity, thanks in part to the work of scholars like David Weir (2018), Vincent Sherry (2015), and Kristin Mahoney (2015). One of the prevailing trends in recent criticism has been a tendency to see modernist decadence as a sensibility of deep ambivalence, skepticism toward the claims of progress, and acute sensitivity to the threatening, nullifying, or affectively “negative” elements of modernity—a sensibility that Weir has recently characterized as “dark humanism.” 

This proposed panel hopes to expand on recent reassessments of decadence by focusing less on what is explicitly “dark” about decadence than on what remains ambivalent. To that end, this panel solicits papers exploring how modernists of the post-fin de siècle period drew on logics and rhetorics of decadence to navigate conflicting feelings and commitments toward various forms of “the good”—to objects of joy, happiness, liveliness, affirmation, and desire. 

Possible points of departure include, but are not limited to, the following topics: 
- Affect-oriented readings of joy or happiness in works of decadent modernism 
- Decadence as a modernist counter-culture 
- Commodity fetishism and Marxist readings of decadence 
- The politics of modernist decadence 
- Decadence as a version—or perversion—of “the good life” 
- Decadence as transgression of normative conceptions of gender, sexuality, or ethics 
- Philosophical or scientific readings of modernist decadence (e.g., in the context of relativity, evolutionary theory, psychoanalysis, or vitalism) 
- Decadence, race, and the Harlem Renaissance 
- Comparative approaches to modernist decadence (e.g., before and after the World Wars) 
- Versions of decadence in modernist popular culture 

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words, accompanied by a brief biographical note, to Tim Clarke ( by February 20th, 2019.