MSA Toronto: Modernism, Disaster, and Nothingness
CFP for Proposed Panel: MSA Toronto
Title: "Modernism, Disaster, and Nothingness"
In his essay “The Literature of Nihilism” (1966), Paul de Man observes that “A literature of nihilism is not necessarily nihilistic.” While this idea may seem like a contradiction—indeed, what is nihilism if not nihilistic? —it raises an important issue. Even though a text calls to mind themes or images that are usually associated with nihilism—nothingness, despair, empty space—it does not mean that the text falls prey to an utterly empty conception of the idea. Furthermore, in The Writing of the Disaster (1980), Maurice Blanchot states that “the disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact.” Drawing upon these concepts, this panel invokes the conference theme of “Upheaval and Reconstruction” by interrogating modernism’s interaction with the generative capacity of the ultimate “nihil.” How do we approach nothingness through disaster, and once we arrive at that point, what do we do? How do modernists use images of nothingness as spaces for creation? What clues are left not only in authors’ works but also in historical/biographical accounts that support modernity’s generative proclivity in the face of such turmoil? How do modernists talk about “nothing”?
This panel welcomes interdisciplinary conversation, including papers that investigate modernist literature, art, history and/or philosophy, to further contextually examine the influences that might otherwise challenge contemporary notions of modernism’s complex struggle with conflict, anguish, and renewal. Some possible approaches include destruction as a mode for creation, modernism and nihilism, annihilation and sublime existence, and accidental versus deliberate destruction and creation.