Modernism's Everyday Precarities (MSA Brooklyn 2020)

deadline for submissions: 
March 5, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Noa Saunders, Boston University
contact email: 

MSA Brooklyn 2020: Streets

Panel: Modernism’s Everyday Precarities
Critical narratives of the modernist everyday have illustrated the ways modernist artists capture
the ordinariness of ordinary life by representing the unrepresentable. What these narratives have
neglected is the extraordinary breadth of possibility and therefore contingency these artists take
on by drawing our attention to the quotidian, routine, trivial, and the actual. When Heidegger
defines Being by applying Hegel’s "indeterminate immediate," he puts us in a state of constant,
everyday suspense regarding what happens to us and how we're supposed to feel about it. When
Lefebvre bares his Marxist critique of everyday life, he reveals social disconnection and personal
incompleteness as cultural effects of post-industrial modernity. Under the condition of
Lefebvre’s alienation, we wonder, what quotidian precarities are we vulnerable to? The
contingency of everyday life involves a variety of ways poetic and cinematic subjects relate to
the world, may it be, serendipity in Pound’s beautiful encounters in the subway, ennui in Joyce's
routine errands in Ulysses, solidarity in Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, spontaneity in
O’Hara’s afternoon strolls in Lunch Poems, impatience in Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7. But on any
ordinary day, there also lurks the threat of accidents and mishaps: Freud forgets his keys,
Dielman drops her spoon, Keaton slips on a banana. The ordinary act of walking the streets
becomes a site of extraordinary possibility; between each step, Benjamin says, lies “the optical
unconscious.” Drawing attention to these unconscious and precarious spaces may serve as a way
of clarifying uncertainties, revealing what it is we’ve missed or can’t control. Conversely, art
may serve as a way of reveling in the unknown, being a form of radical play. Through this panel
we ask, what are the formal, affective, social, and political stakes for modernism’s incorporation
of everyday precarities? We more than welcome projects that ask such questions across different
forms of media and genre.

Topics may include:
-How socio-political and historical contexts change the ways art manages uncertainty.
-How the everyday domestic setting differs from the public sphere.
-What formal innovations solicit a feeling of uncertainty.
-How modernist precarity is similar or different from 21 st century precarity.
-What the relationship is between the unrepresentable and the uncertain.
-How a state of mind, being “absent” or “present” or somewhere between, gives rise to these

Please submit a 250-word abstract (and a short bio) for a 15-18 minute paper by March 5, 2020, to
Noa Saunders at and Lucy Alford at