Hurry, Linger: The Times of Modernism (MSA 2020)
Modernist Studies Association Conference
Brooklyn NY, October 22-25, 2020
Conventional understandings of modernism generally describe the movement as future-oriented. Ezra Pound’s famous call to “make it new” asserts a forward-looking focus; Paul K. Saint-Amour’s 2015 Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form invokes “an anxious and even wounding sense of futurity.” And as Paul Giles writes in his 2019 Backgazing: Reverse Time in Modernist Culture, the “very notion” of modernism is “based on a temporal premise, implying as it does a categorical differentiation between old and new.” Often, modernism’s futurism is tied to the temporality of the urban environments in which it flourished: the city was also futuristic, showcasing brand-new technologies and ever-quickening paces of life. Beatriz Sarlo’s description of twentieth-century Buenos Aires in her literary biography of Jorge Luis Borges, Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge, illustratively describes the phenomenon, spurred on by telephone and electric-wire cables, radio aerials, and motorized transportation: “technology provided the new machinery for the urban stage; it offered new definitions of space and time: futurist utopias.” If twentieth-century time flowed differently, cities were in part to blame: the electric automated traffic light, now an ubiquitous symbol of urban life, was invented in 1923, the same year Wallace Stevens published Harmonium, Jean Toomer published Cane, and William Carlos Williams published Spring and All.
However, such understandings are rarely as clear-cut as they would appear. Michael North has pointed out that Pound’s adage, for example, is itself a piece of historical recycling. Saint-Amour’s futurity is complicated by “a sense of time stretched out of its usual modes,” while Giles’s project rejects purely futurist models of modernism and instead argues that modernism contains a “retrograde” dimension. And even city living was not so plainly forward-looking: the figure of the flaneur prolonged his present, while for some the faster pace of the city produced a powerful sense of nostalgia and a longing for a slower past.
With this panel, we aim to rethink and resituate conventional understandings of the relationship between modernism and time. Modernism does not merely, or only, revisit the past, trying to shore fragments against its ruins, nor does it look unilaterally and wistfully to the future, in an effort to rebuild wholes. Some modernist literature asks us to take our time (such as James Joyce’s Ulysses), while other works insist on leisure’s opposite, forcing bite-sized, compressed readings quickly down the reader’s throat (Pound’s own “In a Station of the Metro”). Rather than reading modern literature as simply oriented towards a future—however utopic or dystopic that future may be—we explore other lenses of time. In doing so, we also aim to think carefully about urban temporalities, and about the possible impacts of the time of city-life on modernist formal innovation. In what ways might a study of temporal experience converge these developments? How might formal innovations be responses or adaptations to the time of city life? If we read modernist work with an attention to temporalities not future-oriented, what new links between life and form, between city and text emerge?
We welcome paper proposals that focus on any genre, and encourage unique or unconventional perspectives on the concepts of "time" and "modernism," broadly conceived. Please send paper proposals (up to 300 words in length) to Carly Rubin (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chelsie Malyszek (email@example.com) by April 8, 2020.