Modernism and the Politics of Contradiction

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Matthew Mersky/ Boston College
contact email: 

Political contradiction is written all over modernism. No other literary historical period seems quite as striven between the static, apolitical or even conservative outlook of its various key figures on the one hand, and the explosive and even revolutionary formal potential on the other. Woolf’s classism, for example, is met by her quasi-revolutionary declaration that “in or about December, 1910, human character changed.” No literary period so vehemently defines itself against mass culture while also expressing unbridled democratic impulses. Joyce’s defense of autonomous art is met by the opposite impulse in Ulysses to forge an aesthetic of the everyday. And no example of literature is so marked by the embedded racism of its time and yet also able to reveal the underlying structural conditions that produce that racism in the first place. Conrad’s racialized (or racist) ethos in Heart of Darkness is countered by the openness of the text itself.

For our panel, we welcome papers that explore a modernist politics of contradiction in any number of ways: How can we reconcile modernism’s dogmatic aesthetic manifestos alongside its radical departure from realism and narrative conventions? Its exclusive coteries alongside its radical democratization of language and form? Broadly speaking, can we think political contradiction, itself, as another revolutionary feature of modernism?

We also welcome papers that use modernism to help us think through our current set of political contradictions. After all, is it not the case that in an age defined by the stagnation of neoliberal consensus, of Fukuyama’s “end of history” that we need more than ever the unbound and perhaps even dangerous political energies of modernist contradiction?


Possible paper topics might include: 

-The relation of modernist autonomy of art to political praxis

-Modernist form as political critique

-Modernism and fascism

-Modernism and Marxism

-The complex politics of a given modernist author

-Considerations of the political-historical context of the modernist period