Refractions of Mass Culture: Modernist Print Media and the Logic of Multiplication
Two-day symposium of the American Studies division at Leibniz University of Hannover, 22 & 23 September, 2022
Modernist print media tended to insist on being different from mass-oriented publications that surrounded them in the public sphere, even where they drew on them. Yet, as much recent scholarship has shown, avant-garde publications and mass-cultural expressions were entangled on so many levels that it is impossible to effectively pry them apart. This is most urgently conveyed within the collage experimentations of the early avant-garde movements, which delighted in recombinations of quotidian sensations: think of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz-poetry and Hannah Höch’s scrapbook, to name two German (and one Hannover-based) artists. Even when explicit montages of mass-cultural material were absent, however, modernity’s mass cultures remained in the picture: As dialogic actors for the publicization of modernist/avant-garde aesthetics and ideology, as a hegemonic foil for countercultural politics, or simply as the omnipresent cultural backdrop of modernist network activities. Self-confident statements of exclusivity by canonical modernists and middlebrow interlocutors can thus be considered mostly performative.
Yet despite this – as we argue – pervasive mode of cross-pollination, there is nevertheless a perceptive distance which characterizes modernist print media as opposed to mass culture. It is a distance which operates through aesthetics, sensations, and which can manifest in various ways: Through the reframing of texts and images, experiments in lyrical expressivity, or editorial/discursive power relations. In the processes of modernist appropriation, mass culture does not become alien yet appears different, as if seen through a prism. As one result of this refraction, the horizons of popular consciousness are re-negotiated. This is especially true for normative horizons, which shift palpably in these environments: What is read as ‘normal’ in mass culture and its publications becomes ‘different’ in its rearrangement – made strange, new, or queer. To capture this logic of refraction requires a heightened attention to form, language, and page design. We argue that in modernist print media, challenges towards the established social categories of difference (sexual, racial, gendered, regional and many more) went hand-in-hand with an observational mode of differentiation. Together, readers and writers of modernism not only navigated modern forms of life, but also imagined differences – in the mode of possibilities, alternatives, choices. Modernist print experiments performatively exhibit a multiplication of social options.
Our two-day symposium “Refractions of Mass Culture” invites reflections on contemporary medium-, small- and no-circulation media (from the glossy society magazine to the private scrapbook), which repurpose mass-cultural imagery and material, dialogize with mass-oriented publications, or emulate mass culture’s modes of production or distribution. Focusing on the period between 1910 to 1930, this event invites contributions that appraise modernity’s complex relationship with the masses.
Please send your presentation proposal with title, abstract (max 400 words) and a short bio by April 15, 2022, to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The symposium is part of the DFG-research project “Multiplications: Modernity, Mass Culture, Gender, 1910-1933,” at Leibniz University Hannover (Lilean Buhl, Sabrina Czelustek, Ruth Mayer) - https://www.engsem.uni-hannover.de/en/forschung/american-studies/multiplication-modernity-mass-culture-gender/