Representations and Visions of the Future in Modernist Literature

deadline for submissions: 
October 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) - 54th Annual Convention

Several examples of literature produced from the late Victorian age narrate great concerns about the future and the destiny of humanity, concerns that would be significantly exacerbated in the twentieth century by the First World War, soon followed by the Second, the unspeakable savagery of Nazis, the nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, last but not least, by the terror of a nuclear apocalypse during the long Cold War. Modernism appears thus as a cultural movement that, as Vincent Sherry maintains, “works most indicatively within an imaginative concept of time interrupted”, of a time that presents itself basically as provisional and utterly deprived of a future. Concentrating on the literature produced from the late Victorian age to the Cold War, a period in the history of humanity in which there was a great deal of apocalyptic feeling, this panel aims to explore the way in which modernist writers portray the future (of the world and of humanity). Think, for example, of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Wells’ The War of the Worlds or The War in the Air, Lawrence’s Apocalypse, Beckett’s Endgame, Bion’s The Dawn of Oblivion, or Orwell’s 1984: the future of the world, and consequently of human beings, became central to the literature produced in those decades. What are, then, the predictions for the future made by several modernist writers? How did late-Victorian degeneration theory influence the visions of the future in those years? How did the two World Wars and the nuclear menace during the Cold War mould the general perception of the future? How did modernist writers depict the sense of provisionality and decadence that was spreading in those decades? How did writers deal with the notions of planetary habitability and human annihilation from the late Victorian age to the Cold War?


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