Société d’Études Modernistes (SEM) & Société d’Études Woolfiennes (SEW)
SAES Conference 2019, Université d’Aix-Marseille, 6-8 June
Modernism’s seminal ‘Make it New’ has long acclaimed exceptionalism as part of its reaction to previous modes of thinking, writing and producing art. What were the artistic, social or cultural codes or rules which modernist exceptions endeavoured to subvert, either openly, or in a more covert fashion?
Modernism has indeed produced exceptional literary and artistic figures, who have in turn been viewed as sole examples or unique precursors of their kind. Within the corpus of these modernists, we may wonder if their works have now become canonical because of their exceptional quality or if some works continue to be regarded as exceptions. In Woolf’s case for example, critical interest has recently shifted away from the novels of the 1920s to include texts previously considered as secondary, the study of which has renewed the aesthetic, poetic and political appraisal of Woolf’s works. This invites us to think about the temporality of exceptionalism. Do previously considered minor texts now stand out as exceptions? If so, which ones and why? Besides, within those out-of-the-way works, what characters, figures or literary features stand out or are left out? Are marginal figures to be thought of as exceptional? Indeed, figures of the margin and of exception sometimes overlap. In the case of Woolf furthermore, we might address the question of a dialectical tension between the prerogative of exception in terms of her questioning of generic, patriarchal and gender codes and the idea of commonality in the essays’ address to the common reader.
Recent re-evaluations of the modernist heritage have also rehabilitated lesser known figures – female writers such as Mina Loy or Marianne Moore – and European modernisms. Why and how had some representatives of modernism been left out, excised of the modernist corpus? In the case of some authors or works, publicity has ensured that they do not remain outside the canon. How has modernism managed to both pose as an opponent to mass culture, as well as actually profiting from some mainstream ways of publishing, circulating or reading literary texts? This may lead us to reflect on the extent to which the ‘exception’ may be self-constructed, in relation to different literary, chronological or national criteria. Ezra Pound’s little magazine Exile, for example, stands as an exception, less known among Pound’s contributions to literary magazines, and published in 1927-28 while the poet was in Italy, that is, away from the main centers and out of the time frame of modernism. How are exceptional contributions to be viewed in relation to the wider corpus of an author or indeed in terms of a literary genre? Along with this question, how does one account for the political exception that some authors represent, voicing sometimes racist, sexist or even fascist ideologies?
An ensuing key question might be how exceptional modernist works become incorporated in or excluded from the modernist canon, thereby minimizing their original exceptional character. Eliot’s The Waste Land, for example, known by its contemporaries for its daring innovations, is now one of the most widely studied and most well-known modernist works whereas his early work, collected after his (supposedly) Complete Poems and Plays, stands out as the exception, unless the often-noted elitism of The Waste Land still makes it an exception.
Possible topics may include, but shall not be limited to, the following:
– Exceptional modernist figures or works
– The function of exception within the economy of the works themselves: how exceptional figures or forms, whether marginal or outstanding, challenge linguistic, poetic and aesthetic norms and destabilize established modes of representation
– Modernism itself as an exception in time?
– The relation of exceptional works/figures to mainstream publications
– How modernist exceptionalism involves social or economic issues
Full articles will be circulated among the participants a fortnight before the workshop, and we welcome 15-minute talks on those articles, which will be followed by discussions.