Atelier n°5 Société d’Etudes Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) / The Journal of the Short Story in English.

(Re)construction(s) in/of literature and the visual arts in the 20th and 21st centuries (GB/US)

Conveners : Catherine Bernard, Université Paris Diderot

Gérald Préher, Université Catholique de Lille

Artistic and cultural productions are constructions in which design, intelligence, emotion, sensation converge to extend the possibilities of experience and help us make sense of that same experience. In the context of the 2017 SAES conference focusing on “(Re)construction(s),” the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines and specialists of the short story in English are once again pooling their resources to engage with the modalities of literary and aesthetic (re)construction(s).

The historical context of the city of Reims itself may encourage participants to reflect on the specific post-war aesthetics generated by the two World Wars that tore at Britain’s social and cultural fabric. Emphasis has been placed on the disruptive intensity of Modernism and the avant-gardes with their injunction to “blast” the old world. But this conference could also be the occasion to turn to the post-war late modernist aesthetics that attempted to move on and beyond the disruptive visions of the modernists. Did the reconstruction of the interwar period and then of the 1950s necessarily harness the future to a conservative reenactment of a fantasized past, or did it produce an inventive, if somewhat paradoxical, redefinition of identity? One may turn in that respect both to the Angry Young Men generation who fully deserve renewed attention, as much as to the late poetry of Eliot with his Anglican and yet utopian vision of a body politic being reborn from the ashes of a lost world.

But the theme of the conference may also bring us to reflect on the logic of cultural (re)construction at work in the often critical visions of utopian and dystopian literature, whether in the novel or the short story genre. From D.H. Lawrence’s England, My England (1922) to Angela Carter’s or Ursula Le Guin’s fantastic visions of parallel worlds, from Aldous Huxley’s dystopian lands to Tom Stoppard’s paradoxical Arcadia (1993), from Virginia Woolf’s sarcastic pageant in Between the Acts to John Berger’s political fantasy in G. (1978), literature has explored the architectonics of imagination and of its politics in order to lay bare the constructedness of history and of identity. Similarly, literature has (re)constructed images of the exotic and orientalist otherness that largely contributed to the construction of a complex sense of national belonging. The same has been true also of the appropriation of the Victorian imaginary in neo-Victorian fiction.

The same was true also of British Pop Art with its critical eye for the “fallacy” of images and the new language of iconicity. Even before the 60s, painters as diverse as the Vorticists or Christopher Nevinson explored the new structural logic of vision as (re)constructed by technology and industrialization. More recently David Hockney has turned to the new possibilities opened by technology for the reinvention of vision in his series of paintings inspired by digital technology.

More immediately even, papers may address the place and function of architecture in literary imagination or visual culture. Recent British novels set during the London Blitz (Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, 2013, Anna Hope’s Wake, 2014, Pat Barker’s Noonday, 2015) push the metonymic logic of representation to a breaking point by dwelling at length on the destruction of the city and we may wonder whether the same may apply to literature harnessing architecture to visions of cultural constructedness as is the case in Raymond Carver’s short stories for instance. Similar questions may also be asked of documentary photography (see Bill Brandt’s work for instance), or of the works of artists like L.S. Lowry or Gilbert & George (see their works devoted to the East End that reinvent our relation to urban space).

Proposals (300 words + short bibliography) for papers in French or in English should be sent jointly to Catherine Bernard ( and to Gérald Préher ( by December 16th.

A selection of the papers will be published in the peer-reviewed journals Études britanniques contemporaines or The Journal of the Short Story in English.