The revolution metaphor has been one of the most lastingly influential ones in modernist and contemporary literature and visual arts. It has informed the history of aesthetics and its periodization, the Modernist revolution unfolding in a succession of sub-revolutions captured in the “isms” that, in the arts, came in quick succession from Post-Impressionism to Vorticism, or Surrealism. Formal experimentation and an agonistic relation to the dominant aesthetics inherited from the 19th century were central to the modernist revolution and the narrative has remained till today the dominant one, with its emphasis on literature and art as revolutionary events, always in excess of the known.
Whether defined as revolutionary or, more often in Anglo-American criticism, as avant-garde, literature and the arts radically redefined their relation to society and history, form itself being endowed with utopian agency. In Terry Eagleton’s words “the ‘poetics’ of previous revolutions ha[d] been of an ‘expressive’ or ‘representational’ kind. But the ‘form’ of the future society [was] that of a ceaseless self-surpassement of ‘content’” (Criticism and Ideology, 1976, 184). Criticism has also emphasized the utopian purport of literature and the arts, from Fredric Jameson’s exploration of utopia in Archaeologies of the Future (Verso, 2005) to Toril Moi’s very recent essay Revolutions of the Ordinary: Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell (University of Chicago Press, 2017); and one of course may return to Peter Bürger’s seminal Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974) or to Gabriel Josipovici’s analysis of modernism’s legacy in Whatever Happened to Modernism? (2010).
The joint workshop organized by the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines and the editors of the Journal of the Short Story in English will be the occasion to revisit such a narrative, as well as some of its aesthetic and historical implications. If the form taken by such a revolution in Modernist literature has been explored at length, its theorization by modernist writers and artists and by later readers may offer us a different take on that turning point. Later conceptions of the relation of art to social and political change may also shed a different light on the revolutionary impact of literature; one may think of Orwell’s controversial essay “Inside the Whale” (1940), or the political agenda of later experimental writers such as B.S. Johnson, Alan Burns or Christine Brooke-Rose. Similarly, literature’s revolutionary potential may also be traced in contemporary literature’s treatment of identity politics, whether in the field of gender identity, cultural or ethnic identity.
Papers may take as their focus British literature of the 20th and the 21st centuries, as well as British visual arts of the same period. They may also turn to the genre of the short-story, whether American or British, from the 19th to the 21st centuries. They may also take an interest in essays, diaries, or any other genre or format in which artists and writers choose to explore their understanding of aesthetic revolutions.
Possible topics or issues to be examined (list non exclusive):
— Modernism’s avant-garde aesthetics, from the Vorticists to the Surrealists and Modernism’s political agenda;
— The reaction against the avant-garde in the 40s and 50s;
— The revolutionary agenda of the Angry Young Men;
— Gender revolution(s), from Virginia Woolf or May Sinclair, to Angela Carter;
— British political cinema, from the experimental cinema of the 60s, to Ken Loach and Mike Leigh;
— Theories of literary commitment, from H.G. Wells to Tom McCarthy;
— The subversive emergence of new literary formats: from the short-story cycle to electronic literature;
— Literary utopia and dystopia.
Proposals of 400 words (+ short critical bibliography) and a short biographical note should be sent to Catherine Bernard (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Gerald Preher (email@example.com), before January 5th 2018.
Papers will be submitted for publication to Études britanniques contemporaines or to The Journal of the Short Story in English (both peer-reviewed).