Modernities: Old Problems, New Approaches
School of Literatures, Cultural Studies, and Linguistics
Summer Seminar, 2016
All sessions will take place at the Richard J. Daley Library, Room 1-470
DAY ONE: May 11
Welcome and Afternoon Coffee: 4:30-5:00 pm
Keynote Seminar: 5:00-6:30 pm
Robert B. Pippin, Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, and Philosophy, University of Chicago
NIETZSCHE ON ‘THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE’:
PHILOSOPHICAL MODERNISM IN BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
I understand European aesthetic modernism to originate in a reaction to the form of life coming into view around the middle of the nineteenth century. The idea was that this form of life was so unprecedented in human history that art’s very purpose or rationale, its mode of address to an audience, had to be fundamentally rethought. Nothing about the purpose or value of art, as it had been understood, could be taken for granted any longer, and the issue was: what kind of art, committed to what ideal, would be credible in such a world (if any)? A response to such a development was taken by some to require a novelty, experimentation, and formal radicality so extreme as to seem unintelligible to its “first responders.” By the end of the nineteenth century, I want to claim in this paper, Nietzsche was proposing a modernist “philosophy of the future” just as radical, although the nature of that radicality has not been properly understood. The claim is that his version of philosophical modernism is essentially literary, and so requires a way of reading Nietzsche not acknowledged in the traditions especially influenced by him.
Light Reception: 6:30-7:30 pm
DAY TWO: May 12
Morning Coffee and Pastries: 9:00-9:15 am
Seminar I: 9:15-10:45 am
Mark Canuel, Department of English, University of Illinois at Chicago
There is a long-standing critical doctrine about the relationship between the progressive discourses of modernity and Romantic poetry’s inspired speakers: time and again, and we are told that the Romantic lyric aims to heal the “instrumentalizing” discourses of modernity through nostalgia, sympathy, community, and so on. This paper examines the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, along with some French and German literature than inspired him, to challenge the argument about lyric poetry’s merely opposition status within the history of poetry and modern secular institutions. Coleridge frequently echoes the tropes of philosophical history and the progress poetry it inspired, allegorizing loco-descriptive poetry as a march toward “wisdom,” “truth,” and “knowledge.” But what kind of wisdom—aesthetic, philosophical, or political—does lyric poetry yield? Coleridge employs the familiar tropes of epistemological and cultural progressivism, although he neither accepts nor opposes them: he insists on lyricism as an alternative and privileged form of insight. In some of his greatest works, from odes to “conversation” poems, he associates lyric poetry with a novel and aberrant ethos of improvement, one that depicts moments of progressive acculturation only as an acquired ability to “dream” and “ask” about the world rather than acquire a common knowledge of it.
Coffee Break: 10:45-11:00 am
Seminar II: 11-12:30 pm
Michał Paweł Markowski, Hejna Chair in Polish Language and Literature, University of Illinois at Chicago
TRANSFIGURATION AND IMMERSION: TWO MODELS OF MODERN SUBJECTIVITY
In a letter to Goethe from January 7, 1795, upon receiving the two first books of Wilhelm Meister, Friedrich Schiller confessed that he was now “fully conscious of the infinite difference between Life and Reasoning.” I argue that this gap between Life and Reason, which made Schiller “feel melancholic,” could be taken as a metaphor for a severe dissociation, which complicated the idea of what Modern subjectivity was supposed to be.
At the height of the Enlightenment—dominated by the Kantian subject of knowledge whose main task was to get rid of the empirical and securely arrive at a transcendental ground of cognition—a new and opposite model appeared, a subjectivity that yielded to “mere life.” This scission, which Schiller openly admitted immensely bothered him and caused his melancholy, began to mark the whole course of Modern culture.
In my presentation I will sketch an image of dialectical Modernity in which two models of subjectivity compete against each other. The first one, which I call transfigurative, was based on the premise that in order to impose order on chaotic reality (and build the foundations of culture) reason had to transform the accidental (in life or in nature) into the necessary. The second one, which I call immersive, was based on the premise that the intellectual mediation of life was nothing but a violent appropriation thereof.
Not incidentally those two models of subjectivity resulted in two different views on the human affects. Believers in the transfiguration of life—from Kant through Hegel to Nietzsche and Freud—claimed that affects should be either extirpated as “cancers of pure reason” (Kant), or muzzled and used for a higher purpose by an Übermensch (Nietzsche). Believers in existential immersion—from Rousseau to Jünger and Cioran—maintained that only the return to “bare life” could bring the soul back home from intellectual exile.
Against this historic background I read The Magic Mountain (1924) by Thomas Mann, where the Modern dialectics of subjectivity were illuminatively shown in the confrontation of two secondary characters: Ludovico Settembrini, a partisan of culture as transfiguration, and Leon Naphta, an advocate for a passionate immersion in life. In the examination of their animated argument I will incessantly go back and forth between literary Modernism and philosophical Modernity in order to show their close affinity.
Lunch—Provided: 12:30-2:00 pm
Seminar III: 2:00-3:30 pm
Dianna C. Niebylski, Hispanic and Italian Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
TROUBLED MODERNITY AND AMBIVALENT MODERNISM: BORGES, BOLAÑO, AND THE LATIN AMERICAN CONTEXT
Few areas of the world have generated more theories of modernity than Latin America. Sometimes self-flagellating, sometimes combative, intellectuals of all stripes have long desired to prove that Latin America as a region is or is not, is not yet, or is partially, incompletely, distinctively, divergently, peripherally, even catastrophically, modern. Whether written in the second half of the nineteenth-century, the mid-twentieth, or the early twenty-first, most writings on the subject reveal an undeniable level of anxiety on the part of Latin American intellectuals and critics vis-à-vis their region’s or nation’s modernity, generally measured against European standards of cultural accomplishments and North American (US) standards of technological and industrial modernization. Almost as frequently, this anxiety is expressed as resentment at the perception that Latin American versions of modernity are nothing but bad copies of a blueprint created by cultures with vastly different histories, geographies or demographics.
From the middle decades of the twentieth century to the present, however, this troubled relationship to largely European projects of political, economic and cultural modernity is a source of the originality, or singularity, of Latin America’s most celebrated authors. Even as sociologists, political scientists and literary critics bemoaned the recycled, borrowed nature of Latin American nations’ never entirely successful efforts at urbanization, industrialization or liberal democratization, poets and writers embraced that status, turning their ex-centric circumstances into eccentric practices of borrowing and recycling from Western and Eastern traditions, and from high, pop, and mass culture, creating dazzling new art forms in the process. Nostalgia and recycling, as Jameson and others have argued, are inseparable from late modernism, yet the distinctiveness of a Borges, and more recently of a Bolaño, stems not just from their babelian library, or seemingly indiscriminate practice of reading, but from these writers’ national and regional experience of the peripheral status of their historical circumstances. While works of Borges and Bolaño are connected by the centrality of nostalgia, recycling and reinvention, my presentation will demonstrate that their approach to both modernism and the values of modernity are in many ways antithetical, signaling two different moments in Latin America’s relationship to historical and cultural modernity. At the same time, the paths by which both authors seek to recover modernism’s belief in limitless re- invention cannot be understood in isolation from each other. By examining the differing dynamics separating these two contrasting but deeply related authors, we are forced to examine more closely the possibilities for literature in what Jean Franco calls the “cruel” modernity of Latin American –and global—reality.
Afternoon Coffee and Cookies: 3:30-3:45 pm
Seminar IV: 3:45-5:15 pm
Blake Stimson, Art History, University of Illinois at Chicago
THE HUMAN THING / PAUL STRAND AS JEW
Paul Strand, who died in 1976, took up a position that was as outmoded as it was prophetic during the last two decades of his life. His early high Whitmanesque/Fordist/Rooseveltian modernism that was to redeem modernity’s grand spirit by humanizing its apparatus had long fallen by the wayside but he never took on board the later low Cagean/Friedmanite/Reaganite postmodernism of the everyday encounter or exchange that renounced the hubris of the old collective embodiment in the name of an identity politics for things. Instead, Strand came to work the angsty turmoil of the modernist against the phlegmatic self-renunciation of the postmoderns much in the way Theodor Adorno did in 1969 when he wrote of the artist’s unbearable responsibility in the face of the “mendacious personalization of politics” because “there is no art without individuation.” This paper looks to the worldly, anti-existential and anti-essential labor of Judaism in a Judaizing, anti-Judaic world to draw out Strand’s reach for a form of sovereignty that would adopt reification—the nemesis, professed or not, of modernists and postmoderns alike—as itself the rudiment of freedom.
DAY THREE: May 13
Morning Coffee and Pastries: 9:00-9:15
Panel and Roundtable I: 9:15-10:30 am
THE PLURAL POETICS OF MODERNITY—10-minute interventions per speaker followed by roundtable discussion.
LCSL FACULTY—LED BY JULIA VAINGURT
Participants: Colleen McQuillen, Slavic and Baltic; Margaret Miner, French and Francophone; Heidi Schlipphacke, Germanic Studies.
Coffee Break: 10:30-10:45 am
Panel and Roundtable II: 10:45-12:00 PM
THE PLURAL POLITICS OF MODERNITY—10-minute interventions per speaker followed by a roundtable discussion.
LCSL FACULTY—LED BY IMKE MEYER.
Participants: Tatjana Gajic, Hispanic Studies; Norma Moruzzi, International Studies; Yann Robert, French and Francophone Studies; Rob Ryder, Germanic Studies.
Lunch —Provided: 12:00-1:00 pm
Panel and Roundtable III: 1:00-2:15 pm
THE PLURAL HISTORIES OF MODERNITY—10-minute interventions per speaker followed by a roundtable discussion.
LCSL FACULTY—LED BY ROSILIE HERNÁNDEZ
Participants: Elizabeth Loentz, Germanic Studies; Ellen McClure, French and Francophone; Paris Papamichos Chronakis, Classics and Mediterranean Studies.
Afternoon Coffee and Cookies: 2:15-2:45
GRADUATE STUDENT PRESENTATIONS: 2:45-4:45 pm
15 minute interventions on dissertation projects in dialogue with the general topic of Modernities.
Participants: Ana Báez, Hispanic Studies; Rebecca Bivens, Art History; Nicole Cridland, English; Agnieszka Jezyk, Polish Studies; Yanire Márquez, Hispanic Studies; Jill Quarles, Hispanic Studies; Nicoletta Rousseva, Art History.
End of the Seminar Group Discussion—Future Topics: 4:45-5:30
Wine and Cheese Reception: 5:30-6:00 pm
The LCSL Summer Seminar 2016 is sponsored by the
School of Literatures, Cultural Studies, and Linguistics
Institute for the Humanities
Department of French and Francophone Studies
Department of Germanic Studies
Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies
Department of Slavic and Baltic Languages and Literatures
Richard J. Daley Library