Société d’Études Modernistes & Société d’Études Woolfiennes (SEM-SEW)
Marie Laniel (Picardie Jules Verne)
Caroline Pollentier (Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Samedi 9, 9h-10h30
Université de Tours
Stillness in the midst of revolutionary storms
Modernist revolutions have long been identified with temporalities of momentariness: the Benjaminian “instant,” The Futurist Moment (Perloff), “suddenness” in Woolf, Joyce, and the Surrealists (Bohrer). Little attention, however, has been paid to modernist efforts to locate forms of stillness in the midst of these revolutionary storms – forms of temporality characterised by the perception of an “enduring passing away” (Seel), an uneventful eventfulness. Whether considered a “residue of uncontained romanticism” (Adorno) that, in the wake of 1848, crossed the threshold of modernity, or a prophylactic against the repeated shocks of modernity (Benjamin), features marking this modernist temporality will be explored in their recurring transmutations across different spaces and media: the enduring passing away of flickering flames in Wagnerian opera and Italian Futurism; the trance-inducing stillness in movement of Dada performances and avant-garde cinema; the fractal patterns in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Woolf’s The Waves, and the paintings of Jackson Pollock; white noise in the compositions of Samuel Beckett and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen.
Sorbonne Université – Paris 4
“The Society of the future”: new generations and the dynamics of change in the works of Virginia Woolf
In his essay “Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’État”, Louis Althusser criticised the “static” viewpoint of traditional Marxist thought. He argued that ideology is an ever-changing process, because it must reproduce the status quo in a constantly evolving society, as every new generation subverts the outlook of its forebears. I think that this shift in perspective is necessary to understand Woolf’s ideas on revolution. Indeed, she did not believe in an upheaval from the top, led by great leaders against a stable establishment. Instead, her texts, both fiction and non-fiction, reveal her profound faith in the creative powers of new generations. Throughout her works, she endows youngsters with a pervasive desire to question and understand, to take up the legacy of their society in their own manner. Finally, I will argue that this reflects on her own practice, as a self-proclaimed member of a new generation of “Georgian” writers.
Xavier Le Brun
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3
Virginia Woolf’s “neo-realism” of the 1930s: revolution or counter-revolution?
Virginia Woolf’s return to realism in the 1930s, especially in novels and short stories posterior to The Waves (1931), has long been the subject of critical attention. Although this return is nowadays seldom taken at face value, and is instead seen as a critical engagement with realism, we cannot but wonder whether it is more satisfyingly described as a counter-revolution directed at the high-modernist aesthetics of the 1920s or as a subtle continuation of the revolutionary agenda of modernism under the guise of a “relapse” into more traditional and straightforward techniques and preoccupations. Relying on David Herman’s categorisation of realism and modernism as two different couplings between the subject and its environment, our intention is to show that works like Flush (1933), The Years (1937), or the short stories of the same period, remain intrinsically modernist through their intricate fusion of subject and world.
Samedi 9, 11h-12h30
Université de Cergy-Pontoise
Mina Loy’s aesthetic revolutions: turning around/turning away
Through the chameleonic transformations of her aesthetics and her strategically brief engagements with various avant-gardes, Mina Loy embodies particularly well the ambivalence of the notion of revolution: the liberating rupture necessary for the emergence of new forms also has a destructive potential that may quickly lead to an aesthetic impasse. Loy’s poetics was shaped by a double-edged response to the incendiary rhetoric of Italian Futurism and to the radical iconoclasm of New York Dada. In the 1920s she turned to a series of ekphrastic poems focusing on the works of her artistic contemporaries (Joyce, Brancusi, Stein, Lewis, Stravinsky) which articulate a much more complex idea of aesthetic revolution—one that is predicated on an irreducible plurality of forms, arts and media. Loy’s verse briefly revolves around each of these modernist forms before turning in a different direction; arguably, these abrupt shifts of paradigm create dialogic exchanges between disparate aesthetics, eschewing the risk of an aesthetic impasse.
Université Paris Nanterre
L’ambivalence de l’ambition encyclopédique : James Joyce et Camille Henrot
Cette communication proposera une réflexion sur l’ambition encyclopédique dans les arts et la littérature à travers une étude des œuvres de James Joyce et de Camille Henrot. Il s’agira d’examiner, d’abord, leur emploi du cadre sériel et cyclique des jours de la semaine, qui fonctionne comme un principe organisateur et qui, en même temps, agit contre toute fermeture de la structure sur elle-même. Il sera aussi question de la manière dont ils convoquent divers mythes d’origine, de leur usage de la vitesse et de la saturation, et du rapport, souvent transgressif, qu’ils établissent à la loi classificatrice. Je m’intéresserai enfin à la manière dont la passivité et l’activité sont mobilisées pour placer l’artiste, ainsi que le lecteur/spectateur, dans une position difficilement tenable, entre impuissance et hyperpuissance. C’est par ce biais que sera entamée une réflexion sur la place ambivalente que tient le plaisir dans l’entreprise encyclopédique.
Société d’Études Modernistes (SEM) & Société d’Études Woolfiennes (SEW)
Modernism started performatively as a “revolution of the word.” This proclamation of revolution, variously voiced by Dada artists, in Blast, or by Eugène Jolas, defines the anti-institutional, violent temporality of the modernist manifesto; yet, developing through a sustained focus on modernism’s formal innovations and epistemic rupture, the metanarrative of revolution has also become central to the institutionalisation of modernist studies. When Virginia Woolf registered that “on or about 1910” the Georgian cook left the dark underworld of the Victorian kitchen, she spelled out a social upheaval that modernist studies have diversely but consistently identified with “the modernist period.”
If it ultimately gets lost in fixed patterns of periodisation, modernism’s revolutionary impetus nonetheless runs the risk of turning into a canonical “comfort zone” of sorts. While modernist critics, in the wake of Marjorie Perloff’s 21st-Century Modernism. The “New” Poetics (2002), have extended this narrative of revolution to contemporary poetics, more recent studies have attempted to rethink a prehistory of modernist revolution, and thereby to revise the genealogy of its inscription in Western modernity. In Planetary Modernisms (2015), Susan Stanford Friedman redefined modernism through Fernand Braudel’s concept of longue durée as an iterative phenomenon considered across time and on a global scale. Questioning this long-standing focus on revolution, several critics, such as Steve Ellis’s Virginia Woolf and the Victorians (2007), have alternatively chosen to retrace historical lines of transition and transmission between the Victorian and modernist eras.
This SAES workshop aims to continue this ongoing rethinking of modernism’s forms, conditions, and “posture[s]” of revolution. By avoiding the essentialisation of rupture and envisioning cultural change, in the wake of Fredric Jameson, “beyond the opposition between synchrony and diachrony,” we propose to pluralise our approaches to revolutionary modernisms, and thus to understand such performances of modernity by building on the radically multiple semantics of the notion per se, such as theorised by Reinhart Koselleck. Koselleck’s insight into revolution as a globally extendable marker of modernity is particularly significant for this purpose: “The word ‘revolution’ possesses such revolutionary power that it is constantly extending itself to include every last element on our globe.”
The Société d’Études Modernistes and the Société d’Études Woolfiennes encourage participants of this joint workshop to:
- Attend to the polysemy and plurality of modernist revolutions, ranging from politics to science, technology, economics, gender, etc., with a special focus on Virginia Woolf’s multiple perspectives on revolution (see, for example, Clara Jones’s work on Woolf as “ambivalent activist”).
- Discuss the periodisation of modernist revolutions, with a focus on alternative dates (see Jean-Michel Rabaté’s choice to focus on 1912+1 in 1913: The Cradle of Modernism), extended timelines, and revisionist genealogies.
- Extend the politics of revolution transnationally (see for instance Steven S. Lee’s recent work on the “ethnic avant-garde” and David Ayers’s research on the Russian Revolution).
- Track modernist revolutions across media (music, painting, photography, cinema, radio, etc.).
 Jolas, Eugène. “The Revolution of the Word Proclamation.” transition 16-17 (June 1929), p. 1.
 Woolf, Virginia. “Character in Fiction.” The Essays of Virginia Woolf. Vol. 3. Ed. Andrew McNeillie. London: Hogarth Press, 1988, p. 421.
 Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Planetarity: Musing Modernist Studies.” modernism/modernity 17.3 (2010), p. 494.
 James, David, and Urmila Seshagiri. “Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution.” PMLA 129.1 (2014), p. 90.
 Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious. Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. London: Routledge, 2006, p. 83.
 Koselleck, Reinhart. “Historical Criteria of the Modern Concept of Revolution.” Futures Past. On the Semantics of Historical Time. New York: Columbia UP, 2004, p. 44.
 Jones, Clara. Virginia Woolf: Ambivalent Activist. Edinburgh: EUP, 2016.
 Lee, Steven S. The Ethnic Avant-Garde. Minority Cultures and World Revolution. New York: Columbia UP, 2015.