MSA 2012 Roundtable: Beyond Modernist Periodization


At this year’s Modernist Studies Association meeting in Las Vegas I have convened a roundtable (where I will also be speaking) under the rubric
Beyond Modernist Periodization: Alternatives to the Canonical Half-Century.
8:30 a.m.–10 a.m., Red Rock VII, Flamingo Hotel, Friday, October 19, 2012.

Here are the (fantastic) people involved, and here’s what it’s all about.


Mike LeMahieu (moderator), Department of English, Clemson University
Michael Chasar, Department of English, Willamette University
Mike Frangos, HUMlab, Umeå University
Andrew Goldstone, Department of English, Rutgers University
Laura O’Connor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine
Karin Westman, Department of English, Kansas State University

The argument

Modernist studies has been growing increasingly uneasy about the historical frame provided by what is called “the modernist period.” Scholars of modernism readily recognize modernisms that do not fit neatly within the half-century framed around Anglo-American modernism, especially when their research includes cultural production outside Western Europe and North America. Scholarship also increasingly finds that the 1890–1950 period is better suited to canonical Anglo-American novels and poetry than to other genres, cultural subfields, and media. The waning of “postmodernism” as a compelling frame for the postwar also invites modernist studies’ interests in the second half of the century. But what will take the place of the canonical half-century and its implicit narrative of a singular break into modernity? Should modernist studies reorient itself as “twentieth-century studies”? The participants in this roundtable will argue for some of the most significant and productive possibilities for reorientation. Our key concerns include:

Genre. How could changing our generic emphases change our historical narratives?

Media. What are the historical rhythms of media beyond modernist studies’ emphasis on the printed book and the little magazine?

Geography. The London-Paris-New York “core” of modernist studies has a historical trajectory which is not universal. What approaches might allow scholarship to set its watches by other literary Greenwich meridians—or none?

Canons. How much do canons and periods rise and fall together?

These emphases are starting points for discussion. We will seek to facilitate a discussion that will invite the audience to range widely in addressing this central problem for current work in modernist—or twentieth-century—studies.