• Atelier,
  • Conférence/Rencontre/Débat (recherche),

Atelier SEM/SEW, Congrès de la Société des Anglicistes de l'Enseignement Supérieur (SAES), 2018: programme

Publié le 22 mars 2018 Mis à jour le 24 mai 2018

REVOLUTIONS: Société d’Études Modernistes (SEM) & Société d’Études Woolfiennes (SEW), Joint Workshop, Ateliers III & IV


le 9 juin 2018

9h - 12h
Université Paris Nanterre

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.”


9h, Adrienne Janus (Université de Tours)
Stillness in the midst of revolutionary storms
Modernist revolutions, whether aesthetic or political, avant-garde or high-modernist, have long been identified with radical temporalities of momentariness: from the Benjaminian “instant” (“Augenblick”), to Marjorie Perloff’s The Futurist Moment to Karl-Heinz Bohrer’s analysis of “suddenness” in the prose of Woolf, Joyce, and the French Surrealists. Little attention, however, has been paid to modernist efforts to locate forms of stillness in the midst of these revolutionary storms1 – forms of temporality characterised by the perception of an “enduring passing away” (Seel), an uneventful eventfulness, stillness in the midst of incessant movement. Whether considered as what Adorno identified as a “residue of uncontained romanticism,” that, in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848, crossed the threshold of modernity, or as an after-effect and prophylactic against the repeated shocks of modernity (Benjamin), or as a form of resistance against modernist claims to revolutionary authority (Sloterdijk), features marking this form of modernist temporality will be explored in their recurring transmutations across different spaces and media: from the enduring passing away of the murmuring forests and flickering flames of Wagnerian opera to the shuffling crowds, trembling airplanes and flickering flames of Italian Futurism; to the trance-inducing stillness in movement of Dada performances at the Cabaret Voltaire to the immobile vibrations of water-falls and “gaseous perception” in the avant-garde cinema Rene Claire and Dziga Vertov;2 and from the fractal patterns found in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Woolf’s The Waves, and the paintings of Jackson Pollock to the modulations of white noise in the radio compositions of Samuel Beckett and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen on and around 1968.

1Louise Hornby, Still Modernism (OUP, 2017) – Virginia Woolf's theory of photography - and Joyce. 


Olivier Hercend (Université Paris Sorbonne - Paris 4)
“The Society of the future”: new generations and the dynamics of change in the works of Virginia Woolf
In his 1970 essay “Idéologie et Appareils Idéologiques d'Etat”, Louis Althusser criticised the “static” viewpoint of traditional Marxist thought. He argued that ideology is not a monolithic force but 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. It seems to me 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 men, be they Lenin or Mussolini, against a stable establishment. The real powers of the society she lived in, “the cities which the elderly of the race have built upon the skyline [...] brick suburbs, barracks, and places of discipline” which Jacob glimpses in his few moments of rebellion, would only be fortified by such doctrines, with their authoritarian and patriarchal undertones. On the contrary, I will argue that she did not see any need for a transcendent drive towards change. Her texts, both fiction and non-fiction, reveal her profound faith in the creative powers of new generations, and she advocates mainly against their indoctrination – even in “progressive” ways. From the girls in the short story “A Society” and their decision to “ask questions”, to the younger Paxtons in the essay “The Pastons and Chaucer”, through Rachel, Jacob, Elisabeth Dalloway, the Ramsay children and many others, 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 think that she applied the same idea to herself. Instead of seeing her work as a single, revolutionary literary force, Woolf imagined herself as a “Georgian”, a “contemporary”, that is to say part of a new generation, struggling each in their own way with their shared endeavour, “engaged upon some vast building […] built by common effort.”


10h 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 (1932), has long been the subject of critical attention. Already in the 1960s, Shiv Kumar lamented that The Years (1937) marked “a regression to the technique of her early novels The Voyage Out and Night and Day.” 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 The Years, Flush (1933), or the short stories of the same period, remain intrinsically modernist through their intricate fusion of subject and world. Woolf’s “formal reaction” of the 1930s thus paradoxically appears as a way to further the innovations introduced by modernism in the first decades of the century.



11h Yasna Bozhkova (Université de Cergy-Pontoise)
Mina Loy’s Aesthetic Revolutions: Turning Around/Turning Away
Through the chameleonic transformations of her aesthetics and her ambivalent engagements with avant-garde movements like Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism, Mina Loy embodies particularly well the tension between opposing forces inherent in the notion of revolution: although it is the foundational myth that shaped the modernist movement, the liberating rupture necessary for the emergence of new forms also has a destructive potential that may quickly lead to an aesthetic impasse. An ambivalent response to the incendiary rhetoric of Italian Futurism gave the initial impetus of Loy’s poetics: her early poems daringly appropriated the typographical liberation advocated by Marinetti, while reacting against Futurism’s dogmatic and violent call for the obliteration of artistic tradition. Her poetics evolved through its encounter with the radical iconoclasm of New York Dada and in the 1920s turned to an explicit reflection on revolutionary aesthetics, through a series of ekphrastic poems focusing on the works of her artistic contemporaries—those of Joyce, Brancusi, Stein, Wyndham Lewis and Stravinsky among others. In these poems unravels a much more complex idea of revolution, predicated on an irreducible plurality of forms, arts and media, as well as on a far-reaching dialogue between modernity and artistic tradition. Attending to the etymology of the term “revolution” and connecting it with Loy’s predilection for celestial imagery, as well as with the idea of “turning” inherent in the term “verse” itself, this paper suggests that Loy’s verse briefly revolves around each of these revolutionary modernist forms before swerving in a different direction. Arguably, these abrupt shifts of the aesthetic paradigm seek to create dialogic exchanges between disparate aesthetics: in one of her essays, Loy explicitly foregrounds the idea of aesthetic itineraries, suggesting that even the most innovative form is quickly transformed into an impasse if it becomes an exclusive way of seeing.


11h30, Naomi Toth (Université Paris Nanterre)
L’ambivalence de l’ambition encyclopédique. James Joyce et Camille Henrot
Days are Dogs, l’exposition de Camille Henrot au Palais de Tokyo (octobre 2017 à janvier 2018), comporte de nombreuses références explicites à l’œuvre de James Joyce et ce dès la deuxième salle où l’on trouve une grande sculpture ikebana intitulée « Portrait de l’artiste en jeune homme ». Plutôt que d’analyser la lecture de Joyce qui s’articule à travers de telles références, cette communication propose de rapprocher les œuvres de l’écrivain et de l’artiste par le biais de leur ambition encyclopédique commune. Il s’agira d’examiner, d’abord, l’emploi du cadre sériel et cyclique des jours de la semaine car celui-ci sert, chez l’un comme chez l’autre, de principe organisateur à une masse de données qui ne cessent de proliférer, sa qualité de refrain permettant à la fois la limitation et le débordement du sens. Le cadre de la semaine participe ainsi du rapport transgressif que les deux œuvres établissent à la loi classificatrice, rapport qui sera analysé dans un deuxième temps. Je m’intéresserai enfin à la manière dont Joyce et Henrot engagent la passivité et l’activité du lecteur/spectateur pour nous mettre dans une position difficilement tenable, car nous sommes tiraillés entre hyperpuissance et impuissance. C’est ainsi que leurs œuvres nous obligent à réfléchir sur le rôle ambivalent que joue le plaisir dans la démarche d’épuisement impliquée par l’entreprise encyclopédique.



See also the SAES 2018 Congress website

Mis à jour le 24 mai 2018