What Was Modernist Work?

When:29 Mar 2016, 4:50pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Tyree Room, John Niland Scientia Building
Who:Distinguished Visitor Professor Christopher Nealon (Johns Hopkins University)

Abstract: My talk begins by drawing out a series of contrasts between the capitalism of the second industrial revolution — the capitalism that gave rise to literary modernism, and to the industrial working class — and the capitalism of today: the capitalism of deindustrialization, precarity, and the specter of a secular decline in profitability. I contrast the tensions behind modernist literary production, not least the tension between the avant-garde and mass culture, with a contemporary environment of literary production that not only collapses high and low, or endlessly recycles (as in various later 20th-century theories of the “postmodern”), but which re-values literary writing altogether, especially by foregrounding its disposability or non-posterity. Against the backdrop of these contrasts, I turn to some contemporary poetry as a kind of rear-view mirror in order to ask what of literary modernism remains vital today.

Christopher Nealon teaches American literature, aesthetic theory, and the intellectual histories that bear on the history of poetry. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1997, and taught at UC Berkeley from 1996 to 2008. He is the author of The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in The American Century (Harvard, 2011), and Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion before Stonewall (Duke, 2001), as well as three books of poems, The Joyous Age (Black Square Editions, 2004), Plummet (Edge Books, 2009) and Heteronomy (Edge Books, 2014).

RSVP: Please note that places are limited and RSVP is essential: kindly register your attendance here by Friday 11 March. Refreshments will be served after the lecture.

In addition to this lecture, Professor Nealon will also take part in a poetry reading on Thursday 31 March, as part of the UNSWriting programme of events. More information about the reading can be found here.

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