Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Against Innovation

File it under "things that started out as a joke and became increasingly awesome." My panel "Against Innovation," with Stephen Ross and Joel Burges, was accepted for MSA 13. Hurray!

Modernist studies continues to place stress on “making it new,” borrowing from modernism’s own rhetorics, as MSA 13’s theme, “Structures of Innovation,” suggests. The idea of innovation, like that of “modernism” itself, is inherently complex, always implying a temporal forward motion often freighted with underexamined ethical and epistemological implications. Indeed, as Jed Rasula has recently shown in the pages of Modernism/modernity, the notion of newness in modernism was as multifarious as it was pervasive, standing in as a term of aesthetic approval or as a formal description as often as it made a historical claim. This panel therefore seeks to illuminate the temporal structures of modernism and its afterlives that operate “against innovation”: repetition, queer time, haunting, and obsolescence.

Natalia Cecire’s paper, “Repeating Stein,” considers the ways in which repetition troubles the very notion of “formal innovation.” Via Gertrude Stein’s “continuous present,” Cecire examines repetition’s dual role as a marker of the Freudian death drive and a hallmark of the “formal innovation” of the avant-garde. Jennifer Fleissner and Lee Edelman read repetition as figuring, respectively, the compulsive futurity of a female modernism (suggested by the typist’s “automatic hand”) and a queer refusal of “reproductive futurism”—that which propels modernity forward and that which refuses futurity altogether. Questioning the professional reproductive futurism of modernist studies, Cecire models a reading “against innovation” that seeks to illuminate the ethical and epistemological investments in temporality that continue to shape our understanding of modernism.

Stephen Ross takes up the structure of return by way of a metacritical consideration of historical studies of spiritualism and the occult in his talk “The Haunting of Modernist Studies.” For modernism and its critics alike, he argues, what is proclaimed as new not only encodes key dimensions of the immediate past, but indeed does so in precisely those terms most clearly identified with the dynamics of haunting. Taking studies of spiritualism and the occult as his case study, Ross argues that the historical-materialist turn in modernist studies has powerfully revived the field of modernist studies—but in doing so continually also raises the ghost of the old “high” modernist studies with which, like a mourner, the field cannot bear to part. The result, he suggests, is a melancholic modernism with which the field must engage if it is to sustain its resurgent impetus.

In “The Old-Fashioned Mr. Anderson,” Joel Burges examines a modernist aesthetic that, when dislodged from the historical time of modernism, turns “making it new” into making it obsolete. Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Burges argues, pits itself against innovation by embracing technological obsolescence as an aesthetic horizon for cinema, wagering on an analog modernity in a media moment in which the “digital revolution” is the presumed future of film. In doing so, Anderson pays homage to two self-consciously innovative films from the modernist era, one the product of Hollywood, the other of the international cinematic avant-garde: King Kong (1933) and Le Roman de Renard (1929-1931; 1941). Fantastic Mr. Fox thus insists that that the obsolete rather than the innovative, is now the privileged temporal and historical horizon of art in the present.
See you in Buffalo!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a wonderful and "timely" panel!

Natalia said...