Conferences & lectures

Making modernism global

A public lecture by Alys Moody, senior lecturer at Macquarie University

Friday, April 5, 2019
2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Alys Moody, senior lecturer in the Department of English at Macquarie University


This event is free


Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture


Stephen Ross


John Molson Building
1450 Guy
Room MB 15.254



The recent expansion of modernist studies to include writing from across the globe has been the source of significant and ongoing controversy within literary studies. At the core of this debate lies a set of anxieties around the definition of “modernism” itself — an anxiety compounded by the relentlessly expansive impulse of some of the most influential voices in global modernist studies.

As Susan Stanford Friedman claims to locate new “modernisms” in 8th century China and 15th century India, other scholars have recoiled in horror, wondering at the extent to which such an ambitious expansion of the term undermines its coherence and its utility for scholarship.

This paper draws on the experience of editing the forthcoming anthology, Global Modernists on Modernism, in order to establish a middle ground in this debate — one that acknowledges the existence of global modernisms, but confines them more closely to the historical period, from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries, most associated with modernism in regular usage.

This narrower definition reveals the extent to which the early 20th century, and the decades around it, suffered a rolling, transnational sense of crisis in the status of the aesthetic, of which Western modernism is perhaps the most familiar, but certainly not the only, manifestation.

Drawing on manifestos, essays and other critical texts from a range of non-Western modernist traditions, we advocate for attending closely to primary sources in the global debates around the status of art and its relationship to modernity and tradition.

Doing so, we suggest, helps to reconfigure — but not dissolve — our understanding of modernism itself, revealing it to be a surprisingly coherent, if globally diffuse, expression not just of modernity, but of the crisis engendered by a specific moment of global modernity on the way we conceptualise the role of art in society.

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