Call For Papers: ‘Modernity at Large’ and its Imaginaries, Deadline Extended, Columbia University

“Modernity at Large” and its Imaginaries

10th annual Columbia University German Graduate Student Conference
Deutsches Haus, Columbia University, March 4& 5, 2011

Keynote: Stathis Gourgouris (Director, Institute for Comparative Literature & Society, Columbia University)

As a guiding research paradigm, postmodernity is certainly dead by now. Instead, talk about modernity is on the rise again. Buzz words like ‘modernity at large’, ‘alternative modernities’, and ‘multiple modernities’ call for us to rethink modernity and aesthetic modernism: as multi-layered, shared as well as divided and, most importantly, non-convergent. And while we still may not know what modernity really is, we have begun to acknowledge a simple fact: the entangled history of the modern world does not imply that modernity is the same everywhere, that it produces the same institutions or experiences in New York, Lagos, or Mumbai, or that aesthetic modernism designates the same thing in Shanghai, Buenos Aires, or Berlin. As a heuristic perspective, ‘modernity at large’ stresses socio-culturally situated ‘creative adaptations’ of circulating cultural, social, aesthetic, and media-forms. Can this framework move us simultaneously beyond narrow particularisms and artificial universalisms? What would it mean to apply a postcolonial lens to view German modernity? What if we consider the European cultural and national space a frame for a multilayered perception of modernity instead of a one-dimensional one? How would this affect our notions of the Western cultural canon?

Approaching ‘modernity at large’ through a German lens touches upon many facets. A prominent one would be the interaction of metropolis and periphery – be that through the relationship between the Wilhelmine Empire and its African colonies or the new ‘East-West’ imaginaries motivated by the demise of the German Democratic Republic and the growing numbers of immigrants since the early 1960s. Another approach would be to address the ‘systemic difference’ of various forms of social organization in a state dimension. Modernity has mostly been conceived in terms of its liberal capitalist context. Given German history, it seems crucial to consider socialist and fascist concepts of modernity as well. Gender and Minority Studies have stressed that the ‘inner-fracturedness’ of modern societies by gender, sexuality, class and race makes the concept of a one-dimensional modernity hardly convincing. However, how do we understand these various lines of division in relation to different processes of cultural interaction (transculturality, hybridity)? How does all this correspond to alternative cultural practices and aesthetic forms? And in what ways have ‘marginalized’ subjects used modernist artistic techniques for different ends than their mainstream competitors? The conference hopes to emphasize such alternative cultural practices and aesthetic forms.

Given this broad and interdisciplinary perspective, we invite contributions from all disciplines. While we welcome papers that discuss either theoretical issues or specific cultural practices and socio-historical constellations, we particularly encourage presentations that combine case studies and conceptual reflections. Topics may include but are not limited to:

• non-canonical aesthetic practices, e.g. communist agitprop in Weimar or contemporary rap music • Migrant literatures • cultural production in the GDR, cultural production in the FGR • German studies in a globalizing age, multicultural Germany • The feminist press, e.g. Emma in Germany or des femmes in France • Queer studies • Black European studies • street art • visual culture, perception, and women’s modernity • working-class cultural production • the concept of alternative modernities in the perspective of different social theories (systems theory, intersectionaltiy, etc.) • shared and divided metropolitan cultures • modernities beyond the space of the city • canonical writers reconsidered within a framework of ‘modernity at large’ • youth- and subcultures

Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 15-20 minute paper by January 15 2011 to germangradconference(at) Proposals should include the title of the paper, presenter’s name, institutional and departmental affiliation.

Sophie Alexander
Christoph Schaub
Yvonne Zivkovic

Columbia University
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
414 Hamilton Hall
1130 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027

Christoph Schaub, M.A.
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Columbia University
414 Hamilton Hall
1130 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10027