All posts by Michael K. Johnson

Michael Johnson is Professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington.

CFP: Indigenous Modernities and Modernisms

The CFPs below are for a series of panels for this year’s Modernist Studies Association Conference in Toronto on October 17-20.
===========
===========
Indigenous Modernities and Modernisms
Marshall Berman’s description of modernity in All That is Solid Melts Into Air applies to no one so fully as to Indigenous communities impacted by over 500 years of global imperialism. Indigenous peoples experienced sweeping change across all aspects of life on a scale and with an intensity unparalleled in Europe and England, or among settler populations around the world. Longstanding, place-based lifeways suddenly became “traditions” set against the juggernaut of the new, and a ruthless version of history that consigned Indigenous peoples to the past reframed diverse nation-peoples as “primitive,” “primordial,” “antiquated,” and in all cases “vanishing” … despite the ongoing presence and resistance of Native peoples across modernity. Looking east from Indian Country, a version of the alienation and disorientation so eloquently chronicled by Kafka, Stein, Céline, Eliot and others was amplified exponentially in terms of intensity, consequences, and lasting impacts for Indigenous nations, peoples, and lands.
Given such hyper-intensive experiences of modernity, differently configured and experienced in diverse times and locales around the world, how did Indigenous writers, artists, intellectuals, and cultural producers respond? Facing the racialized discourses of modernist “tradition” and “authenticity,” in what ways and across what venues, mediums, genres, and forms did Indigenous creatives place what Scott Lyons calls their own “x-marks” on modernity? What writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, performers, radio personalities, and intellectuals have even the expanded parameters of the New Modernist Studies still not taken into account? Understood in one sense as aesthetic responses to the “anxieties” of modernity, what ideas of modernism, modernity, and “the modern” have emerged from this 500-year maelstrom of chaos, change, dislocation, resistance, resilience, and resurgence? If the history of modernity is also the history of imperialism and ongoing settler colonialism, how might an honest, sustained engagement with Indigenous modernisms and modernities—however defined—transform the field’s terms, scope, and objects of study?
Send 250-word abstracts to Kirby Brown (kbrown@uoregon.edu) by 4 March 2019.
==================
Indigenous/Modernist
The recent “global” turn in modernist studies has helped us begin to rethink what it might mean to encounter multiple modernisms on their own terms. There is no question that it has been salutary for the field, even as it has generated a plethora of new challenges and difficult questions. Among those is how the drive for a global – even planetary – conceptions of modernism and modernity collide with the incredible diversity of Indigenous peoples and their specific histories and cultural practices? How does global modernism link to petro-capitalist exploitations of Indigenous lands and peoples? How do modernist notions of cosmopolitanism map onto or contravene long-standing Indigenous patterns of trans-/international exchange? Is the expansion of modernism anything more than the offer of an exchange of prestige (the ‘modernist’ label) for postcolonial/settler colonial credibility and recognition? And at what potential expense (or benefit) for ongoing and often violent struggles over Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and futurity? Is it possible to conceive of transnational, geo, global, or planetary modernisms that are not already compromised by imperialism or (settler) colonialism? And how might substantive engagements with Indigenous and Settler Colonial studies provide potential avenues to begin addressing such questions?
Send 250-word abstracts to Beth Piatote (piatote@berkeley.edu) by 4 March 2019.
================
Representing Indigeneity in Modernism
From Juan Rulfo to Joseph Conrad, from Solomon Plaatje to Albert Wendt, and from Tayeb Salih to Pramoedya Ananta Toer, modernist writers make widely varied uses of Indigenous characters in their novels. At the same time, Indigenous writers of the period—from Simon Pokagon, E. Pauline Johnson, Alexander Posey, and Zitkala-Sa to Charles Eastman, John Joseph Mathews, Mourning Dove, and D’Arcy McNickle—deliver powerful critiques of euroamerican “character” across a wide array of genres and forms. Read together, how are such figures variously represented, and what can we learn about modernist politics from those representations? If understood as figurative contact zones, how can we understand the nature of the encounters they record? Are there salient differences in how European, English, or American writers represent Indigenous populations, versus how Indigenous writers represent themselves or their euroamerican counterparts? Are most such representations tied inextricably to the imperialist ideologies still thriving in the early twentieth century, or are there avant-garde, experimental, and/or Indigenous-centered approaches that fundamentally disrupt the logics and politics of imperialist-colonialist expansion? What might such representations have to teach us about the apparently inextricable link between modernism and imperialism?
Send 250-word abstracts to Stephen Ross (saross@uvic.ca) by 4 March 2019.

Wallace Stegner and the Changing American West (CFP)

Wallace Stegner and the Changing American West:

Reimagining Place, Region, Nation, and Globe in an Era of Instability

-A Call for Papers and Other Creative Work-

Center for Western Lands and Peoples

Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies

College of Letters and Science / Montana State University, Bozeman

By the time of his death, Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) had become the epitome of the politically engaged western American writer able to express himself across a range of genres, from fiction to history, autobiography, and essays. In books such as The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wolf Willow, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, Angle of Repose (Pulitzer Prize), and The American West as Living Space, Stegner brought to life and illuminated the West like few other authors. Of uppermost concern to Stegner were issues of transiency and community, landscape quality and degradation, family life, the importance of place, and the need for ways of living that foster stable social bonds and stable economies within the realities and constraints of western environments.

Twenty-five years after his passing and on the eve of the 110th year of his birth, we seek to assess the state of the North American West and its study through the lens of Stegner’s life, work, and legacy. We invite proposals for essays that revisit and reinterpret Stegner, but more broadly, we welcome proposals for work that reconsiders and reimagines Stegnerian themes and issues in light of the political, economic, and ecological tumult of our times. We seek insights from across disciplines, genres, and forms. Although we emphasize the written word, we seek contributions from the visual arts as well. What aspects of Stegner’s life and work have enduring value? How do contemporary issues of Indigenous sovereignty, gender inequality and feminism, immigration, the status of refugees, extreme economic disparities, and changes to the Earth System, especially global warming, alter our understanding of the West and the ways that Stegner envisioned it? How might our efforts to grapple with these issues compel us to reimagine the western past? How might Stegner and his work—critiqued, revised, updated—help us negotiate our unsettled present and point us toward alternative futures?

Contributions selected for this project will be presented at workshops and public events at Montana State University, May 9-11, 2019, and will be edited and included in an anthology of essays and illustrations. Please send 300-word abstracts to westernlandsandpeoples@montana.edu by November 5, 2018.

Mark Fiege (mark.fiege@montana.edu)

Professor of History

Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies

Montana State University

 

Susan Kollin (susan.kollin@montana.edu)

Professor of English

Director, Center for Western Lands and Peoples

Montana State University

 

Mary Murphy (mmurphy@montana.edu)

Professor of History

Co-Director, Center for Western Lands and Peoples

Montana State University

Conference Registration Open

Registration for the 2018
Western Literature Association
conference on
Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States
is now open!

Click the green link below to register at the ConfTool site.

Register at ConfTool Now
The conference registration deadline is September 24. Late fees ($25 for registration and $5 for meals) will apply after that date.

For more information about the conference, click on the link to go to the full description of Western Literature Association Conference 2018.

Percival Everett Society Conference (CFP)

Percival Everett: theory, philosophy and fiction

organized by the ERIAC Research Center (ED 4705)

at the University of Rouen

on May 2ndand 3rd 2019

Percival Everett’s work has been delighting its readers with engaging plots, rich with suspense and surprises. The diverse gallery of his characters offers many an opportunity for sympathy, identification, empathy, criticism, amusement or estrangement. One of the feats achieved in Everett’s work consists in blending sometimes complex theoretical and philosophical backgrounds into his (breath-)taking plots, thus granting further degrees of satisfaction to the attentive readers. The extra layers thus admitted into the reading experience, variously perceptible according to the readers, contribute to the singularity of Everett’s style. Despite the variety in genres, tones and topics from one book to another, all are marked by such tension between realism and theory, illusion and metafiction, all happily resolved in Everett’s unique literary pieces.

Theory and more specifically philosophy feed his narratives, and visibly appear through quotations, of authors’ names, words and sentences, and inform the structures of his novels and stories. Literary criticism, its excesses and deviations are targeted in erasure, for instance, through a parody of S/Zand the absurd behavior of the representatives of the Nouveau Romansociety, as well as in Glyph, in which Roland Barthes is given the part of an inveterate seducer. Mathematics and more precisely logics widely inform Everett’s work, as perceptible in Glyphfor instance, through baby-genius Ralph’s calculations and speculations. Percival Everett by Virgil Russellincludes mathematical formulae (pp.127, 129), refers to Russell, while mathematical symbols even offer their structures to the title of Everett’s poetry collection Re: f(gesture).

Many a passage throughout Everett’s works consists in playful logical arguing, as ironically emphasized through numerous logical links and markers. Dialogues especially bring out the ambiguities and logical discrepancies in communication, hence the numerous opportunities for misunderstanding. At the heart of such playful dialogues, sometimes verging on the absurd, Everett’s studies in Language Philosophies pervade his whole oeuvre, partly turning it into a playfield. The great names of Language Philosophies run throughout his work: Wittgenstein, Austin, White, Russell, Frege appear in GlyphThe Water CurePercival Everett by Virgil Russell, to name but a few. According to Everett himself, fiction allows one to try out language structures much more efficiently –and enjoyably-than in readymade, artificial dialogues, disconnected from any actual situation or context. Yet in his fiction many a dialogue, in its forms and structures, is redolent with those artificial test samples, as in The Water CurePercival Everett by Virgil RussellI Am Not Sidney Poitier, with its ontological quiz set by the protagonist’s first name, “Not Sidney”.

More generally Everett’s whole oeuvre abounds in puns, jokes and witticisms. Overtly or more insidiously the many ways in which language escapes its user’s control are being explored, to enhance the infinite possibilities for ambiguity, misunderstanding and creativity offered by language. The distorted passages in The Water Cure bring to the fore the vulnerability of meaning and language while exposing some of the main principles upon which reading and communication rely, mostly anticipation, thus opening ways for prejudice to deviate the speaker’s/writer’s originally intended meaning. Such wide philosophical questions are raised in Everett’s work, through both its topics and forms, with the question of responsibility looming in the background, so to speak, as well as that of the canon and more largely of norms.

Some of the following questions may be pursued:

How do theory and philosophy inform Everett’s narratives in their topics and structures, at the macro- and micro-levels both? How does such massive presence inflect the nature and definition of fiction, allowing for a renewal of the genre? What is the specific part played by metafiction in his work? How does it contribute to blur the limits between tones, genres and possibly art forms while questioning the very creative process? More largely, the emphasis may be laid on the making of books, and the various sources of inspiration flowing into them.   To what extent and in what ways do Everett’s writing and painting relate, and what forms does the quest for abstraction take in each? What can narrative and fiction in general bring to the theoretical and philosophical fields?

Alain Badiou has emphasized the necessity to reconsider the relationships between philosophy and art at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, after the didactic, Romantic and classical schemes have proved to no longer be able to define the relations between art and philosophy. Badiou’s concept of “inesthétique” may offer an angle of approach of the specific place of philosophy in Everett’s art: “By ‘unaesthetic’ I mean a specific way for philosophy to relate to art, itself understood as a source of truths, so that philosophy in no way claims to take art as an object of philosophical study. Against aesthetic speculation unaesthetics describes the strictly internal philosophical effects generated by the independent existence of a few artworks.”[1]

Indeed the reflection carried out in common during the conference may keep as an aim the attempt to bring forth some of the truths produced by Everett’s work, or at least some of the main phenomena observable in the work, as related to our perception of and being in the world. Among them, one may try to highlight both “the ambivalent role and the absolute singularity of the literary fact” (Jean-François Favreau, Vertige de l’écriture, 8), as well as its subversive power. Indeed Everett’s work brings to the fore the nature of the artistic writing as resistance, according to Foucault’s view of literature as “some kind of monster as well as a resource, but also as a formidable resistance”, the “permanence of some subterranean trend in Western thought that has been kept aside by the ruling order” (Favreau, 9). The conference will ultimately have as one of its ambitions to explore the complex interactions between the canon and the margins, creative practice and critical thought, art and philosophy.

Abstracts should be sent to Anne-Laure Tissut (altissut@yahoo.fr) by September 30th2018

“The Rider”

My favorite Western of the year thus far has to be The Rider, a film about Native American rodeo performers that takes place in the contemporary western setting of South Dakota’s Lakota-Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation. The film centers on Brady Blackburn, beginning in the aftermath of a head injury suffered in the rodeo ring, and the story is based on the events experienced by rodeo performer Brady Jandreau. Just to underscore the documentary-like elements of the film, not only does Brady the actual rodeo performer play Brady the fictional rodeo performer, but the rest of the Blackburn family is filled out by other Jandreau family members (by Brady’s sister and father).

Among other things, this is a film about recovery from traumatic brain injury. The film is low-key and closely observational of how Brady recovers (and how he doesn’t). In much of the film Brady is by himself, and he’s a compelling screen presence, even as the character is constrained, low-key, quiet. There are several really good scenes of Brady training horses, hanging out with horses, riding horses, or just watching horses. The low-key Brady really comes to life around horses, and the transformation is amazing. His interaction with horses is emotional, psychological, animated, communicative, vibrant.

Without horses, Brady is half a person. Several scenes of Brady stocking shelves in a convenience store contrast sharply with the vibrant scenes involving horses. The risk of further brain injury makes horse riding (and just being around large animals) dangerous. Other side effects of the injury take their toll throughout the film. His friendship with another injured former rodeo performer, Lane Scott (who plays himself in the film), is as therapeutic for Brady as it is for Lane. Still, nothing in Brady’s life brings him to life as much as his time spent with horses (although, in his interactions with Lane, Brady is closer to the person he is when working with horses than he is with any other humans).

The film is written and directed by a Chinese filmmaker, Chloé Zhao, and it actually reminds me of another contemporary Western by a Chinese filmmaker, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Like that film, The Rider asks: how do you exist when you have to live your life without the thing you love?  can you?

 

Special Issue of WAL (CFP)

CFP for a special issue of Western American Literature on “The Politics of Public Lands in the Contemporary U.S. West.”

October 2016 ended with dramatic irony on the Western political stage:

Bundy family members were acquitted after occupying Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for over a month; simultaneously, unarmed water protectors in South Dakota were treated as rioters, shot with tear gas and water cannons, and arrested for engaging in unarmed political action on behalf of clean water and the protection of indigenous lands. Since then, the Trump administration has sought to shrink several national monuments, undermining the Antiquities Act of 1906 specifically and environmental protections more generally. Debates about how to value, use, and manage public lands in the American West are as high-profile and controversial as ever, and perhaps even more divisive. How has literature responded? What are the roots of these conflicts? What solutions can engaged scholarship help imagine?

The journal Western American Literature seeks original scholarship for a special issue on public lands in the U.S. West. Essays might address:

• indigenous responses to the notion of public lands or to attempts to degrade or colonize native homelands, and unusual political coalitions formed in response to these threats
• affective, legal, cultural, spiritual, recreational, and/or historical claims that literature makes on/for public lands
• masculinity in the West as (re)negotiated in relation to public lands
• recent (re)inventions of the frontier in literature and popular culture
• problems that climate change creates for public land management and potential solutions articulated by environmental justice literature and scholarship
• movements to diversify public land management agencies such as the National Park Service
• movements to decolonize public lands
• historical roots of contemporary conflicts surrounding public lands
• new narrative forms emerging to address public lands in the twenty-first-century West

Please send proposals of 400-500 words to Jennifer Ladino at jladino@uidaho.edu by June 30, 2018. Depending on the number and quality of submissions, this special issue might feature three standard-length (6,000-8,000 word) articles or a larger number of shorter pieces. Full-length essays will be due November 15, 2018.