A Critical Conversation Begins

by Rebecca L. Walkowitz

This year, the English department launched the Modernism & Globalization Seminar Series, a three-year initiative that will culminate with a major conference in spring 2010. This series will explore the effects of globalization on the production, circulation, and study of twentieth- and twenty-first century literature and culture. With public lectures, informal roundtables, and discussion groups, the series hopes to generate critical conversations that bring together scholars and students working in the fields of modernism, transnational and comparative literary studies, and globalization.

The series began in November 2007 with the Modernism’s Transnational Futures Symposium, which featured short presentations by English and comparative literature scholars from several area universities: Jessica Berman, an associate professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Eric Hayot, an associate professor of comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University; and Pericles Lewis, a professor of English and comparative literature at Yale University. My colleagues from the English department—Marianne DeKoven, Elin Diamond, and John A. McClure—opened the subsequent discussion, which led to an intensive conversation among all the panelists about new transnational methodologies. Faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates joined in a lively debate about the history of modernity and the locations of literary modernism.

Modernism & Globalization hosted its second event in February 2008 with a visit by Ross Posnock, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, whose recent work focuses on the intersection between American literature and world literature. Over lunch, Professor Posnock led a discussion at the Center for Cultural Analysis on the critic and the contemporary writer, and then met with graduate students for informal conversations. Later in the afternoon, he delivered a lecture on the idea of “cosmopolitan poverty.” His lecture brought the work of modernist philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and William James to the novels of the late British-German writer, W. G. Sebald. The lecture was attended not only by faculty and graduate students, but also by undergraduate students, who benefited from the opportunity to see what emerging scholarship looks like before it hits the page.