Modernism and the Masses

This reading group, “Modernism and the Masses,” will meet once a month throughout the academic year 2021/2022 to examine intersections and divisions between experimental art and mass media during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will spend the first two of these sessions reading foundational critical texts on the topic alongside primary texts about mass culture written by modernist thinkers, considering, for instance, how Andreas Huyssen’s theory of the division between high culture and the market compares to Baudelaire’s reaction to the rise of mass society in La peintre de la vie moderne.

 The transnational and interdisciplinary nature of both modernism and mass culture necessitates an approach that is both wide-ranging and specific. Following the introductory meetings of the group, we thus envision organizing 6 sessions around more specialized topics. Some of these sessions will explore different contact zones between high art and popular culture in Europe and America, examining, for instance, the various reactions of French, German and Italian modernists to the introduction of American sporting culture or the rise of mass media and the emergence of totalitarian spectacles. In the same vein, other sessions will also focus on specific national and regional contexts. By exploring “alternative modernities” emerging in a variety of locales, we propose to compare the co-evolution of modernism and mass culture in settings ranging from Victorian England and interwar France to pre-war Germany and late-Soviet Russia. In each session we hope to explore some of the slippages and detournements as well as the unexpected points of continuity that make Modernism such a rich cultural signifier across time and space. Depending on the size and interests of the group, we foresee changing these special topics sessions as the year progresses and as the group finds its rhythm. We also hope that these special topics sessions will present an opportunity to invite leading modernist scholars to speak about their work with the group.

 Fall 2021 Schedule:

Friday, September 17th

Friday, October 8th

Friday, November 5th

Friday, December 3rd

Spring 2022 Schedule:

Friday, February 3rd

Friday, March 3rd

Friday, April 7th

Friday, May 3rd