CFP: AMSN4 – Modernist Comedy & Humour

The Australasian Modernist Studies Network Conference

University of Melbourne, 26-28 October 2018

Jandaschewsky Clowns, 1903. Image by Talma & Co. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.

Is modernism funny? During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Sigmund Freud theorized jokes and their relation to the unconscious, while Henri Bergson argued that laughter is produced by “something mechanical encrusted on the living.” English literary modernists held Victorian earnestness in contempt, often while taking themselves extremely seriously. Early twentieth-century Dadaists committed themselves to nonsense and irrationality and, in 1940, the surrealist André Breton edited and published an anthology of “black humour.” The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also saw the rise of popular and parodic forms of comedy and humour such as the comic strip, vaudeville, camp, and Buster Keaton’s deadpan acting style. These comic forms and styles were bound up with histories of immigration, gender and sexuality, race, technology, and culture industries.

Humanities scholars are devoting new attention to the aesthetics, politics, and social significance of comedy and humour. For instance, in their 2017 special issue of Critical Inquiry on comedy, Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai note competing trajectories of modern social life: on the one hand, “people are increasingly supposed to be funny all the time,” and on the other, “humourlessness is on the rise.” In the same issue, Ngai opposes the labor-saving operations of the “gimmick” to Victor Shklovsky and Bertolt Brecht’s practices of making methods of production visible. These tensions and oppositions suggest the usefulness of attending to comedy and humour in the field of modernist studies, which in recent years has rethought traditional oppositions among popular, high modernist, and avant-garde cultural forms.

We invite papers that engage with comedy and humour across the interdisciplinary field of modernist studies. How do comedy and humour reflect and affect the geographical, temporal, and cultural expansiveness of contemporary modernist studies, and what might Australasian scholarship contribute to this expansion? When are comic genres and styles normative, subversive, or ambivalent? When is laughter a mode of detachment, and when is it a way of being in relation? Who is in on the joke, and why does it matter?

Possible topics might include:

  • Camp, kitsch, taste, judgment
  • Comic performance genres and styles: vaudeville, music hall, variety,
  • minstrelsy, burlesque, standup, the deadpan, slapstick, shtick, gimmicks
  • Humourlessness, earnestness, seriousness, the unfunny
  • Jokes, comic timing, comic tones
  • Comic strips, political cartoons, caricature
  • The ridiculous, the absurd
  • Humour and/of the avant-garde
  • Laughter and audience behavior
  • Ways and theories of reading
  • The mechanical, grotesque, or nonhuman; humourous objects
  • Pleasure, play, fun
  • Comedy as and at work
  • Commodity culture, advertisements
  • Affect and emotion
  • Ethnic, national, or cosmopolitan comic perspectives
  • Queer humour, sexual parody
  • Overstatement and understatement
  • The epigram, the bon mot, the cutting remark
  • Normative and subversive humour, harmlessness, vulgarity, offensiveness
  • Theories and histories of comedy and humour

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a bio of no more than 150 words to as an attachment by March 30th 2018.

Confirmed keynote speaker: Professor Nick Salvato (Cornell). This speaker is supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Conference committee:
Dr Sarah Balkin, University of Melbourne
Professor Ronan McDonald, University of Melbourne Elizabeth McLean, University of Melbourne
Jessica Marian, University of Melbourne

Questions may be directed to

New series for Fairleigh Dickinson UP: “Modernism & the Avant-Garde”

Modernism & the Avant-Garde” approaches the new modernist studies broadly and asks what modernism means in relation to the unstable contingencies of race, class, culture, community, capital, nationality, and so forth. The series welcomes cross-disciplinary projects in which modernism & the avant-garde are important, including but not limited to literature, the visual & plastic arts, drama, and music. The series also considers the different timelines, locations, and cultural sites of modernist production.

Series Editors:

Stephen Ross (Professor of English, University of Victoria)
James Gifford (Associate Professor, School of the Humanities,
Fairleigh Dickinson University)

Send queries and proposals to or to both series editors, and All submissions will undergo rigorous peer review.

Established in 1967 in Madison, NJ, with editorial offices now in Vancouver, BC, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press publishes scholarly books for the academic community through a co-publishing partnership with Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD.

CFP: The Idea of Prose Style, December 2017, Sydney

University of Sydney and University of New South Wales

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:
Garrett Stewart (University of Iowa)
Daniel Tyler (Oxford University)
Rebecca Walkowitz (Rutgers University)

Historically, the academic study of style has referred mainly to poetic style—a situation that was challenged only briefly by the prominence of “stylistics” in the 1960s. But the recent “return to form” within literary studies suggests that the idea of prose style is ripe for re-investigation. This symposium aims to approach the problem of prose style anew. In particular, we welcome proposals for papers which examine the idea of prose style from the following angles:

  • The relation between the categories of fictional prose style and style in poetry or non-fictional genres such as history and oratory.
  • The history of the idea of prose style, both in modern literary theory and the longer history of rhetoric.
  • The methodological challenges which confront the analysis of style in prose, particular in relation to available hermeneutic paradigms such as close reading, computational stylistics, and syntactic analysis.
  • The problem of stylistic identity, and the various categories which are often used to determine stylistic identity, from the period (e.g. Baroque style) to the genre (e.g. realist novel style) to the author (e.g. Dickensian style) to the linguistic structure or effect (e.g. additive style).

In total, the symposium aims to contribute to the burgeoning field of stylistic studies in prose by helping to establish the theoretical and methodological frameworks within which the analysis of prose style must proceed.

Submission Information:
We invite papers on the idea of prose style in any period and from any place, as well as proposals for panels. Please send your proposal, including a title and brief abstract (300 words), to both Matthew Sussman ( and Sean Pryor ( by 15 June, 2017.

Reading Group: Left Modernisms (UNSW)

In 2017, the Modernist Network (formerly the Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia) will be hosting a year-long reading group dedicated to the idea of Left Modernisms at UNSW.

Our goals will be to map some of the distinct revolutionary currents surging through modernism; to collectively reimagine modernism as the cultural impress left by a multi-dimensional politics of anti-capitalism; and to affirm as modernism a canon of artworks, ideas, events, and experiences with which to envisage another, better modernity.

We propose to meet every three weeks (or thereabouts) on Thursday afternoons, from 3pm until 4.30pm, beginning late March and running until the end of October. In October, we will mark the Centenary of the Russian Revolution by holding a symposium on the topic of Left Modernisms, with the objective of publishing the papers as a special dossier with a journal or as an edited collection.

Postgraduate and Honours students are especially encouraged to attend. Please follow the link below to view a flyer and draft schedule, and contact Mark Steven ( if you are interested in attending.

Left Modernisms_Reading Goup

Historical Poetics Symposium – December, UNSW & WSU

a poem: historical poetics and the problem of exemplarity
Co-hosted by the Writing and Society Research Centre and the Centre for Modernism Studies Australia

13-15 December 2016 | UNSW, Randwick (Dec 13) and Western Sydney University, Bankstown Campus (Dec 14-15)

The central aim of this symposium is to test the notion of historical poetics against the idea of the individual poem. We will examine how the individual poem presents challenges both for a historical understanding of poetic form and for a formalist understanding of poetry’s history.

Keynote speakers:
Justin Clemens (Melbourne)
David Nowell Smith (UEA)
Meredith Martin (Princeton)

Convenors and Contact:
Ben Etherington (
Sean Pryor (

For more information, visit the symposium page.

Workshop: 24 Shocks a Second: the cinema of Michael Haneke

The Sydney Literature and Cinema Network is hosting a one-day workshop on the cinema of Michael Haneke, which is being held next week, on Thursday 3 November, at the University of Sydney. A program for the day can be viewed here: haneke-workshop-schedule

All are very welcome to the workshop. There is no registration fee, but for catering purposes, please register with an email to: Lunch will be provided.

Upcoming seminar: Performing 1971: Dorothy Hewett’s The Chapel Perilous, UNSW

All are welcome to the Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia’s sixth research seminar for 2016: Professor Nicole Moore (UNSW Canberra) will deliver a paper on ‘Dorothy Hewett’s The Chapel Perilous’, on Wednesday 19 October, 5:00-6:30pm in the Robert Webster Building, room 327. Drinks will be served; please forward to friends and potentially interested parties.

In a preface to the first published edition of The Chapel Perilous – Australian writer Dorothy Hewett’s best-known play – she notes of its heroine: “For many young women Sally Banner is the first modern liberated feminist in our literature: I believe this is an historical and literary accident”. In this paper I investigate the performative moment of The Chapel Perilous, which premiered at the Fortune Theatre in Perth on 21 January, 1971, in order to examine how this complexly controversial play indexes and allegorises its turbulent times.

1971 is at the apex of the period once described by historian Donald Horne as Australia’s Time of Hope: the year when the new social movements, including feminism and sexual liberation, gained mainstream consensus for transformative political and cultural change. Yet Hewett’s Sally Banner is a tragic figure, her liberation a chimera undone not only by the reactionary forces of church and state, and by the close control exercised in a judgmental community, but by her own limitations: her tortured failures as a woman and a poet. Her representativeness as a figure is an accident, moreover, according to Hewett, reflecting the effect on the creative process of what seemed to her to be determining social forces, as well as the play’s chequered performance history – the key question of whether Sally is required to bow at the play’s climax or allowed to stand.

This paper wants to tease out the ways in which such an ahistorical play, with its mythic structures, inter-medial experimentation and iconoclastic theatricality, becomes history, and precisely performative history, in so far as we conceive such retrospectively. Simultaneously, we can ask how this play represents, perhaps oppositely, a “literary accident”. What might we mean by the accidental literary? Developing these ideas for an essay in the Reading Australia project, this paper situates The Chapel Perilous in a complex of debates about the near contemporary, at once contesting and making the recent past for literary and performative history.

Australian Women’s Writing Symposium

Free event: The Retrospect: Australian Women’s Writing – A Symposium

1.00 pm – 7.30 pm, Thursday, 3 November 2016 | Dixson Room, State Library of NSW

In collaboration with the State Library of NSW and the Sydney Review of Books, the Writing and Society Research Centre are pleased to present a one-day symposium on Australian women’s writing.

The symposium brings together leading scholars and award-winning writers from across Australia to register and explore the contributions and legacy of nineteenth-century Australian women’s writing.

Speakers will consider a variety of Australian female writers publishing throughout the nineteenth century, as well as the broad range of genres within which these writers worked, including poetry, science fiction, the short story, and crime fiction.

The symposium will also include a special session on women’s children’s literature and education both past and present in Australia with author and NSW Ambassador for the Stella Prize Schools Program, Emily Maguire.

Confirmed speakers include: Prof. Susan K. Martin, (La Trobe), A/Prof. Tanya Dalziell (UWA), Prof. Elizabeth Webby (USyd), Dr. Lucy Sussex (La Trobe) and Dr. Anne Jamison (WSU).

The symposium will conclude with a roundtable discussion to reflect on the ongoing influence and legacy of Australia’s nineteenth-century women writers.

The roundtable includes contemporary writers Fiona Wright, Jessica White and Maggie Mackellar, who will discuss their own recent re-encounters with Barbara Baynton, Rosa Praed and Ada Cambridge for a forthcoming series of retrospective reviews in the Sydney Review of Books.

Registration is free but places are limited. To register, please email:

This symposium is part of a wider collaborative project on nineteenth-century Australian women’s writing and has been funded by the State Library of NSW’s Nancy Keesing Fellowship, as well as a Western Sydney University Research Development Grant. In-kind support has also been generously provided by the Writing and Society Research Centre.

To view a draft program, visit the symposium website.