CFP: Modernism and the Moral Life – Manchester, 30 May 2014

Modernism and the Moral Life
A Symposium | Manchester, 30 May 2014

Keynote speakers:
Professor Jay Bernstein (New School for Social Research)
Professor Esther Leslie (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Call for papers

No engagement with modernist works can fail to be struck be their ethical intensity. Often considered solely in terms of a radical break with aesthetic norms and existing socio-cultural institutions and relationships, modernism also demonstrates a marked preoccupation with questions of how to live, the nature of the good, the status of the subject and the social bond, and the relation between ethics, aesthetics and politics. While recent years have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between modernism and ethics, much of the work in this field has tended to (i) conceive of ethics simply in terms of an openness to ‘otherness’, or (ii) suggest that modernism signals an ‘overcoming’ of the ethical as such. While important work has been carried out from these perspectives, this conference invites participants to radically rethink the ways in which it is possible to understand the relation between modernism and the moral life. We invite papers that investigate the multiple ways in which the struggle to lead a human life is undertaken and articulated within modernist cultural production. At the same time, we are interested in the ethical and political investments—whether declared or presupposed—of modernism’s ongoing critical reception. Of particular interest, therefore, are papers which reflect upon their own historical moment and connections with current political, economic and ecological debates.

The conference is designed as an opportunity for rigorous interdisciplinary exchange between the spheres of critical theory, cultural studies, philosophy, politics, literature, sociology, history, theology, the visual arts, architecture and music. We invite proposals for papers from scholars whose work looks to analyse the connections between aesthetics, ethics and politics in any and all of these fields. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

– the relation between style, form and ethics in modernist cultural production
– the extent to which ‘life’ entails or excludes the ‘moral’ in modernist thought
– theory and/as ethics
– ethics and language
– modernism and revolution
– utopia
– gender, ethics and critique
– modernism, vision and ethics
– violence and war
– after ‘otherness’
– The limits of liberal humanist approaches to literature and ethics
– perfectionism, authenticity, sincerity, bullshit, narcissism, hedonism, elitism, virtue, duty, commitment, loss of sensitivity, happiness, loneliness, anxiety, inequality, humanism and anti-humanism in the discourses of modernism

Proposals for twenty-minute papers should be directed to the convenors, Ben Ware and Iain Bailey, at, by 10 January 2014. Participants will be notified by 20 January. Additional information is posted at our conference website,