Remote Control: Modernism’s Surveillances (MSA2015)

This panel investigates the relationship between global modernism and surveillance by studying how new optical technologies developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries engaged with changing conceptions of embodiment, self-perception, subjectivity and virtuality in ways that continue to resonate with contemporary concerns over remote monitoring. The present-day explosion of surveillance mechanisms across the planet, such as drones, body scanners, CCTV, webcams, dataveillance tools and biometric devices; alongside automated forms of inter-personal interaction (telemedicine, robot caregivers) raise new questions surrounding privacy, identity, self-regulation and the reach of disciplinary power in the operations of daily life. Writers such as Foucault, Debord, and Baudrillard have stressed the importance of the disciplinary apparatus and its uncanny ability to both permeate and constitute the perceiving subject, in part through the flow of commodities. By contrast, modernism has often been seen as undoing these forms of control, engaging in an anarchic or revolutionary overthrow of norms in the scopic regime. Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer and the Frankfurt School’s critiques are paradigmatic in this regard. Yet these critiques also highlight the liminal position of the modern subject: at once observing and observed by the surrounding world.

We invite proposals that explore modernism’s fraught, multidimensional relationship to surveillance around the world, whether in literature, literary theory, visual culture, film studies or the performing arts. At what points and to what ends does modernism establish its own rituals and technologies of observation? How are these articulated? Are there ways in which modernism thinks surveillance outside the domain of optical power relations? Or is the human gaze always already inscribed in the system of visual prosthetics? What is the relationship between modernism, surveillance and the development of the concept of the human machine? Of particular interest are papers that take into account a hemispheric, transnational, post-colonial or global approach and that place modernism in conversation with contemporary surveillance practices worldwide.

Please send a 250-word abstract and brief professional biography (2-3 sentences) to Cate Reilly at by April 13. We also welcome interested moderators and presiders.