Call for Papers: Obscure Modernism

Birkbeck, University of London, 27 February 2016

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Esther Leslie (Birkbeck, University of London)

Dr. Ian Patterson (Queens’ College, Cambridge)

This conference invites contributions on the more obscure aspects of modernism and modernist cultural production. Obscure modernism denotes, on the one hand, those works, artists and writers who have been forgotten or neglected by scholarship to date and whose full meaning and value we are only now beginning to appreciate. On the other hand, obscure modernism can also signify the result of an intentional act of obfuscation on the part of the artist, aimed at creating an aura of difficulty, mystical secrecy or utter senselessness. In modernist texts which resist legibility and in forms of modernist cultural production which are difficult to access or extremely limited in scale, obscurity can be seen as an underlying structural principle of the work itself.

By focussing our attention on what remains obscure within modernism, this conference ties in with the ongoing critical recovery of the less prominent or valued aspects of modernist culture under the auspices of the New Modernist Studies. In addition to this, we invite speakers to consider modernist obscurity not only as the passive result of artistic failure or critical misapprehension but as an active act of resistance to institutionalised forms of attention. This includes, for instance, the productions of the historical avant-garde which adopt obscurity in order to resist their incorporation into the institution of art. By considering the scholarly mantra to recover and recuperate vis-à-vis a modernism which can be viewed as inherently obscure, we hope to stimulate a renewed debate around the status of obscure work and its critical recovery within Modernist Studies.

We invite proposals for papers that could focus on, but are not limited to, topics such as:

  • Obscure figures or groups within modernism
  • Lesser-known works by prominent figures
  • Regional modernisms
  • The institutional space of modernism, and the dynamics of resistance and recuperation
  • The politics of critical recovery
  • Modernism and the occult/esoteric
  • Difficulty
  • Opacity
  • (Mis-)translation
  • Dealing with obscure material: modernist archives, small presses, limited editions, theatre and performance studies
  • Creative reconstructions of modernism

Submission guidelines:

Proposals for 20-minute papers should include a 250-300 word abstract and a short bio. Please send your proposal to

Submission deadline: 1st December 2015

Organised by Evi Heinz, Paul Ingram and David Miller.