Modernist Objects Conference

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13-16 June, Sorbonne University, Paris

In a line which seems pre-emptively levelled at Aaron Jaffe’s The Way Things Go exactly one century later, Richard Aldington wrote in The Egoist that “one of the problems of modern art” is that “to drag smells of petrol, refrigerators, ocean greyhounds, President Wilson and analine [sic] dyes into a work of art will not compensate for lack of talent and technique.” This was December 1914. In the next few decades, psychoanalysis sought to make sense of the trivial, thinkers inquired into the status of the mass-produced object, and the rise of feminist and Labour movements posed the prosaic and essential question of material comforts. Modernist art and literature focused on the mundane, as emblematized by the everyday object, which now crystallized our changing relation to the world. The anachronistic frigidaire patent in Ezra Pound’s “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” ordinariness in William Carlos Williams’s famous “red wheelbarrow,” defamiliarization in Gertrude Stein’s “Roastbeef” are but a few possible variations on the object, its importance becoming central to the British neo-empiricists and the American Objectivists.