Sunday, November 7, 2010

MSA 2010: The Networks of Modernism

Later this week, P&PC carpools up I-5 and ferries over the Salish Sea to Victoria, British Columbia, in order to attend the 12th annual Modernist Studies Association conference. This year, the conference is organized around the special theme "The Networks of Modernism," and you can catch P&PC live and in action on Friday morning from 8:30-10 a.m. as part of the panel "Modernist Patronage: Corporate and Academic Evolutions." Here's a preview of that throw-down:

Modernist Patronage: Corporate and Academic Evolutions

Modernism witnessed a revival of traditional literary patronage, but it also saw the development of other patronage systems, ranging from the new network of Carnegie Libraries to women's social clubs and local Rotary clubs. This panel examines corporate and academic evolutions of patronage which created new markets and audiences for modernist creative work, from poetry to photography. These three presentations disclose relationships that were sometimes fraught, but that ultimately benefited both artist and "patron." Further, these presentations trace the development of relationships providing models for later patronage of the arts. All three also demonstrate how modernist work sometimes evolved both in content and style partly due to interactions between author/artist and patron.

Mike Chasar ("From Vagabond to Visiting Poet: Vachel Lindsay and the Prehistory of the Program Era") focuses on the financial and institutional patronage of poets by American universities which culminated after World War 2 in what Mark McGurl has called "The Program Era." Modernism saw the invention of the Writer-in-Residence position, the development of a nationwide university-to-university reading circuit, and the invention of the "Visiting Poet." With assistance from Baylor University English professor A. Joseph Armstrong, the poet Vachel Lindsay began visiting schools in the South and West that other modern poets didn't believe would support their work. Lindsay thus established a circuit that Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg and others would follow, simultaneously dislodging New England as the center of American arts and letters. Lindsay also pioneered a rhetorical justification allowing iconoclastic poets to cultivate relationships with the conservative world of academia without becoming sellouts.

Brenda Helt ("The Making and Managing of American Modernists: Norman Holmes Pearson and the Yale Collection of American Literature") examines the role of Yale professor Norman Holmes Pearson, who used his personal connections with authors like H. D., Bryher, Pound, and Stein to acquire major collections of their work for Yale. Reciprocally, Pearson used his authoritative position to further interest in and obtain publishers for the work of these modernists, securing their reputations for posterity and enabling some of their best work. Based in part on Pearson’s unpublished letters, Helt’s presentation focuses primarily on Pearson’s role as academic patron of H.D. and Pound. Pearson worked tirelessly as H.D.’s tactful editor, as well as her literary advisor and (unpaid) agent, roles that significantly affected the quantity and quality of her late work. Pound’s WW 2 politics and consequential incarceration at St. Elizabeth’s garnered many enemies, but Pearson promoted Pound’s work apart from his political involvements, helping to prevent it from being “disappeared.”

Donal Harris ("On Company Time: Agee in the Office") examines corporate patronage, exploring how Time, Inc. underwrote a vast amount of poetry, literature, photography, and film by bringing novelists and poets into the journalistic fold. He argues that “Time-style”—the idiosyncratic syntactical form that articles in the eponymous journal took—can also describe the process of systematizing how a stable of experimental artists produced their texts. By recasting “Time-style” in terms of modernist patronage, Harris foregrounds the professionalization of certain protocols of modernist aesthetics under the auspices of mass-market journalism. Harris grounds this larger argument in a reading of James Agee's famously strained relationship with Time, Inc. and the publishing history of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, initially an article for Fortune.