Third International Conference of the French Society for Modernist Studies (SEM)
13-16 June 2018
Paris Sorbonne University (VALE EA 4085)

Keynote speakers:

Rachel Bowlby (University College London); Douglas Mao (Johns Hopkins University).

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. Papers could examine the claim that the poetry and prose, the visual and performing arts, and the music of the Modernist era accounted for a shift in object relations with an intensity of observation in proportion with the changes which so profoundly affected the experience of living in industrial times. This SEM conference invites English-language contributions that cover the widest range of reflections on Modernist objects.

Topics may include, but are not restricted to:

–       the object vs the thing
–       instruments and tools, technology, the machine
–       the object as mass-produced commodity; resistance to consumption
–       waste, junk, obsolescence, recycling
–       the material presence of the book or the magazine in everyday life
–       architecture, machines for living
–       the Utopian potential of the crafted object
–       the gift and the unalienable object
–       objects, social identities and intimacy
–       the object and/in space
–       the object in/of science
–       non-human agency
–       the object in the Anthropocene

Scientific Committee: 

Hélène Aji, Rachel Bowlby, Vincent Bucher, Noëlle Cuny, Xavier Kalck, Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec, Douglas Mao, Scott McCracken, Caroline Pollentier, Naomi Toth

Please send proposals (300 words) and short biographies to Hélène Aji, Université Paris Nanterre (, Noëlle Cuny, Université de Haute Alsace (, and Xavier Kalck, Université Paris Sorbonne ( no later than November 15th, 2017. Notification of decision: December 15th, 2017