Modernist Afterlives: Critique, Literature, Theory

Organiser: Ian Ellison (University of Kent): Chair: Bart Eeckhout (University of Antwerp)

This panel examines and intervenes in the conceptual criteria of modernist afterlives, a topic, and now a field, which has gained a lot of critical attention over the last decade. The notion of a modernist afterlife, lineage, or legacy has expanded the remit and scope of modernist literature right into the present day; so much so that we can diagnose an obsession with modernism in contemporary letters and its critique. A host of the accounts which comprise this domain of study have been liberal, if not methodologically neo-liberal (both Sally Rooney and Elena Ferrante, for example, have recently been dubbed modernist inheritors), in their definition of modernism and how it recurs in twenty-first century letters. In response to this freedom with which a legacy of modernism now operates in contemporary literature and its critique, and which suspends any kind of ‘experimental’ or ‘innovative’ literature in a modernist limbo, this panel tackles and answers differently, a question that has recently been raised by Urmila Seshagiri. She asks: ‘What distinguishes modernism’s legacies from the afterlives of other literary or cultural movements?’ Addressing this question necessarily entails providing a specific definition of the terms ‘modernism’ and ‘afterlife’. Responding to Seshagiri’s question, Ian Ellison (University of Kent), John Greaney (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Mimi Lu (University of Oxford) ask what form(s) of modernism precede(s) a modernist afterlife and what theories of afterlife enable a finer description of a twenty-first century modernism. Critically analysing recent ideas of late modernism, meta-modernism, neo-modernism, and post-postmodernism, while also interrogating Any Warburg’s notion of Nachleben (‘after-life’) against  Walter Benjamin’s preferred term Fortleben, (‘living forth’) and Jacques Derrida’s ideas on haunting and survivance (‘survival’), the panellists seek to refine the conceptual criteria through which we understand ‘modernist afterlives’.


Ian Ellison (University of Kent) – Living Forth a Century Later: Benjamin, Proust, Kafka

John Greaney (Goethe University Frankfurt) – Modernism Living On: Periodisation and Polarisation

Mimi Lu (University of Oxford) – The University and the Afterlives of Modernism