Past Events

Autumn 2022

October 17, Sibyl Gallus-Price. “A Portrait of a Portrait: Henry James to Gertrude Stein / Anthony Trollope to Tony Smith.” PhD Candidate in English at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Respondent: Brandon Truett, Portland State University

When Gertrude Stein announces that it’s Henry James “whom she considers quite definitely as her forerunner” it’s for precisely his “dim feeling” of what portraiture would mean for Modernist art that she does so. It’s in relation to painting, particularly the portrait, I suggest, that James and Stein sketch Modernism’s contours. This paper begins by raising a series of questions about James’s turn to painting as a model for fiction. First, and most obvious, why should painting be relevant? After all, modern aesthetic theory begins by insisting on the fundamental difference between the visual and the verbal. How then does James, mobilizing the crux of this distinction, attempt to rescue the latter by modeling it on the former? Second, why is the frame – and not just the frame but the “gilt frame” – singled out as operative for the “art of fiction”? And third, why is “honesty” — embodied in something made to look like it isn’t, “gilt” — raised as an issue in making fiction into an art? Here I argue that the portrait plays a crucial role in James’s theory of art and his conception of a new path for fiction, an idea that would remain central for one of the next generation’s most experimental writers, Gertrude Stein. Literary Modernism’s painterly engagement continues with Stein’s early-career appearance in the 1912 issue of Camera Work with two pieces that she would soon call portraits, “Picasso” and “Matisse.” Here I contend that Stein’s turn to portraiture not only situates her as James’s (self-described) successor but that these two portraits, a portrait diptych, raise the stakes of the Jamesian one. The turn toward painting and portraiture a generation later is no longer a question for the “art of fiction,” I hold, but a question for art itself, “the method of the twentieth century.”

November 7, Johanna Malt. Presenting on Image/Vestige: Casts, Imprints and Traces in Modern and Contemporary Art (Minnesota UP, 2023). Professor of French Literature & Visual Culture at Kings College London.
Respondent: Sergio Delgado Moya, Associate Professor of Latin American and Latinx Studies at the University of Chicago.

Modern art is full of casts, imprints and traces. From Marcel Duchamp’s Female Fig Leaf (1950- 61) to Marc Quinn’s self-portrait cast of his head made from his own blood (Self, 1991- present); from Yves Klein’s ‘anthropométries’ (1958-62) to Rachel Whiteread’s concrete ‘ghost’ of the inside of a house (House, 1993), artists have been fascinated by the leaving of traces and by the creation of images (whether two- or three-dimensional) through an act of direct physical contact with objects in the world. Distinct from traditions of printmaking, these works use impressions of the body, everyday objects, or even the spaces between objects to produce an image that records a certain moment of presence. In the face of the scepticism that fell, with the advent of modernism, on symbolic and iconic forms of representation, imprints and casts of this kind allow artists to retain figuration, using the index as a ‘low’, vestigial, less ideologically weighted form of representation. The indexical image made by direct contact, whether with the body or some other non-art object, appears in this light as representation’s last stand – or perhaps as its last resort. This book is the first substantial study in English of the place of these ways of making art, which challenge notions of craft, uniqueness and mediation, and reveal how both human subjects and material objects are defined by the surface contacts between them. Drawing on a long history of thinking and practice that goes back to cave art, the acheiropoietos, the holy relic, the talisman and the death-mask, the book analyses these modern, secular reinvestigations of the notion that something paradoxically intangible can be transmitted by physical touch. It explores what is at stake both historically and conceptually in this fascination with images made by contact.

November 14, Fabien Maltais-Bayda. “Narrative Uses of Art and Property in Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation.” Graduate Student in English at the University of Chicago.
Respondent: Anna Kornbluh, Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago
5:00pm, Rosenwald 405.

Recent novels by Rachel Cusk and Ottessa Moshfegh present narrators who concoct elaborate and unconventional artist residencies in bids for psychic renovation. While both My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) and Second Place (2021) declare their interests in artistic and psychological matters, their authors persistently render the economic realities that undergird such concerns. Personal finance and real estate not only condition each text’s narratability, but also end up as linchpins to their gestures of resolution. Put another way, this paper proposes that these novels are not only about the search for subjective transformation they narrate, but also, fundamentally, about the houses and apartments that enclose those psychological journeys. While the pitches and promotions that flow in and out of contemporary residencies envision both art and real estate as sharing a social utility, the scenarios Cusk and Moshfegh construct foreclose on collective possibilities; their textual worlds are markedly circumscribed. I therefore suggest reading Second Place and My Year of Rest and Relaxation as novels that thematize the limits of the oft-cited social turn in late twentieth and twenty-first century art, and of its representative working format, the residency program.

November 29, Dana Glaser. “Reductive.” PhD Candidate in English at the University of Chicago.
Respondent: Julie Orlemanski, Associate Professor of English at the University of Chicago
5:00pm, Rosenwald 405 (please note that this is a Tuesday—not the usual Monday)

Recently, feminist critics have taken to recuperating Andrea Dworkin’s work, alongside and as part of a recent trend of looking back to the feminist sex wars, in light of the resurrection of some of its outmoded but intractable forms of debate in light of recent forms of awareness and activism around sexual assault, harassment, after #MeToo. I think we can shed light on some of this residual intractability by thinking about the black sheep of the anti-porn position, Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography. In this article, I take up what has largely been a critique of Dworkin’s writing, its reductiveness, and think about it as a neutral description of a stylistic practice. By understanding reductiveness as a style that provokes thinking in its readers through the negative aesthetic reactions it produces, I draw out of Pornography a theory of porn that is a theory of language’s power to construct gender as its power to interpret.

December 5, Joseph Staten. “Blobs with Design: William Carlos Wlliams’s Material Modernism.” PhD Candidate in English at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Respondent: Andrei Pop, Allan and Jean Frumkin Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, Art History, and in the College at the University of Chicago.
5:00pm, Rosenwald 405.

In the late 1940s, William Carlos Williams began telling a story about the origins of modern art. It came into existence, he would say, one day in a New York art gallery when a patron asked the gallerist what a particular painting was of, and the gallerist responded, “that, Madam, is paint.” For Williams, this moment marked the end of artistic representation and thus the beginning of a new regime for art, one in which the artwork could be “something not at all a copy of nature, but something quite different, a new thing.” What this meant for painting was clear enough: the emergence of pictorial abstraction. What it meant for poetry, however, was another story. What would be the linguistic equivalent, after all, of what Williams calls “sheer paint”? In Spring and All (1923), Williams entertains but rejects the idea that poetry should get rid of meanings the way painting has gotten rid of representation, with “unoriented sounds” taking the place of words. “Poetry is made of (just) words,” he writes elsewhere; the question is, how to write a word that doesn’t offer the “realism” of representation but rather the “reality of the word” itself. This dissertation chapter explores Williams’s complex negotiation of the prerogatives of raw materiality on the one hand (that which put modernism into motion) and language’s inherent relation to meaning on the other (that which threatens the modernist breakthrough). Further, it argues that a tension between materiality and meaning is at the heart of modernism writ large—even, it turns out, in painting of the most abstract, material kind. In Paterson V, Williams will write admiringly of “Pollock’s blobs of paint squeezed out / with design!” It is this notion of “design”—central for Williams—that will ultimately bring both “sheer paint” and “the reality of the word” under the meaningful order of the artistic whole.

Previous Years:

2021-22 Workshop Schedule

2020–21 Workshop Schedule

2019–20 Workshop Schedule