CFP – Modernism’s Child

Modernism’s Child
One-Day Conference
April 20th 2015
Centre for Modernist Studies, University of Sussex

Keynote Speakers: Professor Douglas Mao and Dr. Natalia Cecire.


In 1802 William Wordsworth famously declared, “The Child is father of the Man”.  Some 100 years later Sigmund Freud would bring new relevance to this statement with his burgeoning psychoanalytic theory of the determinative nature of childhood. The 1920s saw a wealth of intellectual development theorists, among them John B. Watson, whose Behaviorist work famously produced the controversial ‘Little Albert’ study of 1920. Then, in 1952, phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty delivered his lectures on Child Psychology and Pedagogy at The Sorbonne, exploring childhood from a standpoint that attempted to articulate and examine the alternative academic points of view at work in child development studies. Now, in the early twenty-first century, it is possible to distinguish ‘Philosophy of Childhood’ as a recognisably independent field of enquiry within mainstream philosophy.

Taking inspiration from Merleau-Ponty’s desire to approach the question of childhood from multiple standpoints, this conference aims to explore literary representations of childhood in modernism. Things we may consider include why what Katherine Mansfield called in her journal the “rage for confession, autobiography, especially memories of earliest childhood” was so prevalent in modernism? How reading the contemporaneous work of psychologists and sociologists can affect our understanding of literary discussions of childhood, thereby querying what it means for modernists to write the child at a time when childhood itself was undergoing both radical theoretical and practical changes? In what ways the modernist desire for “newness”, youth, and innovation is captured by the style, form, and breadth of its literary engagement with children and childhood? Particularly, how the techniques of children’s literature or the use of childish language operate within modernist texts produced both for children and adults? In addition, how the visual arts of the era respond to the question of childhood and, moreover, what reading the visual arts and the literary arts as being concerned with a similar project to explore childhood does to reveal each discipline’s engagement?

Subjects to be considered may include but are not limited to:

* Modernism’s child in autobiography / life writing / personal writing
* Psychoanalysis – childhood repression at work in modernism, childhood sexuality etc.
* Children’s being-in-the-world – self-/other-awareness in children
* Gender development in children as displayed in modernism
* The aesthetically sensitive child in modernism
* Childish embodiment – how children’s lived bodies are written
* The child in the visual arts and literary modernism
* Children’s literature in the modernist period
* Portrayals of the acquisition of language or of childish language in literary texts
* Childhood and private / domestic space – writing the spaces of childhood
* Representations of toys / children at play
* Social, economic, and cultural changes relating to children between 1900 and 1945
* Voluntary / Involuntary memory – the mental resurgence of childhood and the legacy of Proust
* Writing the psyche – how the young self is psychologically portrayed in modernism
* Comparative work on Victorian and modernist discussions of childhood
* Representations of maternity and paternity in modernism
* The child as a vehicle for modernist concerns – newness, innovation, progress, youth, etc.
* Familial texts – writers writing for / within literary families

Proposals are encouraged from all researchers working in modernist studies with abstracts from graduates and early-career researchers particularly welcome. Preference will be given to papers that foster interdisciplinary exchange. Abstracts of 250 words are invited for 20-minute papers. Please send abstracts along with a brief biographical note to by 1st March 2015

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