Deadline for submissions: January 11, 2017
Full name / name of organization: Modernist Studies Association Conference, Amsterdam, August 10-13, 2017
Contact email:
This panel seeks papers on American modernist poetry that address the current debate among new materialist/speculative realist scholars on the ontological status of the thing itself by considering modernism’s approach to a thing’s multiplicity—specifically, its irreducibility to a single set of definitions or characteristics that ground it ontologically.

We situate our conversation within the broader scholarly trend that has moved against the seemingly ubiquitous truism that the world as humans understand it is socially constructed. Theorists such as Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett, who are allied to the “nonhuman turn,” have argued, instead, that the social constructionist frame of understanding, while it has no doubt done crucial work in the human realm, nevertheless relies on the problematic assumption of human exceptionalism. With the aim of decentering the human, these scholars have refocused intellectual attention on the vast array of objects that populate and inform human and nonhuman worlds.

Yet while many can agree on the urgency of this decentering move for its power to prod us beyond exceptionalist privilege, the question of how objects—human and otherwise—can best be defined remains hotly debated. Speculative realists, like Harman and Morton, have frequently suggested that objects essentially exist in isolation from one another and are themselves the key mystery to be explored. Others, like Bennett, have argued that the existence of any object is dependent upon its relationality with other objects via networks, systems, or assemblages. The divide between theoretical positions remains, at this point, fairly unbridgeable. How can modernism—specifically, close attention to the thingly lyric object in American modernist poetry—move this debate forward?

Please send a 300-word abstract and CV to session organizers Geoff Bender, SUNY Cortland (, and Rasmus Simonsen, Copenhagen School of Design and Technology (, by Wednesday, January 11, 2017.