Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Distributed February 13, 1997
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

Looking back at the modern age

Scholars to gather and get a handle on modernity March 14-15

"Modern Culture and Modernity Today," a two-day conference at Brown University, will take place March 14-15, and will feature scholars from the United States and England.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- With the 21st century only three years away, a group of internationally noted scholars will gather to "look back" at the modern age and explore what it was (or is) and how our culture has been shaped by it. "Modern Culture and Modernity Today" will be presented over two days, March 14-15, at Brown University, and is sponsored by The Malcolm S. Forbes Center at Brown, the University's Department of Modern Culture and Media, and the journal Modernism/Modernity. A special issue of that journal will reproduce speeches and presentations made at the conference. That issue (Vol. 5, No. 1) is scheduled for publication by January 1998.

Lectures are free, but members of the public who wish to attend must register for the conference by telephone (401/863-2853) or by e-mail to [email protected]. A web site is available at

"At the end of the 20th century, we're looking backward," said conference coordinator Mark Gaipa, a visiting research associate in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown. "We'll be exploring where we're at on the subject of modernity, which broadly refers to social and cultural developments in the West over the last 300 years, including such matters as the rapid advance of science and technology, the ever-expanding capitalist market economy, and the emergence of a secular society that dismisses the authority of tradition."

The particular focus of the conference will be on what has become of culture during the 20th century. In this period, according to Gaipa, "modernity seems to have entered a period of crisis, and modern culture registers this development as it fans out in numerous, contradictory, and oftentimes confusing directions. By inquiring into `modern culture and modernity today,' we want not only to ask how the relation between culture and modernity looks to us at this late date, but also to consider the extent to which the issues of modernity have shaped the viewpoint that we now hold."

The speakers at the conference are experts in different disciplines and will be coming at the topic from different angles. "Our hope is to move ideas and various perspectives together and get discussion going," says Gaipa.

The conference will feature six lectures followed by remarks from a panel of discussants who are scholars in modern culture and mass media. Discussants include Charles Altieri, professor of English and literary theory at the University of California, Berkeley; Robert von Hallberg, professor of English, German and comparative studies at the University of Chicago; Lawrence Rainey, associate professor of English at Yale University; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, professor of humanities at Columbia University; Wendy Steiner, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania; Susan Suleiman, professor of romance and comparative literature at Harvard University; and Gregory Ulmer, professor of English and media studies at the University of Florida. Audience members also will be encouraged to join in the discussion segment of each session.

The conference was organized by Robert Scholes, professor of English at Brown, who said, "Our plan has been to bring together a group of distinguished scholars from outside Brown - both as lecturers and discussants - and give them a chance to exchange ideas with one another and with Brown's faculty and students. We want to talk about such issues as the relationship between high culture and popular culture, between art and media, between the aesthetic and the political. We expect to learn a lot and have fun talking to one another."

Conference schedule

Specific campus locations will be announced as soon as they are confirmed.

Friday, March 14

1 p.m. "Revolutionary Time: Politics and Art in the Twentieth Century," Susan Buck-Morss, professor of political philosophy and social theory at Cornell University. Moderator: Kevin McLaughlin, assistant professor of English, Brown University.

3:30 p.m. "Modernity, `Race' and Historicality," Paul Gilroy, senior lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, England. Moderator: Neil Lazarus, professor of English, Brown University.

Saturday, March 15

8:30 a.m. "Late Modernist Art and Its Predecessors," Thomas Crow, professor of art history at the University of Sussex, England. Moderator: Michael Silverman, professor of modern culture and media, Brown University.

11 a.m. "Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema and Popular Modernism," Miriam Hansen, professor of English and director of the Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago. Moderator: Mary Ann Doane, professor and chairperson of modern culture and media, Brown University.

2 p.m. "Modernity, Postmodernity, and the Postcolonial: American Mass Culture 1920-1960," Ann Douglas, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. Moderator: Nancy Armstrong, professor of comparative literature, Brown University.

4:30 p.m. "Metropolitan Prose," Andreas Huyssen, professor of German and comparative literature at Columbia University. Moderator: Mary Gluck, associate professor of history, Brown University.

The Malcolm S. Forbes Center

The Malcolm S. Forbes Center is the research branch of the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown. Funded by a grant from the Forbes Foundation, the Center sponsors conferences, lectures, and other activities relating to modern culture and media.