Modern Language Association
Viewing convention Program information from 2009

Session Details

Monday, 28 December

235. Law and the Modernist Atlantic

1:45–3:00 p.m., Independence Salon II, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century English Literature

Presiding: Jennifer Wicke, Univ. of Virginia

1. “‘Liberal Fascism,’ Human Rights, and the State: On H. G. Wells,” Lisa Jeanne Fluet, Boston Coll.

2. “The Perverse ‘Look’ of the Law: Ulysses and Obscenity,” Kelly S. McDowell, Wayne State Univ.

3. “Kathy Acker’s ‘Dead Doll Humility’ as Literary Experiment and Legal Testimony,” Thomas Cohen, State Univ. of New York, Plattsburgh

For abstracts, write to jaw2b@virginia.edu after 1 Dec.

Author Comment
Subject: Notes from an audience Member
In the interest of helping to continue discussion after the event itself (and to take advantage of this potentially useful commenting feature), I've pasted below my notes from the panel. Apologies if in the transmit from the panelists to my notebook, and from my notebook to this typed up digest, an enormous amount has been lost.

These three papers all considered some aspect of modernism’s (broadly construed) encounter with “the law.” Lisa Fluet’s paper “‘Liberal Fascism,’ Human Rights, and the State: On H.G. Wells” pursued the imagining of the state in the work of H. G. Wells. While the state has tended to be an object of critique in leftist and Foucauldian narrative, Wells’s narrative, she suggests, offers a way of imagining the state more positively. Unlike figures like Henry James or Virginia Woolf, concerned with recording subjective experience (“how the world feels”), Wells offers something like a “novel of information” (Fluet here borrows James Wood’s term, describing the contemporary novel) concerned with describing how the world actually works. For Fluet, Wells’s work offers an important opportunity to do what the novels of James and Woolf cannot do—imagine the state.

Kelly McDowell’s “The Perverse ‘Look’ of the Law: Ulysses and Obscenity” offered a close, theoretically informed reading of “Nausicaa” episode. The episode’s representation of Gerty MacDowell and Leopold Bloom demonstrate the perversity inherent in the law itself. The normativity of the law itself, in the interacting gazes of Bloom and Gerty, undermines itself. McDowell closed by reading the logic of the “Nausicaa” chapter into the obscenity trials that it sparked.

Thomas Cohen offered a fascinating look at Kathy Acker’s literary appropriations, and the legal controversy, by looking at Acker’s text “Dead Doll Humility.” Drawing on Lyotard’s notion of the differnd, Cohen traced the conflict between experimental writing and intellectual property in Acker’s work. Cohen helpfully quotes Geoffery Bennington on Lyotard: “an accusation of theft might well also involve a diffénd, if one of the parties does not recognize that the object in question is a legitimate object of property.” Such, Cohen suggests, is the case with Acker’s appropriations/plagiarisms of four pages of Harold Robbins’s The Pirate in Acker’s “The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec” (“Dead Doll Humility” responds to the controversy which followed this plagiarism).

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