Call for Papers: “It’s All Relative: Modernism and Science” 2020 MLA Convention, Seattle

This guaranteed panel will consider how advances in math, science, and technology reshaped the literary imagination of writers during the long modernist period, as well as how the philosophical outlooks that were influenced by or in conversation with these advances interacted with that literary imagination. The modernist period was a time of great discovery in arenas that affected both the texture of daily lived life and also conceptions of humans’ place in the universe as well as the shape and workings of the universe itself. The first quarter of the 20th century alone witnessed monumental advances in fields as diverse as transportation, nuclear physics, and astrophysics; the Wright brothers took flight, Ernest Rutherford proved the structure of the nucleus, and Edward Hubble discovered galaxies outside of our Milky Way. Scholars are, of course, aware that such advances constitute an important part of the intellectual context for modernist writing. Our aim here is to consider whether previously unexplored connections or ideas link specific aspects of this developing outlook to modernists and/or modernism.

We thus seek proposals that consider how these advances in scientific thinking—which across the 19th and 20th centuries dialogued ever more closely with philosophy—opened new spaces in the artistic mind, allowing for innovative fantastical imagining, unprecedented metaphysical and ontological contemplation, and a redefining of traditional binaries, such as possible/impossible. Like many of his near contemporaries, Luigi Pirandello’s novels and plays appear to be the fruit of an intellect that was steeped in and colored by current scientific progress. How were writers like Pirandello influenced by science? And what can we learn by considering their work in relation to these great strides in the scientific realm?

With this notion in mind, we are interested in topics such as (but not limited to) the following:

Modernism and:

·         The micro (nuclear)

·         The macro (cosmological)

·         The impossible

·         The invisible real

·         The movement of bodies and energy

·         Conceptions of materialism

·         Intellectual history

·         Math

·         Electrical illumination

·         Flight

·         Relativity

·         New conceptions of evolution

This guaranteed session is sponsored by the Pirandello Society of America. However, we encourage submissions not only on Pirandello but on any pertinent modernist figure(s), movement(s), or text(s) relevant to the panel topics.

Abstracts of ~300 words and short bios should be sent to Julianne VanWagenen ( and Michael Subialka ( by March 13, 2019.

This is a guaranteed panel for the 2020 MLA Convention in Seattle (January 9-12, 2020), sponsored by the Pirandello Society of America.