“Proletarian Modernism in the Long 1930’s,” a talk by Professor Benjamin Kholmann (University of Freiburg)


Please join us for another talk for COMMA’s 2016-17 series, “Modernist Energies.” We continue the year with a talk by Professor Benjamin Kholmann on Tuesday, November 22nd at 3:00 in the Sankey Room (SH 2623).

Professor Kholmann is Assistant Professor at the University of Freiburg.  He is author of Committed Styles: Modernism, Politics, and Left-Wing Literature in the 1930s (Oxford UP, 2014) which cuts against the long-standing tradition of an apolitical modernism to offer a novel reading of modernism of the 1930s as highly political. Professor Kholmann has also edited several volumes, including the forthcoming A History of 1930s British Literature (Cambridge UP); a special issue of Literature and History on Literatures of Anti-Communism (Spring 2015); Edward Upward and the Left-Wing Literary Culture in Britain (Ashgate 2013); and, Utopian Spaces of Modernism: British Literature and Culture 1885-1945 (Palgrave 2012).

Professor Kholmann will deliver a talk entitled “Proletarian Modernism in the Long 1930’s.” This paper identifies a modality of modernist writing that he calls “proletarian modernism”. The writing subsumed under this label is significant for several reasons. First, it usefully defamiliarizes the popular notion of “late modernism” by highlighting an alternative route taken by interwar writing: proletarian modernists, he suggests, aimed at a retooling of modernism, opening up new futures for modernism rather than anticipating its end. Second, proletarian modernism effected a wide-ranging politicization of modernist formal experiment: in works of proletarian modernism, the question of what a properly classless aesthetic looks like is inseparably bound up with the vision of a genuinely classless society. Proletarian modernism thus reopens the question of modernism’s political valences by asking us to think about modernism in proletarian terms; at the same time, it requires us to think about the proletarian aesthetic not in relation to some content (writing which is by and about the working class) but in more specifically formal (or aesthetic) terms.