CFP: MSA panel: Vital Evidence: Speculative Realism and the Modernist Clue (Deadline: 1 April, 2016)

Modernist Studies Association: MSA 18

(November 17-20, Pasadena, CA):

Vital Evidence: Speculative Realism and the Modernist Clue

In his seminal mystery, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Edgar Allan Poe writes “[t]he ingenious are always fanciful and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic,” establishing from the beginning a relationship between fancy and reason, mystery and solution, that continues to define the genre to this day. This panel seeks to examine the clue as a locus of this – sometimes uneasy, sometimes symbiotic – relationship, particularly in the moment of upheaval that modernism marks for the genre. In investigative fictions by authors as varied as Gertrude Stein, Henry James, and Dashiell Hammett (and filmmakers such as Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock), the clue, as a material trace of a crime, is always necessary but never sufficient. Despite its place as the foundation of investigative reason, mystery pervades the clue. At once a thing, object, signifier, sign, and metonym, the clue is a wildly unstable entity, crisscrossed by discursive lines and epistemic strategies that struggle to make it mean. Operating in a literary context that prized brevity, allusion, and implication, modernist mystery writers were uniquely positioned to face the clue’s undecidability.

In this way, modernist mystery writing has an important affinity with recently developed approaches to materialist philosophy broadly categorized as Speculative Realism. Some materialists have argued for the object’s strangeness, its alien qualities, and resistance to easy categorization. The Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) of Graham Harman, for example, emphasizes the inexorably “withdrawn” status of an object, its inability to fully reveal itself to an observer. Other writers after Harman have likewise emphasized the object’s strangeness, its tendency to resist or even defy investigation. Some, like Jane Bennet, have argued for a form of vitalism, deploying it as an epistemological tactic in the face of the unknown. What links these cases is a pragmatic concern for the manner in which an object can be a locus of knowledge, of the unknown, and of occlusion. Given, then, that the clue is an object harnessed for its narrative power, how does Modernism’s turn toward matters of interiority and exteriority allow us new ways to think through the clue as object and trope within mystery’s broader formulae?

Papers will focus on this relationship between the clue and the object in modernist crime fiction, or in writing that can be productively read through the lens thereof.

Please send abstracts of about 300 words to Jeremy Colangelo at or Thomas Stuart at by April 1. (Note: This is not a guaranteed session).


Papers might consider:

  • The place of the clue in the contest between high modernist fiction and the period’s genre fiction
  • The clue as a locus of the period’s paranoia and paranoid fantasies
  • The unpredictability of the clue in relation to modernist epiphany
  • Links between the clue’s materialism and the performances of masculinity that define modernist mystery fiction
  • Modernist texts that move beyond or work on the limits of the formulaic, material clue
  • The clue’s place in modernism’s interest in involuntary memory and the Proustian moment
  • The clue’s translatability as a narratological object; the recuperation or reinvention by non-English authors of a genre originally defined by British and American writers

Categories: Non ACCUTE CFPs

Leave a Reply