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Managing Time, Mediating Modernity: Temporality, Mass Culture, and the Avantgarde, 1880-1920

Two-day symposium of the American Studies division at Leibniz University of Hannover, 22 & 23 February 2019 

Mass cultural and avantgarde forms and formats participate actively in the implementation, mediation, and negotiation of modern time regimes. Time, speed, and acceleration are recurring thematic and formal concerns of modernist literary texts that celebrate, reject, or otherwise navigate the increased pace and intensity of modern life. On the other hand, the publication rhythms of serial mass media—such as the film serial, the daily newspaper, or the periodical—invite habitual consumption practices that endow everyday life with a sense of routine, recurrence, and continuation. Simultaneously, the aesthetics of such mass-cultural forms often work against the impression of one singular and homogenous sense of time. Writing about film, Walter Benjamin has pointed to the radical potential of devices such as slow-motion or the close-up to discuss the medium’s capacity to fracture our perception of time “with the dynamite of the split second.” Likewise, formats like the daily comic strip rely on non-continuous and ‘looped’ forms of serial narration that produce ever new iterations of the same situation—a storytelling principle that does not adhere to a logic of linear temporal progression. The period around the turn of the 20th century furthermore sees the rise of science fiction and horror literatures that envision fantastical technologies of time-travel or reimagine time along non-human cosmological timescales. Finally, the modern demands for a speeding-up of communications, the synchronization of complex systems, and a rational management of time have long been privileged subject matters of scholarly, essayistic, and journalistic engagements with modernity.     

Sidestepping the traditional opposition between mass-cultural and avantgarde forms, the two-day symposium “Managing Time, Mediating Modernity” examines forms and practices from four decades around the turn of the 20th century that engage with the modern imperatives of acceleration and synchronization. Focusing on the period between 1880 and 1920, the event brings together contributions that examine works concerned with mediating between the pressures of modernity and everyday practices. Centering on a historical period that witnessed both the emergence of a largely commercialized mass culture and the rise of trans-Atlantic artistic and literary avantgardes, the symposium is particularly interested in research that engages with the overlaps and parallels between these two modes of cultural expression. 

The symposium “Managing Time, Mediating Modernity” is part of the DFG-funded research project “Contingency and Contraction: Modernity and Temporality in the United States, 1880-1920.” 


For more information about the event, please contact annabel.friedrichs@engsem.uni-hannover.de or felix.brinker@engsem.uni-hannover.de. For (free and open) participation in the event, please register via email.