Benjamin Kholmann Talk: "Proletarian Modernism in the Long 1930s"


Tuesday, November 22, 2016


3:00 pm


Sankey Room
This paper identifies a modality of modernist writing that Professor Kholmann call “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.
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).