Violence, Cruelty, Avant-Garde Conference

Violence, Cruelty, Avant-Garde:

A One-Day Conference

Keynote speaker: Professor David Marriott (UC Santa Cruz)

Friday 21st April 2017

 University of Sussex

Fulton G15

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To book this free event:




Professor David Marriott

Dr Sarah Hayden

Registration 9.30-10.00

Intro 10-10.15


Keynote 1: 10.15-11.00

Dr Sarah Hayden – ‘I pick up the apples’: Europe’s Ejected Avant-Garde

11-11.15- coffee break

11.15-12.15 Panel 1: Beyond Violence


Dr Sophie Seita – ‘At Least Do Not Do Harm’: Reading the Avant-Garde Beyond Militancy

Matt Martin – After Reading ‘Not Reading ‘After’’: Tony Lopez and the Ethics of Holocaust Poetry

Eleanor Careless -‘Bomb Bomb Thrust Thrust’: Violence and Gender in the Poetry of Anna Mendelssohn

12.15-13.00 – lunch (provided)

13.00-14.00 Panel 2: Contemporary Cultures of Violence


Laurel Uziell – TBC

Verity Spott – Letters From/To The Void – Demands of Revolutionary Despair

14.00-14.20 – coffee break

14.20-15.40 Panel 3: Sex and the Avant-Garde: Sadism, Cruelty and Desire


Kris Beaghton – ‘The typist’s day-dream’; ‘Wanted, smart lady typist’

Tom Allen – Salò, Marianne: Pasolini and the Aesthetic of Repudiation

Simon Tilbury – ‘A death to be born into’: Desire, Suicide, Dialectic; or how Laura Riding turned abjection into apotheosis

Keynote 2: 16.00-17.00

Professor David Marriott – Stiffs: Blackness, Cruelty and the Avant-Garde

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Supported by the Centre for Modernist Studies, University of Sussex

Call for Papers

* Extended Deadline – Abstracts due February 28th*

This conference will consider the historical association between violence and the avant- garde, looking in particular at the Modernist moment in Europe and its legacy. We are especially interested in how this historical association intersects with and is problematised by contemporary discourses around sexual, gendered and racialised violence and the deployment of narratives of terror for political purposes. We also invite participants to reflect on how the question of violence is framed in critical discussions of avant-garde texts. Crucially, we will be asking questions about the historical configurations of violence and the avant-garde that are pertinent to our increasingly violent present. How are different forms of violence and cruelty addressed by the Modernist avant-garde? How has the avant-garde’s engagement with violence changed in the wake of Modernism? How can we understand violence as an avant-garde strategy that has been adopted by both right-wing and left-wing writers? In what ways can cultural avant-gardes contest systemic forms of violence such as capitalism, sexism, racism and colonialism? What would an avant-garde of empathy or compassion as opposed to cruelty look like?

Please send 200-300 word abstracts for 20-minute papers with a short bio to by 28th February 2017. We welcome papers by researchers, academics, independent scholars, creative practitioners and activists. Please distribute this CFP as you see fit. We especially encourage contributors who are women and/or LGBTQ+ people and/or people of colour as the conference will emphasise these perspectives (see our website and the additional note below for more detail on the kind of event we want to cultivate).

Possible themes of papers include

  • Avant-garde approaches to art in relation to dynamics of class, racial and gender oppression
  • The avant-garde and violence in queer theory
  • Transgression and the avant-garde
  • Theorising and politicising the relationship between sex and violence
  • Unpacking the political legacy of Modernism
  • Critiques of the role of violence in the avant-garde and of the avant-garde itself
  • Radical and reactionary appropriations of violence
  • The meaning of cruelty in regard to historical relations of power and oppression
  • Fascism and right-wing avant-gardes

    We also welcome papers that contest the narrative presented above.


    Tom Bamford-Blake Byron Heffer Dominic Walker

    Supported by the Centre for Modernist Studies, University of Sussex

    Additional note

    The organising group for this conference consists of three white men and we are aware that this is problematic for a conference that sets out to challenge discourses around the avant-garde and violence that have historically been dominated by white men. The question ‘In what ways can cultural avant- gardes contest systemic forms of violence such as capitalism, sexism, racism and colonialism?’ is one that we are especially keen to encourage answers to because we want to facilitate a discussion that challenges the white-male-dominated tendencies of historical avant-gardes and the often misogynistic, racist and macho slant of aesthetic uses of violence.

    Our intention as organisers is to prioritise papers that are from women and/or people of colour and/or LGBTQ+ people and that mount this kind of challenge. Our intention is that white men will make up the minority of panel participants on the day and that nobody chairing a panel will be a white man. Our intention as organisers is that we will introduce the day and then leave the floor for others, and that any facilitation on our part will function to help maintain a space in which white men are not talking over others, are not silencing others and are not dominating conversation; in other words, we will intervene to stop this happening if needed.

    We will also make clear on the day that the difficult and potentially traumatic nature of much of the material discussed means that there is a need for care and respect towards one another within the space of the conference. We wish to have an open, honest and challenging discussion without macho domineering or similar behaviours, and we will be continuing to work and learn between now and the conference to make this happen. We know that the duty is on us to make sure the conference lives up to the intentions expressed above.