[Msa-discuss] CfP: David Jones Conference Oxford 10-13 September 2014

Jamie Callison jamie.callison at gmail.com
Tue Jan 28 18:07:34 EST 2014

David Jones: Christian Modernist?
Oxford, 10-13 September 2014

'Modernism' in literature and the arts is associated with cultural and
political rebellion, 'making it new' through formal experimentation, and a
widespread drive towards a regenerated New Era of human history. For many
modernists, Christianity stood for a bygone era to be overcome; the
reactionary, dead hand of the past.

Yet David Jones's art, poetry and cultural theory subvert this neat
dichotomy. He was a Catholic convert with a deep appreciation of the
Church's ancient liturgy and tradition; but he also conceived his
Catholicism as a mode of cultural 'sabotage' and a sign of 'contradiction'.
His art and poetry is palimpsestic and fragmentary, inspecting ruins and
traces, endlessly fascinated by dense, half-inaccessible layers of meaning
stretching back through past cultures into the pre-history of human
sign-making. Yet his theory of human culture as sign-making centres on
Christ's entry into the world of signs, epitomised in the Eucharist. Jones
saw himself as living in an epoch in which man's vocation as artist was
being twisted out of shape by a technocratic, capitalist civilization
obsessed with utilitarian means and ends. The modern artist therefore was a
Boethius, shoring up the surviving fragments of the past to make a bridge
into a different, regenerated future; a vision which helped Jones to
assimilate a wide range of experimental modernist work which, like his own,
looked both backwards and forwards at the same time.

This conference will examine the paradox of Jones the 'Christian
modernist'. Does the very concept of cultural 'modernism' perhaps need
reassessment when confronted with his example? How is his experimental art,
poetry and cultural theory relevant to theology? How does his work relate
to the theological controversies of his day, especially the 'modernist
crisis' within the Catholic church and beyond? How does the influence of
other modernist art, theory and literature interact with Christian
influences (whether theological or artistic) in his work? What was Jones's
influence upon other thinkers and creative artists, both those who shared
his religious views, and those who did not? And is his complex vision of
human beings as makers and artists who participate in divine creativity
through their sign-making - while also hiding this from themselves - still
relevant today? Or should it rather be analysed as a product of its time,
an unfortunate idealisation that at one point even led Jones to affirm a
limited sympathy for the 'fascist and Nazi revolutions'?

It is the aim of this conference to confront the paradoxes and pleasures of
reading and studying Jones head-on, in order to refine and extend our
critical vocabulary to encompass an artist and thinker who continues to
challenge our preconceptions. Finally, perspectives that challenge the
fruitfulness of the whole idea of Jones as 'Christian modernist' are also
welcome. Are there reasons for steering clear of both terms? Is Jones's
work perhaps better seen as transcending or collapsing such categories?

Contributions are welcome not only from Jones specialists, but also from
across modernist studies, theology, religious studies, philosophy, art
history, intellectual and political history, aesthetics, poetics, and
genetic manuscript studies.

For more information visit:
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