The Spatial Imagination in Postwar American Literature and Art (IUF)

The Spatial Imagination in Postwar American Literature and Art (IUF)  Monica Manolescu (junior member of the Institut Universitaire de France, 2019-2024)

Seen as an emblematic feature of the United States since their creation, American space has been represented, interpreted and questioned massively along multiple lines, in cultural and critical forms. Yet, the lines of critical inquiry of these cultural forms often remain separate and discrete, treated from perspectives that do not take into account their interaction and interplay. While it is generally agreed in French and international American studies that space is a major component of the American imagination, literary representations and artistic practices of space in postwar US have rarely been treated together as part of a common narrative. This interdisciplinary project proposes a collective international program with multifaceted methods, formats and outputs: seminars, readings, essays, books and a final conference. One of the major goals of the project is to break the boundaries between traditionally hermetic academic disciplines (literary studies and art history, American studies and art history) by bringing together writers and artists, literary critics and art historians, American studies specialists and specialists from the fields of geography, the history of urbanism and architecture. The project seeks to offer an overarching perspective on the spatial imagination in postwar America.

What are the forms and evolutions of the literary and artistic imagination of space in the United States in the postwar period? And how do these forms and evolutions relate to existing American traditions of the spatial imagination? What does the dialogue between literary texts and art historical practices bring to the understanding of the construction and experience of space in the American postwar context? What are the major paradigms of thinking about space that can be identified from an interdisciplinary, literary and art historical angle? How do national and transnational narratives of space coalesce and feed on each other? Such will be the over-arching questions of the project. The answers have to do with the ways in which literary and artistic forms and more generally literary and art historical studies can be fruitfully and innovatively brought together and made to interact in a series of reflections on this issue. The methodology that would make this interdisciplinary correspondence possible is an open field. One of the most important exploratory aspects of the project consists precisely in determining the nature of the intersections, confrontations and comparisons between art and literature that deserve to be highlighted and further explored.

SEARCH-IUF seminars are organized twice a year at the University of Strasbourg.

List of seminars:

  • November 13, 2020: Larisa Dryansky (Sorbonne Université) and Julien Nègre (ENS Lyon), ‘Cartographies: the spatial imagination in American literature and art'
  • June 7, 2021: Lytle Shaw (NYU), 'Golden Age Smithson'
  • December 6, 2021: Hsuan Hsu (UC Davis), 'Racial atmospheres and olfactory experiments in American literature and culture'
  • February 7, 2022: Lytle Shaw (NYU), 'Third Personism: the FBI’s poetics of immediacy in the 1960s'
  • November 25 2022: Catherine Gander (Maynooth University), title to be announced
  • February 17, 2023: Kirsten Swenson (University of Massachusetts Lowell), title: to be announced