We encourage the submission of paper proposals for the Cornell Graduate Student Conference hosted by the Department of German Studies, March 3-4, 2006, at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. The theme of the conference is "Amusement total …Sans regret?! New and Erratic Inquiries into the Nature of Pop"
“The only reasonable way to talk about Pop is to point, captivated, at the captivating, hey, super." So claims Rainald Goetz with apodictic aplomb in his 1986 essay collection “Hirn”. What if this statement were literally true – this claim that the mode of blissful affirmation is the only appropriate register of speech regarding all matters Pop? Should we despair because there is no room for an analytical position – inside or outside of Pop? Or should we simply be content to celebrate that Pop is the most beautiful thing on earth? But what if Pop were only graffiti on a prison wall, as Dick Hebdidge famously insinuated? How could we verbalize such a notion? It seems as if we still lack the language necessary to vivisect Pop, as if to analyze Pop would mean killing its essence – thereby turning the word into a lifeless and meaningless shell. Part of the purpose of this Graduate Student Conference is to explore ways to overcome the position of ecstatic incommunicability that Goetz seems to postulate – but without falling prey to dry theoretical reductionism either.
The concept of Pop has been pervasive throughout the 20th century and into the 21st – nonetheless all attempts at giving a concise definition of the term have been surprisingly futile. That might be because Pop knows no article – there is no such thing as “a” Pop or “the” Pop – and, consequently, we shouldn’t waste our time trying to invent what doesn’t exist. Instead we should play with the word, apply it, probe its promise and limitations. This conference is intended as a two-day journey in pursuit of the secrets that lie behind the veneer of Pop/art, /music, /literature, and /culture. Of course, at the end of that journey we might find ourselves in the sad position of the child who cuts open and destroys a concertina in order to discover the source of its sounds, only to realize that there is nothing inside. Participants in this conference are warned that they should be willing to take this risk.
Participants are free to address every conceivable matter related to Pop, including questions such as: Could Pop be called the most subversive genre of art, because its aesthetic means are synthesized from mass culture – hence, it can enter the mainstream more quickly than any other art form and subvert it from within? Or does Pop sell out the moment it merges with the mainstream, and as a result only helps to confirm the status quo? Or are we talking about a false dichotomy here? Might Pop follow a cultural technique that could be called ‘subversive affirmation,’ a gesture of false yes-saying that would lead us from Diogenes in the barrel to Till Eulenspiegel, and, as a final consequence, right into the midst of the 20th century, to the Munich activists against the German rearmament who rallied under the slogan: “We want more bombs!” Or does that form of subversion lie in the past already as a mere object of nostalgia? Would Pop need to develop new means of subversion because the famous gap between high-brow and low-brow that Leslie Fiedler described in his seminal Pop essay “Cross the border – bridge the gap” has, since then, been turned into a landfill?
Are there ways to conceptualize relationships between German and transnational Pop literature? Pop is often conceived of as a global phenomenon with a strong gravitational pull towards Anglo-American centers of influence. The indebtedness of the first generation of German Pop writers in the late 1960s to American Beat and underground literature is well documented (for example in Rolf Dieter Brinkmann's and Rainer Rygulla's anthology Acid - Neue Amerikanische Szene). However, German Pop seems to have emancipated itself from American influences since then, and what was marketed in the mid 1990s as Pop literature in Germany (Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre's Soloalbum or the works of Max Goldt) bore little or no resemblance to Anglo-American models. Could categories like politics, economics, aesthetics or linguistics help us to explain this evolution? What role does the concept of “globalization” play? And what is the relationship between German Pop and Pop /art, /music, /liter!
ature, and /culture elsewhere in the non-Anglo-American world?
Papers could address the prominence of surface descriptions in Pop/literature and Pop/art. Is there a connection between Bret Easton Ellis's leitmotif from Glamorama: “Let's slide down the surface of things,” and Andy Warhol's “Trying to figure out what was happening – and taping it all?” Is Pop directed against the hermeneutics of depth (tiefenhermeneutische Sinnsuche) – or does it try to encourage just such a hermeneutics by providing excessively blank and polished surfaces that will, as a result, sparkle back reflections? Is Pop's obsession with surfaces and its reluctance to penetrate to the meaning or nature of an alleged dimension below the surface sufficiently explained by its attachment to the fleetingness and the perishability of the moment, so inimitably pointed to by the Flaming Lips: “All we have is now / All we've ever had was now / All we have is now / All we'll ever have is now?”
Could Pop be seen as a monstrous archive of “How We Used to Live” (Saint Etienne), since it ceaselessly gathers and stores surface material – from Richard Hamilton's Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? to the detailed hyper-realistic inventories in Glamorama, from Andy Warhol's Disaster paintings to the rhythmically structured patterns of news ticker samples in Andreas Neumeister's 2004 Angela Davis Deletes Her Website? What would be the nature of this archive? And does irony supply a means of escape – because, as Luhmann stated, “Whatever we know about our society, or indeed the world in which we live, we know through mass media,” thereby suggesting that every word we speak and write is already discursively pre-shaped? But what if we were unremittingly confronted with speech acts as elusively and permanently ironic as Jerry Seinfeld’s – and what about Jarvis Cocker's assertion that “Irony is over”? Is that irony... again?!
Or have we maybe entered a post-ironic age? Would that mean that Rock (=authenticity & eternity) has finally triumphed over Pop (=irony & transience) – or precisely the opposite?
Is there a way to describe an interface between Pop/music and literature? It has been argued that authors such as Rainald Goetz, Kathrin Röggla, Andreas Neumeister, or Thomas Meinecke have all employed techniques derived from DJ culture to structure or inform their narratives. How could we define that interface? Can the frequently observed connection between Beat Writing and Jazz hold as an analogy – the spontaneity of creation, the Bebop speech patterns, the improvisational form? Or would it be worthwhile to go back even further and look at the Romantics, who, according to Steven Paul Scher and others, aspired to write verbal music, since only music could transcend the materiality of the moment?
On a different note, how could Pop's odd obsession with the (ironic?) valorization of terrorist symbols be explained? Could the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion) be termed a 'Pop phenomenon' because in it we find a combination of glamour and radicality, style and an outlaw image? Prada Meinhof? Terrorist chique? And as a final consequence: models as assassins (as in Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama)? What role do style and aesthetics play? Why can Che Guevara be Pop – but Reagan can't? Does that mean Pop is politically biased? Why is Einstein Pop? Was it his corona-like hairdo that seemed to follow an electrostatical principle of its own and could be read as a pact between chaos and genius? Was Oscar Wilde Pop? Could Goethe become Pop? And would Schiller be Rock then?
Or is what counts as Pop purely in the eye of the beholder?
We invite graduate students from all fields of study to submit paper proposals exploring these and similar questions.
The primary language of the conference will be English. Presentations should not exceed 25 minutes. Please send an abstract of 250-400 words in either English or German as a Word attachment by January 15, 2006, to . On a separate cover sheet, please list the proposed paper title, author's name, affiliation, and e-mail address. Please indicate whether you will require technological support (i.e., overhead, slide projector, etc.)
Conference participants may choose housing with Cornell graduate students or be referred to affordable hotel accommodations near the Cornell campus.
Please pay attention to future CFP updates that will announce the keynote speaker as well as the URL of the conference website.
This conference is sponsored in part by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Department of German Studies, Cornell University.
Jens Stephen Schellhammer
Department of German Studies
183 Goldwin Smith
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: 607-342-2968 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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