Faculty of Arts, Law and Education

Governance, Management & Continuous Improvement

Oceanic Modernism

Editors: Matthew Hayward and Maebh Long 
(University of the South Pacific)

In 1987, Raymond Williams’s ‘When was Modernism’ questioned the way in which a narrow selection of European and American writers had come to stand for an entire epoch. In the two decades since, modernist studies has undergone a radical reorientation, and critics such as Susan Stanford Friedman, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Andreas Huyssen, Simon Gikandi, Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel have continued to reassess the temporalities, spatialities and formal components of modernism and modernity. The received, Eurocentric conception is giving way to new frameworks—alternative modernities, multiple modernities, modernity at large, new world modernisms, geomodernisms, transnational modernisms—which recognise the countless other experiences and articulations of a modernity now seen as global and interactive. While power relations remain uneven, in literature as in economics, assumptions of Western priority no longer hold. As the ‘new modernisms’ have shown, models of production predicated on a self-determining European core and a derivative periphery not only deny the creative agencies of the greater part of the modern world, they misconstrue the already compromised nature of the so-called ‘classical’ forms themselves. Now a contested term, modernism no longer simply denotes a particular aesthetic movement, born and perfected in Europe and America in the first decades of the last century. In a global sense, it names a range of aesthetic responses, to a modernity experienced in different ways, by different people, at different times.

As far-reaching as this critical revaluation may have been, Oceania remains largely ignored in modernist studies. With few notable exceptions, collections on global modernisms have left out the region altogether, quietly implying either that Oceania has had no aesthetic responses to modernity, or that it has had no modernity at all. Yet from at least the 1960s, Pacific writers and artists have been explicitly and self-consciously engaged in articulating Oceanic modernities. In a movement closely related to postcolonial independence in some countries, and to indigenous rights movements in others, Oceanians explored tensions between tradition and modernity, female and male, the village and the city, local and foreign, the indigenous and the indentured. These artists challenged and adapted all manner of inheritances, from the rich oral and other expressive traditions of the Pacific, including weaving, pottery, dance and tattooing, to other world modernisms, to the Indian literary and mythical heritage brought to the region, often forcibly, through the indentured labour system. Imbricated and transnational, Oceanic art and literature are thus eminently modern, with modernity understood not simply as rupture, amalgamation, and change, but—following Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas and Zigmunt Bauman—as the conscious reflection on the contemporary. 

This edited collection positions this aesthetic movement as an Oceanic modernism. It considers the relationship between Oceanic works and the modernities from which they emerged; the relationship between Oceanic works and other modernisms, however so defined; and the advantages and limitations of applying the modernist rubric to Oceanic works. We invite submissions that consider Oceanic modernism/modernity, with possible topics including but not limited to:

  • Literature, Art, Theatre, Dance
  • Weaving, Tattoos, Architecture, Cultural Practices
  • Colonialism and Postcolonialism
  • Nationalism and Transnationalism
  • Independence, Indigeneity and Indenture
  • Tradition and Modernisation
  • Globalisation and Capitalism
  • Gender, Racial and Cultural Relations
  • Influence, Adaptation and Appropriation

Please send your title and a 500-word abstract to oceanicmodernisms(at)gmail.com by 30 September, 2016. Completed articles will be due by 31st January, 2017.


3rd-5th February, 2016

The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji 

Keynote addresses from Prof. Susan Stanford Friedman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Prof. Elizabeth DeLoughrey (University of California, Los Angeles)

Roundtable with Pacific writers, including Vanessa Griffen and Satendra Nandan.

In recent decades critics such as Susan Stanford Friedman, Arjun Appadurai, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Simon Gikandi, Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel have reassessed the temporalities, spatialities and formal components of modernism and modernity. While hegemonic power structures in politics and literature played often decisive roles in shaping global modernisms, lines of influence predicated on models of core/periphery have been recognised as reductive. Previously dominant models of reception grounded on mimicry or delayed adoption are increasingly understood to devalue the creative agencies of global modernists. Instead, new frameworks of alternative modernities, multiple modernities, modernity at large, new world modernisms, geomodernisms, and transnational modernisms are enabling exploration of the multiplicity of modernist experiences, histories, and form.

When South Pacific writers such as Albert Wendt, Subramani, Vincent Eri, Satendra Nandan, Konai Helu Thaman, and Vanessa Griffen forged a new literature of Oceania, they gave voice to the lived reality of transnational Oceanic modernities by opening local narrative traditions to the experimentations of global modernisms. Their innovations and compromises created a writing of Oceanic modernity that disrupts reductive models of periodisation, influence or imitation, evincing relations that are, as Andreas Huyssen writes, ‘reciprocal though asymmetrical’. Recognising the multiplicity of responses to the ruptures and relations of modernity, and the importance of local contextualisation in comprehending global modernisms, this symposium is devoted to Oceanic Modernism, and the relationship between modernities and modernisms in the South Pacific. 

This symposium brings together regional and international scholars to work towards an understanding of Oceanic Modernism that is detailed and coherent, without being uniform or conformist. In particular, the symposium seeks to examine the relationship between Oceanic works – literature, art, dance, architecture and so on – and the modernities from which these emerged, and the relationship between Oceanic works and other modernisms, however so defined. We invite papers on South Pacific works that address these and other related issues, and/or the relationship between Oceanic Modernism and the following:

  •  Nationalism
  • Indigenisation 
  • Form
  • Postcolonialism
  • Appropriation
  • Independence 
  • Politics
  • Tradition
  • Location
  • Time/Space
  • Contingency

We welcome proposals for papers (not exceeding twenty minutes) and panels (maximum three speakers). Please submit your title and a proposal of 300 words to oceanicmodernisms(at)gmail.com by 31st October, 2015.

Dr Maebh Long, Dr Matthew Hayward and Prof. Sudesh Mishra

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