ALSCW Symposium on Populism and the Arts

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ALSCW Symposium on Populism and the Arts
August 16-18
Washington, DC
Catholic University

This symposium builds on one held in 2018 at the University of Goettingen on populism and poetry. It looks into questions about “the people” (das Volk) and about populist modes of politics (broadly construed) as they relate to poetry, fiction, drama, music, and other art forms. It follows two lines of inquiry.

The first concerns artists who have seen themselves as the voice of the people or of a people, as tribunes of some popular sentiment, feeling, grievance or aspiration, either as such or in relation to an alleged elite with which they are at odds. Such figures have appeared on both the political Left and the political Right.

Alternately, this symposium investigates artists who have been critical of populism, who have seen themselves on the opposite side of nineteenth- or twentieth- or twenty-first century phenomena construed as populist, from the democratizing tendencies of nineteenth-century culture to the Popular Front of the 1930s to the mobilizations of fascism and communism to mass-market capitalism as a “popular” enemy of worthwhile art and culture.

This symposium offers no pre-set definition of populism; nor will it conclude with one. It will gladly let multiple (and contradictory) definitions emerge from debate and discussion. Its core interest lies in the relationship between populism and art.

The symposium will conclude with a discussion of Robert Penn Warren’s 1947 novel All the King’s Men. Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel started as a play set in Louisiana that featured Nazi-like motorcycle police. After WW II the play morphed into a novel featuring a populist southern governor. On the afternoon of Sunday, August 18th, we will hold a screening of Robert Rossen’s 1949 film of the novel, which won Oscars for “Best Motion Picture,” “Best Actor” (Broderick Crawford), and “Best Supporting Actress” (Mercedes McCambridge). After the screening we will discuss the novel and the film in light of issues that emerged during the conference.

The symposium features presentations on music, poetry, fiction, and drama, as well as original creative work. Participants include Marco Antolin (Millersville University), Kate Daniels (Vanderbilt University), James Dowthwaite (University of Goettingen), Derek Ellis (University of Maryland), Andrew Gross (University of Goettingen), Michael Kimmage (Catholic University), Mike Mattison (Tedeschi Trucks Band), Lee Oser (College of the Holy Cross), Christopher Suarez (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Ernest Suarez (Catholic University), and Meg Tyler (Boston University).

Co-sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences, Catholic University