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EN942 Fundamentals of World Literature

Term 1 2018-19

(Wednesdays 16:00-18:00 H543, tbc)

Tutor: Paulo de Medeiros

The familiar models of organizing literary studies by language groups, period, genre, nationality, and traits of aesthetic genius are in a perhaps terminal crisis of obsolescence. Thomas Kuhn argued that a discipline's paradigms of theoretical knowledge production broke apart when their conceptual frameworks could no longer coherently explain its evidence. Literary studies in the twenty-first century now face such a bifurcation, partly as a result of three interlinking trends. The legacy of post-war British cultural studies and "history from the bottom up" has dramatically expanded the social context and comparative evidentiary matter of literary studies beyond a highly selective tradition of canonical works, an event that undermines aesthetic-value based categories and helps the refusal to differentiate between the "literary" and sub- or para-literary. Digitalization has furthered this trend as the readily available archive has exponentially expanded far beyond the human capacity of individual researchers; information overload has hit the humanities. Finally, "postcolonialism" has critiqued the parameters of Anglophone and Comparative literary studies as complicit with Euro-American domination that implicitly rests on racializing distinctions. The traditional model of comparative literary studies involving Latin, Greek, and European languages is also suffering, on the one hand, from the increasing hegemony of English as a world language, due to the erosion of foreign language knowledge among contemporary students, and, on the other, questions about the exclusion of other tongues such as Farsi, Cantonese Chinese, Hindi, and Swahili, to name but a few.

One of this module's working theses is that the dominant models of post-war literary studies are no longer tenable and that the "linguistic turn" of High Theory during the last quarter of the twentieth century was a compensatory gesture that delayed, but could not remove, the intrinsic crisis in (comparative) literary studies. An ensuing corollary is that we need to explore new models for literary studies, and this module will introduce one such attempt - the question of conceptualizing texts in a global frame (the world literature debate) and a turn to world-systems perspectives. As critics have moved away from the linguistic nation as a classificatory device for cultural production, there has been a desire to consider global relations and area studies (like "Atlanticism") as a better model. Yet this turn still operates mainly at the rhetorical level as it lacks a methodology and logic of ordering material. One solution is the world-systems approach that sees the rise of historical capitalism as a network of competing players trying to gain power through the control of international and domestic factions. Because this model originates from a loose collective of economic historians, political scientists, and large-structure sociologists, the exact relations between (literary) culture and the history of global formations has been under-theorized. The module's aims are firstly, to familiarize our future cultural researchers with the terminology, claims, and points of difference in the debate surrounding world-systems so that they can enter the ongoing debate about "world literature" as a new paradigm for twentieth-first century literary studies. Before literature scholars can deploy this new perspective, they must become familiar with a set of inter-disciplinary arguments and considerations. Secondly, the module aims to suggest ways in which the current disjunction between cultural studies, modern languages, and postcolonialism can be coherently bridged through comparative analyses of a society's incorporation into the capitalist world-economy.
 

Suggested background reading: World Literature in Theory. Ed. David Damrosch. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. ISBN: 978-1118407691

Seminar Schedule

Week 1: 3 October. The Debates on World Literature (readings from World Literature in Theory. Ed. David Damrosch. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. ISBN: 978-1118407691. Damrosch, “Introduction: World Literature in Theory and Practice”; Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature” and “More Conjectures”; Apter, “Against World Literature”. Available online through Library

Week 2: 10 October. The Emergence of Cultural Materialism: Raymond Williams, selections from The Country and the City; WIlliams, "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory"; and Terry Eagleton, "The Rise of English" (from Literary Theory: An Introduction". The readings can be downloaded here or here (Prof Stephen Shapiro)

Week 3: Messy Beginnings: Marx, "The Secret of So-Called Primitive Accumulation" from Capital Vol. 1 (pdf) and Stephen Shapiro, How To Read Marx's Capital (Prof Stephen Shapiro). Readings are here and here.


Week 4: 24 October. World-System of Historical Capitalism: Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction 2004 [purchase] Additionaly, a small essay: I. Wallerstein. "World-Systems Analysis: The Second Phase", Review 13.2 (1990): 287-293. Additional reading if desried. Wilma A. Dunaway, "Incorporation as an Interactive Process: Cherokee Resistance to Expansion of the Capitalist World-System, 1560-1763.: The extra Wallerstein is here, the Dunaway is here.

Week 5: 31 October. Combined and Uneven Development: Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature (chapter 1 as pdf); Stephen Shapiro & Philip Barnard, Pentecostal Modernism: Lovecraft, Los Angeles, and World-Systems Culture, chaps 1-3 (as pdf). (Prof Neil Lazarus). WReC is here.

Week 6: 7 November. Different Reading, Reading Differently: Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke UP, 2016.

Week 7: 14 November. Global Reading 1: Caren Irr, Toward the Geopolitical Novel: U.S. Fiction in the Twenty-First Century. Columbia UP, 2014.

Week 8: 21 November. Global Reading 2: Michael Allan. In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt. Princeton UP, 2016. (Dr Michael Allan)

Week 9: 28 November. Global Reading 3: B. Venkat Mani. Recoding World Literature: Libraries, Print Culture, and Germany's Pact with Books. Fordham UP, 2016.

Week 10: 5 December. Another World, Another Literature: Reading in the Present: The Invisible Committee. Now. Semiotext(e), 2017.