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EN942 Fundamentals of World Literature

Term 1 2023-24

Convenor: Dr Christine Emmett

Seminar schedule: Thursdays 14.00-16.00 (S1.66)

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.


1 x 6,000 word essay (Due: 13 February, 12 noon)

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

Most readings can be accessed digitally via the Library Reading ListLink opens in a new window. You are responsible for sourcing copies of Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star and Ivan Vladislavic's Portrait with Keys.

Seminar Schedule 2023

Week 1: Debates on World Literature. David Damrosch, “Introduction: World Literature in Theory and Practice”; Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature” and “More Conjectures”; Emily Apter, “Against World Literature”; Sarah Brouillette, "Wither Production?"

Week 2: Methods of Global Reading. Karl Marx, "The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret", “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation” and "The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist" from Capital Vol. 1 (Ben Fowkes, Transl. Penguin, ISBN: 978-0140445688); Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (excerpt); Lisa Lowe, "A Fetishism of Colonial Commodities", from The Intimacies of Four Continents.

Week 3: World Literature from the South. Antonio Candido, "Literature and Underdevelopment", in The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader; Roberto Schwarz, "Misplaced Ideas" and "Brazilian Culture, Nationalism by Elimination" in Misplaced Ideas: Essays on Brazilian Culture; Neil Larsen, "Roberto Schwarz: A Quiet (Brazilian) Revolution in Critical Theory", from Determinations: Essays on Theory, Narrative and Nation in the Americas.

Week 4: Peripheral Aesthetics. Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star (1977) (B. Moser translation, ISBN: 978-0811219495); Rita Terezinha Schmidt, “Crossing Borders: Clarice Lispector and the Scene of Transnational Feminist Criticism”, Brazilian Literature as World Literature, Ed. Eduardo F. Coutinho, 2018.

Week 5: World-Systems and World-Literature. Immanuel Wallerstein, selections from World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (2004); Warwick Research Collective, selections from Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature.

Week 6: The City of World Literature. Ivan Vladislavic, Portrait with Keys (2006).

Week 7: World Literature and World-Ecology. Michael Niblett, "World-Economy, World-Ecology, World Literature"; Amitav Ghosh, The Nutmeg's Curse.

Week 8: Travelling Ideas. David Graeber and David Wengrow, selections from The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (2021); Priyamvada Gopal, "On Decolonisation and the University" (2021), selections from Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent (2019).

Week 9: Institutions of World Literature. Aamir Mufti, selections from Forget English!: Orientalisms and World Literatures; Sarah Brouillette, UNESCO and the Fate of the Literary (excerpt) and "On Some Recent Worrying over World Literature's Commodity Status".

Week 10: World Literary Property. Isabel Hofmeyr, Dockside Reading (excerpt); Joseph Slaughter, "World Literature as Property"; Epeli Hau'ofa, "The Glorious Pacific Way".