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EN942 Fundamentals of World Literature

Term 1 2019-20

(tbc: Tuesdays 15:00-17:00 , see schedule for venue)

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 2019 (all dates tbc)

Week 1: 2 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: 9 October. The Emergence of Cultural Materialism: Raymond Williams, selections from The Country and the City; WIlliams, "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory"; Karl Marx, "The Secret of So-Called Primitive Accumulation"; “The fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret”; “The Modern Theory of Colonization” from Capital Vol. 1 (Ben Fowkes, Transl. Penguin, ISBN: 978-0140445688).

Week 3: 16 October. World-Literature from the South: Clarice Lispector,The Hour of the Star (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 4: 23 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.

Week 5: 30 October. Combined and Uneven Development:Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature.

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

Week 7: 13 November. Global Reading 1: Caren Irr, Toward the Geopolitical Novel: U.S. Fiction in the Twenty-First Century. Columbia UP, 2014.

Week 8: 20 November. Global Reading 2: Selections from: Michael Allan. In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt. Princeton UP, 2016. (Dr Michael Allan). B. Venkat Mani. Recoding World Literature: Libraries, Print Culture, and Germany's Pact with Books. Fordham UP, 2016.

Week 9: 27 November. Global Reading 3: Toni Morrison. A Mercy (2009).

Week 10: 4 December. Dialectics of Reading: [Toni Morrison. A Mercy (2009)]; Fredric Jameson 'The Three Names of the Dialectic'in Valences of the Dialectic (2009). Susan Buck-Morss. 'Hegel and Haiti' in Critical Inquiry 26.4 (2000).