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The English Question: English Literature and Peripheral Modernity

One of my current projects, provisionally titled 'The English Question: English Literature and Peripheral Modernity', is an investigation (a) of the ways in which work by canonical English writers registers a ‘peripheral modernity’ defined by uneven economic development, and (b) of the non-canonical English writers marginalized by histories of modernism. The project builds on recent attempts by Frederic Jameson, Franco Moretti and Pascale Casanova to recast the debate on 'world literature' by theorising international literary space. In particular, it employs Marxist models of 'combined and uneven development' to focus on the global and systematic production of ‘peripheral modernisms’ within the capitalist world-system. In contributing to our understanding of the relation between shifts in economic and cultural power, this work provides a much-needed ‘impact’ justification for the study of literature at a time of cutbacks in Higher Education.

By focusing on England, my present project brings this global scope to bear on a nation which is, in literary terms at least, firmly associated with the metropole of a global (former) empire, rather than a peripheral territory in the usual sense. In doing so, it aims to contest the notion that ‘England’ is reducible to its metropolitan centre, instead drawing attention to the literary registration of forms of experience previously associated only with dominated peripheries subject to modernization from a capitalist centre. This widens the range of writers usually deputized to ‘speak for England’, broadens the range of sources from which national narratives can be constructed, and suggests fresh affinities between areas of England and those of other European nations. The project thus aims to bring new clarity to perceptions of England’s cultural place in the world.