Graduiertenkolleg Funktionen des Literarischen in Prozessen der Globalisierung

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Internationale Konferenz Globalizing Literary Genres

27.06.2013 – 29.06.2013

Conference Abstract

In today’s globalized world . . . This is how opening addresses usually start these days. Indeed, in today’s globalized world, why should we study literary genres? A possible answer, one particularly interesting for this conference, is that precisely the study of such formations as genres is what defamiliarizes the abovementioned addresses. Ultimately, this type of study should test the assumption that the world became globalized only recently and that this makes this globalized world the measure of the study of any phenomenon. Definitions of globalization usually start by acknowledging the difficulty of defining globalization; it seems as if the vagaries of defining globalization are a part of any definition of globalization. Perhaps this is the reason why most studies address globalization by adding the conjunction “and” or the preposition “of”; globalization is more often than not globalization and something else, or the globalization of something. Often, globalization is even replaced by such notions as second modernity, liquid modernity, postmodernity, late capitalism, or empire.

When it comes to the relationship between globalization and literature, the suspect conjunction “and”, or preposition “of,” can perhaps be replaced by the adverb “as,” insofar as the histories of globalization and literature are structurally connected. For it is the wager of this conference that globalization, far from starting in recent decades, has a long and complex history, not unlike the history of literature itself. The conjuncture of globalization and literature therefore in effect invokes the entire historical dimension of literature. Hence genre, the level of literature most conducive to historical study.

In its minimal determination, globalization is arguably the ongoing process of the expansion of modernity. Similarly, the history of literary genres is a process of the expansion of differentiation since the onset of modernity. The age of geographical explorations, the first capitalist expansions, and the Copernican revolution coincided, in literary history, with the first forsaking of Horace’s proscriptive poetics and what Lotman calls the aesthetics of identity for the newly appropriated Aristotle’s descriptive poetics and the aesthetics of opposition. Finally, the process of literary globalization as differentiation of genres can, in Bakhtinian parlance, be related to the process of the novelization of all genres since the Renaissance. Hence, this conference should encourage us to rethink not only genres that are increasingly novelized, but also the genre of the novel itself, which undergoes novelization, or differentiation, as much as any other genre. This approach enables us to reflect on the fact that contemporary studies of global or, say, world literature tend to revolve around novels.

The idea of our conference then is to locate the globalization-and-literature problem in the topic of literary genre. Accordingly, our conference sessions aim to historicize globalization in literature; investigate the ways in which genres produce globalization, and vice versa; and acknowledge the possible limits to the modern genre system under the conditions of globalization. Throughout, questions of postcolonial, world, and transnational literature will, we feel, help us delimit a concept of global literature that is irreducible to the mass production of paperback airport novels.

So, instead of asking whether we should even study literary genres in today’s globalized world, the following questions may be raised: How are the cultural processes of globalization traced by the history of genres? Can a global perspective on the historical dimension of literature relate the juxtaposition between Aristotelian and Horace’s poetics to the structural differences between the Greek and Roman cultural, political, and economic structures? And can it also valorize the fact that it was these two cultures that produced the notions of literary genres that are still very much in circulation? And to what extent are Syriac and Arabic translations of Aristotle themselves an integral part of the globalization of ancient poetics? Can a historicized notion of globalization be used to grasp the way, say, the Early Modern literature (such as travel literature and Elizabethan drama) redefines genres, challenging the hegemony of classical poetics? Perhaps a global perspective on genre can also concretize Bakhtin’s idea of literary modernity as novelization of genres, ascribing it not to modernity in general, but to a more concrete project of cosmopolitanism as envisioned by German idealism and Romanticism. Finally, how do these examinations change the way literary studies tends to approach the age of globalization in the narrow sense, that is, the modern and postmodern processes of the seeming blurring of borders between literary genres?

For further details check our conference program (PDF, 10KB) and poster (PDF, 368KB).

Conference venue

LMU Munich
Französische Bibliothek
Ludwigstr. 25
80539 Munich