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‘Europe’ in Contemporary Literature and in Literary Studies

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Organizer: Friederike Eigler

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Recent scholarship and creative writing have addressed the European project and cultural imaginaries of Europe in innovative ways. Examples include special issues on the future of Europe [New Literary History 43.4 (2012)] and European memory [European Review of History 24.4 (2017)], as well as essays such as Robert Menasse’s Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits (2012, transl. 2016) that challenge readers to imagine what a supra-national Europe might look like. Fiction also engages with many of the issues that have dominated current debates in Europe – racism, the civil rights of refugees, and religious belonging, to name just three. The novel is still the most popular genre with which authors such as Jenny Erpenbeck in Germany (Go, Went, Gone, 2015), Shumona Sinha in France (Assomons les pauvres! 2011) or Mohsin Hamid in England (Exit West, 2017) have tackled these issues.
 
Projects in the public realm address similar questions, for example, the House of European History that opened last year in Brussels “is dedicated to the understanding of the shared past and diverse experiences of European people” (https://historia-europa.ep.eu/en/mission-vision) and provides access to its exhibition in 24 European languages. But what does it mean to “discover […] common ground in European history” at a time when incompatible concepts of – and realities in -- Europe and in particular in the European Union threaten to tear the continent apart - politically, economically, and socially?  In light of these challenges, is it tenable to promote notions of European identity via the assertion of a common European memory? A more productive approach might be to think of “European” cultural memory as a way to engage with contravening memories. Arguably, literary fiction is well equipped to address these multi-layered perspectives. At the same time, the arts, in particular literature and film, can contribute to the “thickening” of imaginative relations with other group and help create alternative shared points of reference for the future (Rigney 2012, 622).
 
Against this backdrop, we propose a seminar that explores the treatment of Europe in contemporary literature written across the European continent as well as outside of Europe. We welcome papers that address questions such as the following: What might a field of Critical European Culture Studies look like and what is the role of contemporary literature in this context? How is Europe conceptualized not only in the discipline of Comparative Literature but also across the various “national” literatures? What are European topics in contemporary literature (roughly, the literature published since the end of the Cold War)? How is Europe narrated? And what is a European narrative, anyway? Possible thematic foci include European cultural memory, transnational legacies of colonialism and war, flight and migration, and mobility and belonging, among others.
 
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