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After Weltliteratur: Practices of Philology and Literary Criticism in the long 19th Century

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Organizer: Benjamin Heller

Co-Organizer: Jakob Heller

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When Goethe introduced the concept of ‘world literature’ around 1827, he labeled the practices of literary studies and literary criticism that German Romanticism had propagated and realized since the turn of the century. Writers such as Friedrich Schlegel, August Wilhelm Schlegel, and Ludwig Tieck translated, analyzed, and evaluated texts from an immense variety of languages and cultures. Early Romanticism is early comparative literature. However, by the time that Goethe introduced the term to the public in his journal Über Kunst und Altertum, the framework of literary criticism and literary history in which the Schlegels and Tieck had operated changed significantly: comparative literary studies under the sign of progressive universal poetry was replaced, often in conjunction with a Hegelian concept of Geist, by the concept of ‘national literature’. And, intriguingly, this occurred in alliance with the hitherto ‘weltliterarisch’ oriented Romanticism, whose projects placed themselves more and more in the service of nation building, especially in the, often due to colonial relations, ‘belated’ nation states (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, USA, Brazil, Argentina, etc.). Figures like Josef Dobrovský, Kazimierz Brodziński, Niccolò Tommaseo and José de Alencar all drew on romanticist ideas in order to conceptualize a new national state.

The seminar wants to take a closer look at the dissimilarity that is implied in the outline given above. How does a post-world-literary normativity establish itself in literary-critical and literary-historiographical writings of the long 19th century? How did critics get rid of the cosmopolitan profile of Romanticism which had informed them? How is the affirmation of exchange, dialogue, and hybridization reintegrated and transposed into a national-literary context? How did the material practices change under this new framework?

The seminar does not intend to focus on the particular ideological content of valuations and models within the ‘national-literary’ framework, but rather on the procedures and practices, i.e., the ‘formal’ dimension of these constraints. How were valorization and revaluation carried out in the long 19th century? What processes of inclusion, exclusion, and ‘purification’ were employed in the process? At which points in the arguments did the leap from a strictly philological valorization to adjacent fields (history, philosophy, and psychology) occur?
We are looking for contributions that examine, preferably comparatively, the philological, literary-historiographical, and literary-critical practices of devaluation and revaluation, of inclusion and exclusion, of framing and standardization and investigate the tension between world-literary consciousness and national-literary program. We also invite contributions on authors and texts that already critically reevaluate this process of national formation at the end of the long 19th century.

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