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Beyond Minor and Major: Comparative World Literary Histories

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Organizer: Zaal Andronikashvili

Co-Organizer: Susanne Frank

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European normativity and literary developments, inscribed in the concept of world literature since Goethe, have been subject to scrutiny in recent scholarship. The Eurocentric foundations of the term have been critiqued by many scholars; post-colonial perspectives have enabled a deeper understanding of the comparative capacities of the term. However, the justified critique has not yet led to alternative literary historiographies that would respond appropriately to this critique, and build on it. The term “minor literatures”—a theoretical concept coined by the Jewish-German Author Franz Kafka in 1911 and further developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in 1973—still serves as a dominant paradigm to imagine models of literary production and reception outside the global North, thus either neglecting or simply glossing over developments in parts of the world away from Euro-American centers of literary production, the supposed “peripheries” of the world republic of letters. In this seminar we want to reflect on categories such as “small” and “large” languages, “major” and “minor” literatures along with world literatures, albeit with a focus on literary historiography. Embracing the critique of Eurocentric studies of world literature, we want to ask, what kind of new conceptualizations of categories such as “proletarian literature,” “feminist literature,” “popular literature,” “propaganda literature,” “international literature,” among others, might be possible in literatures produced in languages that do not dominate the world literary space? How have normative conceptions of world literature in the so-called “peripheral” literary cultures have been challenged or rethought? How have literatures written in “small” languages, but with very long literary traditions, determined their own periodicity in the vicinity of, or perhaps away from, dominant modalities? How have thematic, aesthetic, and institutional implications of writing across languages shaped an understanding of “multilingualism” in these literatures? The central idea is to think through small/minor literatures as complementary to, rather than outside the perceived centers of world literary sphere, to facilitate new modes of comparative literary inquiry in a global context. This seminar aims to bring together papers that will widen the concept of small/minor literatures, both theoretically and historically. We invite scholars working on post-Soviet literatures; literatures from the South- East- and South-East Asian languages; literatures of the Americas in colonial and indigenous languages; literatures from the Arab world, along with those working on global English, French, Russian German, Spanish and other literatures in a comparative context.

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