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Comparative Formalisms: World Literature and Race

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Organizer: Nimanthi Rajasingham

Co-Organizer: Octavio Gonzalez

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What is the relationship between form, race, and world literature in its various instantiations, such as comparative, Anglophone, postcolonial, and modernist internationalism? Work by the WREC Collective and Franco Moretti explores world literature according to a model of combined and uneven development, added to by more recent turns to the importance of form and formalism for materialist understandings of history. An important intervention in this regard is Caroline Levine’s Forms, which argues that formalist analysis can be “as valuable to understanding sociopolitical institutions as it is to reading literature.” Levine adds that the “gap between the form of the literary text and its content and context dissolves” under pressure from a materialist-informed formal analysis. We consider Levine’s formalist provocation in the context of various literary and performative texts situated within world literatures to consider the social and political shapes of race, racism, and racialization. Achille Mbembe’s recent work in Critique of Black Reason, to cite another influential reconceptualization of race and social institutions, defines race as “an ideology and a technology of governance.” Comparing world literary forms allows us to interrogate Mbembe’s and Levine’s arguments, and reconsider the new world literature’s aesthetic formulations of the vexed and complex relationships among race, form, and modernity. Our interests in this question are twofold. 1. We are interested in work that explores how races have been aesthetically or literarily produced and codified as forms. When did race become significant in the writings or in the performances of certain artists and literary texts? How did the notation/accommodation/rejection of racial difference become registered in formal terms? How do sexuality and gender function within a matrix of form and race? What is the relationship between colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial institutions, form, and race? These questions turn our focus to fictions written from the 18th to the present. 2. We also invite abstracts that explore how artists from the global south or minority writers within the west have conceptualized the relationship between form and race. What have been formal responses to historical codification and ongoing racializations of bodies? How have writers, performance artists, poets, filmmakers used form to refuse or embrace race? How have artists explored the relationship between neocoloniality, race and form?  

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