Skip to Content

Mapping the Contemporary

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Emily Johansen

Co-Organizer: Matthew Mullins

Contact the Seminar Organizers

As a field, comparative literature has set out to interrogate the boundaries between national literatures and to disrupt the Anglo-centric focus of most English departments and the infrastructure of publishing. Parallel to these concerns, scholars have grappled with the concept of “world literature,” particularly under the regimes of imperial and capitalist modernity and their accompanying cultural projects. As David James and Urmila Seshagiri argue, periodizing categories are often necessary to comparative scholarship as they balance out the “spatial expansiveness” of this work.  Periodizing, thus, is akin to a management strategy as well as an intellectual choice—though one that has, as Eric Hayot notes, tended to operate “almost always national[ly].” These relations are, perhaps, even murkier for scholars of contemporary literature where the connections between time, space, and a body of literature are in the process of being created.  Contemporary scholars are, necessarily, enmeshed in creating the shape of the very period they study. This challenge offers a unique position from which to think carefully about how periodizing claims work to reinforce or challenge professional hegemonies and the cultural, geographic, and temporal parameters of the contemporary. Some of the questions this panel hopes to explore:

What are the limits of existing paradigms for thinking about contemporary literature—postcolonialism, postmodernism, neoliberalism, the Anthropocene, etc…? How might we think about these paradigms in new ways?
Are there ways to periodize without replicating the continued centrality of particular nations/ language/ genders/ temporalities?  
Do different genres or national literatures ask us to theorize the geography of the contemporary differently?
How does periodizing as an intellectual project relate to pedagogical, job market, and other professional concerns?
How do different genres offer different ways of considering what we mean by the contemporary?
Are there genres or sub-genres that seem particularly helpful or central to the contemporary?
What are the borders of the contemporary? What do we mean by “contemporary?”
Why periodize at all?

«Back To Seminars