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Peripheral Novels and the History of Capitalism

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Organizer: Ericka Beckman

Co-Organizer: Oded Nir

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This seminar seeks to understand how peripheral novels periodize the history of capitalism on a global scale.  While classic theories of the novel posit an explicit relationship between this form and the history of capitalism, their sites of inquiry remain bound for the most part to the heartlands of capital accumulation in Europe and North America.  In dialogue with recent discussions of world literature, ‘peripheral realisms’ and ‘peripheral modernisms’, this seminar asks after the specific ways in which novels express moments of capitalist transition on the peripheries and semi-peripheries of the world-system.  Instead of championing one mode within the realism/modernism/postmodernism periodizing schema, however, the papers in this seminar will ask how individual novels or sets of novels capture the specific contradictions of capitalism in a given moment.  In this manner, the seminar aims to highlight how peripheral literary forms blast open preconceived notions of genre and period.  Inspired by the Brazilian critic Roberto Schwarz, we are interested in the ceaseless dialectic between social process and literary form on the peripheries of global capitalism, and its always surprising outcomes.  In this manner, this seminar is interested in how novels engage with the specific material conditions of peripheries and semi-peripheries (including, but not limited to, the history of chattel slavery and other forms of bound labor, the predominance of agrarian over industrial modes of capital accumulation, and the extreme susceptibility of peripheral societies to global financial flows) in specific moments. In tracing a dialectic between novelistic form and social processes such as these, this seminar seeks to explore how peripheral novels produce new knowledge about the peripheries of capitalism, the history of capitalism more generally, and efforts to periodize its moments of transition. 
In dialogue with recent discussions of world literature, ‘peripheral realisms’ (Jed Esty and Colleen Lye) and ‘peripheral modernisms’ (Warwick Research Collective), this seminar asks: how does the novel think about historical transitions to capitalism outside of Europe?  What are the different ways in which novelistic form registers the contradictions of capitalism in peripheral societies? How might novels from the world’s peripheries allow us to rethink the relation between literary periodization and the periodization of the capitalist system itself?

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