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Short Fiction in Comparative and World Literature

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Organizer: Amândio Reis

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In Death of a Discipline, Gayatri Spivak addresses the problematic identification between “literature” and the novel form in conventional approaches within comparative literature (2005: 123), voicing a concern with our general blindness to non-hegemonic literary forms similar to the consternation frequently shown in short fiction theory and criticism toward the enduring novel-centrism of literary studies. This seminar aims to bring together scholars with an interest in examining this topic and the different ways in which it may or may not extend to the field of world literature. The goal of this seminar is not to look at the short story and other genres of short fiction, once again, in stark opposition to the novel. Rather, it invites papers that interrogate this notion from other angles and explore the underestimated potential of short fiction as a cosmopolitan form, focusing on its own ability to tell an alternative history of literary circulation.


Historically, the question of length has been the subject of a contentious debate in many theories of short fiction. But while “shortness” is undoubtedly an insufficient and an all-too limiting and quantitative criterion, it is also, in the simplest sense, what makes the short story a highly portable and translatable form. With its ability to easily navigate distinct narrative registers, subgenres, styles, and literary traditions, the short story’s inherent movable nature is reflected in the rapidity and abundance of its publication. It often circulates in both literary and non-specialized sources which are more volatile and transmissible than books, such as journals, pamphlets, academic and cultural periodicals, and, increasingly, digital outlets such as websites, blogs, and online magazines. Also, typically faster to translate than longer forms like the novel, as well as easier to translate than more semantically and structurally complex forms like poetry, the short story is widely disseminated in translation in edited anthologies that frequently aim to introduce their readers to unknown and/or previously untranslated works.


However, the short story is also a migrant or a traveling form even within its linguistic and geo-cultural world, often appearing in collections that promote, for example, the concept of a “Lusophone,” an “Anglophone,” or a “Francophone short story.” Considering the diversity that characterizes the many genres of short fiction and very short fiction, some of the topics we hope to explore in this seminar include: the literary and non-literary routes of the short story, both in translation and in the original; the history of the genre and its connection to literary as well as socio-cultural transformations; the short story as a global and/or local form; reception theory and the transnational genres and styles of short fiction; “worlding” the short story and reexamining its impact in comparative and world literature.

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