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World Literature: Circulations Outside the Modern

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Organizer: Alexander Beecroft

Co-Organizer: Galin Tihanov

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The theory and practice of world literature has often seemed to depend on a notion of modernity. Sometimes, this has been explicit, through a focus on forms of circulation and influence which have operated in modern times. At other times, the modernity-centered nature of world literature discussions has manifested itself through an emphasis on the ways in which texts from any age circulate and acquire meaning for modern readers (frequently, though not always, twenty-first century readers in Europe and/or North America). But literary texts circulated widely in the premodern world as well. Some, like the Pañcatantra or the Alexander Romance, circulate across virtually the whole of the Eurafrasian world available to them. Others circulate in narrower, but still vast, worlds: Europe, East or South Asia, the Buddhist, Islamic, or Christian worlds. Beyond these circulations of specific texts, we also encounter (usually but not necessarily narrower) circulations of literary forms, from the ghazal to the sonnet, the beast-fable to the maqāmah. This seminar will explore strategies for conceptualizing premodern world literatures, as well as the question of how premodern texts and their readers might productively inform our own debates about world literature.

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