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The Worlding of Literature in the History of Criticism

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Organizer: Stefan Helgesson

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Adopting a meta-perspective on the question of world literature, this seminar will explore the ways in which “literature” has been articulated as a value and a matter of concern in critical discourses across the world and in multiple cutural and linguistic contexts. Commonly understood as a “European” concept consolidated around 1800, actual critical discourses in the past two centuries demonstrate a continuous and uneven process of negotiation over the content and meaning of “literature”, a process which should also be considered as a dimension of world history. The question, however, is if these discourses empirically support Aamir Mufti’s view of literature as a conceptual “plane of equivalence”(established through Orientalist philology) or if the concept can only be understood as a protean, polysemic, multitemporal phenomenon. What are the semantic components of “literature”? What work does the concept do? How does the concept contain (or refashion) the tension between cosmopolitan universalism and vernacular specificity, or between formalism and historicism? Is literature a translatable anthropological constant or an imperialist imposition? How would a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance”-approach to literature impact on theories of world literature? These and related questions will be addressed in the seminar, the underlying assumption of which is that we still have only begun to understand the many ways in which literary criticism has worlded literature (and, perhaps, literarised the world). Contributions drawing on cases from all continents are welcome.

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