More than One World: Alternative Reflections on World Literature

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5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Russell Square: College Buildings
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Dr Francesca Orsini (SOAS)

In current debates on “world literature”, diffusionist and economicist models have so far held sway (Damrosch, Moretti, Casanova). Based on understandings of time and geographical space derived from Wallerstein’s theory of “world-systems”, these models view literary time and history as singular and linear, as in classic theories of modernity, and imagine literary space as divided between metropolitan centres and peripheries, using vocabularies of import and export, exchange and accumulation. As a result, literatures in Asian and African languages are deemed “local”, “peripheral”, “poor” or “underdeveloped”. They are literatures that “have not made it” onto the world stage, their distance from the “world reader” a function of their own parochialism.  And even if some of these critics (Moretti, Casanova) have “denounced” the world literary system as it is as “one and unequal” so as to “empower” “marginal” literatures, the models they use are so Eurocentric and poor in history and geography that they are of little use to us.

The way we view world literature has a lot to do with the way we view the world. We believe that at SOAS we can use our expertise and sensibility to non-Eurocentric views of the world to put forward non-Eurocentric views of world literature that account for the multiple layers and networks of production and circulation of the literary worlds we are familiar with.

We have received seed-corn funding from the School for an international workshop on this theme to be held in June 2011. In preparation for the workshop we plan to hold a monthly reading group in Term 1 and a series of lectures in Term 2. We warmly invite all colleagues to take part in the reading group and encourage research students you think might be interested to join, as well as colleagues outside SOAS, and to submit proposals for papers for the June workshop. A call for papers will go out in November/December.

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