These are the pages of the World Literature/s Research Workshop that took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2007 through the spring semester 2014. Its aim was to identify and explore the distinctions, implications, and the tensions underlying the conceptualization of "World Literature/s" - in singularity and plurality. Along with promoting new research in the field through a dialogue across departments of literature, the workshop facilitated pedagogical innovations in both graduate and undergraduate curricula at UW-Madison.
The World Literature/s Research Workshop has now ended, and we are grateful for being able to continue our discussion in the 2014-16 Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series "Bibliomigrancy: World Literature in the Public Sphere.
The World Literature/s Research Workshop is grateful for the support of the Mellon Foundation as well as the Center for the Humanities, the Global Studies Center, and the Institute for Research in the Humanities (IRH) at UW-Madison. We would also like to thank the many departments, institutions, and individuals who have supported us over the years.
The recent history of our world is marked by escalation of migration and the amplification of technological and financial interdependence between nations. The present stories of our world consequently capture the collaborative as well as confrontational interactions that we as residents of the world create and inhabit. Contemporary literature has registered, documented, and creatively interpreted such moments of collaboration and confrontation. The intensification of cross-cultural and transnational dialogues and conflicts - captured in innumerable novels, short stories, and poems during the last three decades - has demanded newer modes of disciplinary evaluation and critique of this body of literature. From migratory and/or minoritarian contexts within national literary traditions, from recognition of transcendence of national canons, recent literary criticism has seen an unprecedented expansion of scale and scope. This expansion is evident in the resurgence of discussions around the term “World Literature/s” and publication of a number of volumes on the topic since 2000.
A careful examination of these discussions reveals the emergence of two distinct sets of texts. World Literature - in the singular - seems reserved for the repository of the timeless wisdom of the world, the best representation of the multitude of narrative forms and traditions around the world from the antiquity to the present. World Literatures - in the plural - however, is unreflectively used for contemporary literature written in and/or translated into English and other languages of European descent. Marketed as exemplars of the contemporariness of the world, such literary works make their way into the classroom through courses and series on “World Literatures.” The seemingly democratic plurality ascribed to the noun, however, does not guarantee this body of works the singularity reserved for the repertoire of “World Literature.” The contemporariness of “World Literatures” creates the impression of their being ephemeral; their multifaceted and purportedly chaotic ambition is often measured against the timeless and eternal value inscribed to representative works of a national or a linguistic canon assembled under the rubric “World Literature.”
The World Literature/s Research Workshop's goal was to identify and explore the distinctions, implications, and the tensions underlying the conceptualization of “World Literature/s”—in singularity and plurality. The workshop investigated historical and contemporary conceptualizations of the category “World Literature.” To this end, members have read and discussed theoretical reflections on the concept of “World Literature” since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s inception of the term Weltliteratur in 1827 to current debates. The workshop benefited from the expertise of its members, which helped us isolate debates on “World Literature/s” in multiple linguistic, national, and literary contexts. Along with promoting new research in the field through a dialogue across departments of literature, the workshop seeks to facilitate pedagogical innovations in both graduate and undergraduate curricula at UW-Madison.
To find out about the past activities of the World Literature/s workshop, our 2009 conference, special guests, readings, and publications please select a link below.
Workshop speakers and invited guests