Crafts of World Literature (Oxford, September 2012)

Faculty of English, University of Oxford

September 28-30, 2012

Crafts of World Literature is a three-day conference which seeks to realign the approach taken by scholars in Postcolonial and World Literature studies towards the literatures which they read and interpret, fixing at the centre of the discussion a close attention to the techniques and crafts of writing. This does not entail turning away from political and social considerations or a return to unhistorical formalisms, but exploring ways of reading that overcome the apparent antinomy between literary technique and historical content.

It will bring together a range of scholars at every career stage whose work encompasses a diversity of theoretical approaches. The aim is not to reach consensus but to draw disagreements in the field onto the neglected terrain of literary craft, and, thereby, to open new questions and interpretative practices.

Call for Papers

Writing does not grow within us like a cabbage while our thoughts are elsewhere,’ I replied, not a little testily. ‘It is a craft won by long practice, as you should know.’ Foe pursed his lips. ‘Perhaps,’ he said. ‘But as there are many kinds of men so are there many kinds of writing. – J.M. Coetzee

It is a staple of the literary criticism produced in the wake of decolonization that the formalism and aestheticism of metropolitan art can have no place in literatures of struggle. Yet, in one literary manifesto after another, amongst the aims set down by writers of decolonization, one finds asserted the desire for new, or at least different ways of writing and seeing; the desire, that is, for different modes, styles, techniques, voices and rhythms. In a word, what is aimed at is a new literary material, to be forged through labour on those received local practices of speaking and writing, and those literary materials introduced and constituted during the colonial process.

Through this conference, we seek to realign the ways in which we read and respond to postcolonial and world literature, fixing at the centre of our critical practices a close attention to techniques and crafts of writing. In so doing we are asking presenters not to turn away from political and social considerations or to return to unhistorical formalisms, but rather to explore ways of reading that overcome the apparent antinomy between literary technique and historical content. For, however much we remain committed to the immediate – which is not to say unmediated – experience of literary works as the starting point for analysis; and however strongly we agree with the description of a world literary space characterized by trans-national movements; we remain convinced of two things: first, the need to locate works in relation to those particular (and often non-metropolitan) fields and materials from which they have arisen and which they have attempted, line by line, to refashion; and second, the need for an orientation towards the world, which is to say, towards those social, political and existential projects that have stimulated the authors with whom we are concerned as well as the formation of postcolonial studies itself.

Although we recognize how necessary it has been for ‘commonwealth’, ‘postcolonial’, and now a revived notion of ‘world’ literary studies to open up criticism to new contexts and traditions, we cannot ignore the limitations placed on our critical and pedagogical practices by discourse analysis and thematic reading, ideological critique and deconstruction. Narrowly concerned with presence and absence, inversion and subversion, appropriation, undermining and writing back, and a relentless focus on representation and the politics of identity, our field has become burdened by concepts whose weight grows in inverse proportion to their substance. The time has undoubtedly come then for us to re-think the language of literary analysis, making use where necessary of such disciplines as poetics, narratology, dramaturgy and stylistics whilst being prepared to develop new tools and new terms; to delimit those institutions and forces that have helped to constitute and structure literary communities; to interrogate claims for a blandly inclusive ‘world literature’; to examine the ways in which national fields are articulated with and by regional and supranational affiliations; and to return more rigorously to the relation between the decomposition of European empires and the development of literary practices of decolonization.

Papers may address, but are not restricted to, the following areas:

Close readings of works: we invite close readings of works which focus on the materials of writing, reflecting particularly on the manner in which stylistic, generic and formal decisions are situated within the dynamics of colonial, postcolonial and global literary communities, and their historical situations.

Institutions, fields, aesthetic communities: we invite discussion of the institutions which constitute and are constituted by literary cultures (publishers, writers groups, agents, curricula and schools, periodicals, prizes, legal structures etc); the literary fields of interaction, influence and relational position-taking from which works emerge; and the communities of sensibility within which works are judged and achieve distinction.

Situating the materials of literature and the tools of literary criticism: we invite discussion of the materials of literary practice – poetics, narrative form, genre, modes of figuration, lexicons etc. – and the tools of analysis which are used to discuss these practices – stylistics, prosody, narratology etc. – as well as the manner in which such materials and tools are transformed by local literary demands and the political and social projects of writers and critics (or lack thereof).

Decolonization and literary practice: we invite consideration of the emergence of literary communities from colonial and neo-colonial processes, and the ways in which writing practices carry forward wishes for sovereignty, autonomy, and the establishment of new centres of cultural gravity, whether national or otherwise.

Exile, Diaspora, Transnationalism, World Literature: we invite consideration of the complex of local, regional and international arenas within and between which writers move and operate, and which together constitute the larger field of ‘World Literature’.

**The deadline for submissions has now passed**

Download the full call for papers

Plenary Speakers and Respondents


Timothy Brennan, Dept. of English, University of Minnesota
Derek Attridge, Dept. of English and Related Literature, University of York
Steph Newell, School of English, University of Sussex
Amit Chaudhuri, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia
Nicholas Harrison, Dept. of French, King’s College, University of London
Michel Hockx, Dept. of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia, SOAS, University of London
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, University of Allahabad
Rosinka Chaudhuri, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Keya Ganguly, Dept. of Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota
Jean Khalfa, Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Elleke Boehmer, Fac. of English, University of Oxford
Peter McDonald, Fac. of English, University of Oxford
Ankhi MukherjeeFac. of English, University of Oxford

Conference Programme

FRIDAY 28 SEPTEMBER
12:30 – 13:30 Registration
13:30 – 15:15 Opening Remarks and Plenary Panel A
15:15 – 15:45 Tea
15:45 – 17:15 Panel Session I (panels 1 & 2)
17:20 – 18:50 Panel Session II (panels 3 & 4)
19.15 – 20.30 Reception at Blackwell’s Bookstore (51 Broad St)

SATURDAY 29 SEPTEMBER
9:00 – 9:20 Registration and tea
9:20 – 10:50 Plenary Panel B
11:00 – 12:30 Panel Session III (panels 5 & 6)
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch
13:30 – 15:00 Panel Session IV (panels 7 & 8)
15:10 – 16:20 Writer’s Address
16.20 – 16.45 Tea
16:45 – 18:15 Plenary Panel C
20:00 Conference Dinner at Vaults and Garden Restaurant (University Church, High St)

SUNDAY 30 SEPTEMBER
9:00 – 9:20 Tea
9:20 – 10:50 Panel Session V (panels 9 & 10)
11:00 – 12:30 Panel Session VI (panels 11 & 12)
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch
13:30 – 15:00 Closing Address and Remarks

Download the final programme

 

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