International Collaboration

Writing the cosmopolitan imagination: Genre transactions in world literary space

The Department of English, University of Delhi and University of Potsdam, Germany 

The international collaboration network conjoins three research themes that are crucially relevant in current literary and cultural studies: It links the discussion of an emergent transnational ‘world literature’ with contemporary debates over cosmopolitanism, planetarity and global citizenship as well as with the recent turn towards genre as an inherently social dimension of literature. By bringing these three dimensions together, the project aims to reassess and productively investigate in a sustained bilateral dialogue the ways in which literature contributes to the articulation of identities in the globalization process. This will also include the research of historical situations and periods in which elements of the current conjuncture have already been anticipated. 

Under conditions of globalization, imagined communities have acquired transnational and  cosmopolitan dimensions: People simultaneously think and feel in and beyond the nation and hence inhabit imagined worlds that exceed while not superseding national or local affiliations. The proposed project will take this observation as the starting point for collaborative international research of the role that literature plays in the articulation of such transnational imagined worlds. Benedict Anderson’s influential study of the crucial importance of the novel as a literary form for the historical emergence of the nation as imagined community will function as a productive reference point for this project. However, since our research of German, British and (mostly but not exclusively Anglophone) Indian writing will explore a setting in which literary texts reflect transnational and cosmopolitan worlds alongside that of the nation, we will have to allow for the possibility that such worlds may be articulated in literary forms other than the novel. In other words, the emphasis put on the novel as the literary device – the ‘global forma franca’ – for imagining collective affiliation in modernity will be put into question. The project will accordingly ask how, from various locations on the map of world literature, a plurality of representational forms are deployed, tested and further developed in the effort to configure the interplay of national and transnational dimensions in the present and make the world imaginable – whether, in socio-political terms as globalized or, in ecological and material perspectives, as planetary. The intended research collaboration will thereby contribute a timely corrective to current debates on world literature that have so far largely remained strictly novel-centred and thus run the risk of projecting a generic monoculture. It will also further the efforts to rethink world literature beyond the Eurocentric confines of its origins. By attending (also) to eccentric and ‘minor’ genres beyond the normalized “geopolitical” prose novel, it hopes to foster an understanding of the manifold ways and forms in which contemporary literature works to make the transnational and cosmopolitan dimensions of the world meaningful.

The collaboration comprises 

  • individual research projects by PhD and postdoctoral researchers in English or German Studies;
  • reciprocal faculty exchange including the teaching of seminars at the host university;
  • reciprocal students’ exchange;
  • summer and winter schools at both partner institutions;
  • two international conferences with publication of proceedings;
  • guided students’ project work;
  • development of a joint module with an e-learning component;
  • joint PhD supervision where applicable.

The originality of the project consists not only in its focus on genre transactions between three distinct regions of world literary space – the Anglophone ‘core’ of the US and Britain; the Anglophone semi-periphery of Indian writing in English; and the non-Anglophone semi-periphery of writing in German – but also in its theoretical approach: The project combines discussions of world literary studies from the disciplinary perspectives of English and American Studies, Germanic Studies and Postcolonial Studies with recent discussions in genre theory and aims to produce fresh insights at three distinct levels of inquiry:

  • How does genre as an ‘institution’ work in the increasing interplay of the national and the transnational, especially with a focus on ‘eccentric’ genres that deviate from the dominant form of the novel?
  • How do genres as representational forms of meaning-making relate to the historical situation in which they participate?
  • What are the specific world-creating potentials of individual genres, and how do these get modified through appropriation and exchange across cultural boundaries?

Research will focus on historical and current genre transactions between India and Europe (esp. Germany and Great Britain). Accordingly, particular attention will be paid to those processes in which

  1. the ‚mobility’ of individual artefacts is significantly contingent on the generic identity and intelligibility of the respective work, so that the ‘law of genre’ can be seen at work as it enforces generic conformity (persistence of genre);
  2. the reception and appropriation of ‘incoming’ texts enables the transformation and mutation of established genres (flexibility of genre);
  3. the adoption and/or adaptation of entire genres (such as the Oriental Tale in 18th-century Europe or the Tolkien-derived fantasy novel in post-2000 India) engenders a region-specific variety of the genre