Conference 2013

Comparing to what purpose?

International Conference of the Goethe Society of India

28 February – 1 March 2013 [See amended dates]
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

The conference will be part of the “German week”, 25.02.- 01.03.2013 [See also]

[Download program]

Comparativism stands at the centre of contemporary debates on the future of literary studies. This is not surprising given the increasing migration of people, languages, ideas and texts across national, continental and other borders, which has called into question the narrow confines and dominant perspectives within which literature largely continues to be studied. But it has also raised questions about comparative literature as it was practised since its formal inception as a discipline in the nineteenth century. Though conceived under the sign of Goethe’s idea of Weltliteratur, the discipline remained permeated in its practice by the zeitgeist of nationalism, colonialism and imperialism, even as it took as its point of departure the study of literature in more than one language. The contemporary debates may therefore be seen to be about how to restore Goethe’s idea of “world literature” as the guiding principle of both the theory and practice of comparativism. This has naturally led to debates about the concept of “world literature” and about translation as the modus operandi through which literature gets disseminated in languages other than the original. The debates therefore bring together the triad of comparative literature, world literature and translation studies.

In India comparative literature emerged under and as a response to colonial rule. Tagore, when invited to speak on the subject in 1907, deliberately titled his lecture Visva Sahitya. The tension between “comparative literature” and “world literature” acquired an added dimension here, that of a context defined by the social, economic and cultural consequences of colonial rule. This tension continues to pose a challenge in current postcolonial and global times, riven as they are by the heritage of the past and the crises of the present. How can we resolve this tension in a manner that is consistent with the universalism of Weltliteratur or Visva Sahitya without disregarding the contexts that overshadow and imperil literary communication?

The unsettling of hitherto existing frameworks of literary studies has also raised new questions for comparative studies such as multilingualism in literature, oral and performative modes of literary communication, the divide between the canonical and the popular, and more generally the nature of the literary, its relationship to language, to other knowledge systems, to the exercise of power and privilege, and its function in society.

Abstracts (200-300 words) for proposed papers are invited that reflect on the theory and practice of comparativism in light of the questions outlined above. The languages of the conference will be English and German. Abstracts should be sent to Prof. Madhu Sahni, Secretary, Goethe Society of India – – by 15 December 2012 so that we can get back to you before the end of the year. Accommodation will be provided in the University guest house for outstation participants. Selected papers will be published in the next Yearbook of the Goethe Society of India.


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