Taking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Pascale Casanova’s field-defining La République mondiale des lettres (The World Republic of Letters, 1999) as its point of departure, this conference seeks to decentralize the praxis of cultural reading and literary critique that the notion of Paris as the world capital of literature represents. Drawing inspiration from a host of decolonial projects that seek to renegotiate the terms in which we understand the world—a process that Walter Mignolo terms “epistemic delinking”—we seek to examine trans-peripheral and counter-hegemonic cultural infrastructures that flourished despite, in resistance to, and in the aftermath of colonial domination. This project is historical, but also oriented toward the present and, crucially, dedicated to rethinking the epistemic assumptions that undergird the study of literature and associated forms of cultural production in the present.
For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—or so the story goes—Paris was the world capital of literature: the place where writers from throughout the globe attained literary consecration and via which their work entered the rarified circuits of world literature. Yet, in this same period, Paris also served another kind of centre: a meeting place for writers, intellectuals, and activists from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia who would spearhead decolonial and revolutionary projects throughout the regions of the world now known as the Global South.
This other Paris was just one node in a much larger network of translation, circulation, and intellectual exchange that extended across what was known as the first, second, and third worlds in the second half of the twentieth century. The Bandung conference of 1955, as well as the emergence of Afro-Asian, Tricontinental, and Third World solidarity movements, marked not only a geopolitical shift, but also a philosophical and symbolic one, further displacing the European city as the centre of knowledge production and political organization.
Taking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Pascale Casanova’s field-defining La République mondiale des lettres (The World Republic of Letters, 1999) as its point of departure, and with the many debates that followed in mind (see, for instance, Apter, Cheah, and Mufti, as well as recent monographs published in the “Cambridge Studies in World Literature” series edited by Debjani Ganguly and Francesca Orsini), this conference seeks to further decentralize the praxis of cultural reading and literary critique that the notion of Paris as the world capital of literature represents. Drawing inspiration from a host of decolonial projects that seek to renegotiate the terms in which we understand the world—a process that Walter Mignolo terms “epistemic delinking”—we seek to examine trans-peripheral and counter-hegemonic cultural infrastructures that flourished despite, in resistance to, and in the aftermath of colonial domination. This project is historical, but also oriented toward the present and, crucially, dedicated to rethinking the epistemic assumptions that undergird the study of literature and associated forms of cultural production in the present.
While dominant models of world literature have largely focused on canonical works and formats established by the cultural industry and institutions of the Global North, these rarely account for the oral, indigenous, clandestine, digital, or pirated circulations which constitute key disseminations channels in the Global South. Focus on the book format, sales indicators, awards, and the influence of major publishing houses, moreover, reinforces the centrality of western (or, northern) expression as the measure against which other forms of production are read. Hence, decolonizing the World Republic of Letters requires expanding the epistemic borders against which we conceptualize categories such as “literature.” Here, we understand the concept of “border” both in a political and metaphorical sense: as the borders between nation-states, which impose visible confines on a “free” territory as well as metaphorical borders, which, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o has argued, constitute cultural “cages” that sustain the imperial order and have an impact on narrative processes, distribution, and visibility. Against this backdrop, a new conception of literature can be inscribed: one increasingly understood as something that can go beyond the “literate” dimension and which benefits from new technological spaces and perceptual hybridizations.
Our aim is, on the one hand, to identify and examine the infrastructure of textual production in and across the Global South, including independent publishing initiatives, journals, magazines, blogs, “cartoneras,” performance and oral traditions, translations, and festivals, to name a few examples. And, on the other hand, the conference seeks to critically discuss the very definition of literature coined and disseminated from the production centres of western knowledge and aesthetics so that subterranean, anomalous, and counter-hegemonic transactions between different regions of the Global South can be illuminated.
Proposals should include the author’s name, affiliation, email, title, and a 500 word abstract and must be submitted by 30 November 2023 to: email@example.com
The conference welcomes researchers at all levels and on all regions of the Global South. While we encourage papers that engage with material in a range of languages, including languages not of European origin, presentations themselves should be in English.
Participation in the conference is free of charge. Lunch during the conference days and one dinner at a restaurant will be covered by the organization. Travel and accommodation must be individually organized by the participants.
- Independent publishing networks, including journals, newspaper, and little magazines.
- Translation and circulation across minor and/or languages of non-European origin
- Translation programmes between cultures of the Global South, particularly beyond English and other imperial languages
- Literary congresses and festivals in/from the Global South
- Orature, performance, and transmedia
- South-south literary influences and exchange
- Competing literary systems and network-building in the Cold War and beyond
- Literary and artistic representations of other cultures and regions of the Global South, including South-South travel narratives
- Integration programmes and strategic alliances within the Global South
- Narratives of shared belonging among different cultures of the Global South
- South-south comparative literature
- Epistemologies and literary theory from the South(s)
- The untranslatable, the vernacular, the idiomatic
Apter, Emily. Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability. New York: Verso, 2013.
Bhattacharya, Baidik. Postcolonial Writing in the Era of World Literature: Texts, Territories, Globalizations. London: Routledge, 2020.
Cheah, Peng. What is a World? Durham: Duke UP, 2016.
Fyfe, Alexander & Madhu Krishnan, eds. African Literatures as World Literature. London: Bloomsbury, 2022.
Garland Mahler, Anne. From the Tricontinental to the Global South: Race, Radicalism, and Transnational Solidarity. Durham: Duke UP, 2018.
Helgesson, Stefan. Decolonisations of Literature: Critical Practice in Africa and Brazil after 1945. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2022.
Kalliney, Peter J. The Aesthetic Cold War: Decolonization and Global Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2022.
Mufti, Amir. Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literatures. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016.
Müller, Gesine, Jorge J. Locane & Benjamin Loy, eds. Re-Mapping World Literature: Writing, Book Markets and Epistemologies between Latin America and the Global South. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2018.
Phaf-Rheinberger, Ineke & Koichi Hagimoto, eds. Geografía caleidoscópicas. América Latina y sus imaginarios intercontinentales. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2022.
Phạm, Quỳnh N. & Robbie Shilliam, eds. Meanings of Bandung: Postcolonial Orders and Decolonial Visions. London/New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016.
Jorge J. Locane, Estefanía Bournot, Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra, Azucena G. Blanco, Rubén Almendros, and Coordinator: Ana María Ramírez Gómez