Yeah, Sure. But, How?

Vanessa Evans

I want to take this opportunity to speak transparently about methodology in literary study, its anxieties and potential remedies. I hope I’m not only speaking to myself here, but I think there is much to be gained from students of literary study taking time to think more about that dreaded how. As such, this blog post calls for an honest conversation about why an aura of insecurity exists around the how of what we do. Allaying my own anxieties has been a long road, one that world literature and its theory at first complicated but eventually clarified. I hope I can encourage some of you to find comfort wading into those murky methodological waters with somewhat less trepidation. I believe literary study has real contributions to make here—if we can only talk about them more.

Prior to writing the proposal for my dissertation, it pains me to admit that I didn’t spend much time thinking about how I was constructing my literary critique. I close read with a particular approach in search of certain yields that related to my argument—that was my method (and in many ways it still is). I’m not saying that there is something wrong with this, but there is something wrong with the fact that this was the extent to which I could articulate my process. Somewhere along the line “methodology” had become a bad word for me, a word from more scientific fields that the art of literary critique avoided directly interacting with for fear of wringing the life from what we do. Methods were dry, scientific, and somehow oblique to my work. I argued that literary critique performs, it shows rather than tells, all the while knowing I was hiding somewhere behind such routines. I see this as a symptom of something larger now, and that the anxiety this nodded toward only served to stifle my work and my thinking.

I finally faced the limits of this narrative when I wrote the proposal for my dissertation. Here there could be no sleight of hand—I needed to say how I would make this project happen and that process had to be communicable outside my own head (*sharp inhale*). The fear was (temporarily) immobilizing. Thankfully I spent the months previous preparing for my subfield exam in which some past clever version of myself had chosen texts that actually helped me contend with my anxiety. Two of the list’s three sections were theoretical contributions on Indigenous literary theory and world theory (the latter what I have come to call the body of theory growing out of world literature). Reading these sections and observing the ways they spoke to one another through their commitment to comparative approaches convinced me that this could be a way forward. Here, methodology was being discussed, pushed, challenged, and changed—it was centered rather than peripheral. As a student, reading others speaking candidly about their how in a way I could comprehend shifted my thinking. Say what you want about the problems with comprehensive exams—and there are many—but this reading really helped me.

Now this is not to say that comparative studies and its methodologies are a solution and way forward for all of us with such anxieties. Comparison has its complications. Perhaps Amir Mufti says it best in Forget English! when he exposes the Orientalist logic in world literature, its impulse “to bridge the social distance between First and Third Worlds, between the centers of the world system and its peripheries” (20). Anyone engaging with comparative approaches needs to move cautiously but it remains my contention that there is still a great deal of good to be done here. As such, I follow the lead of brilliant postcolonial and Indigenous theorists and writers working with world literatures—the literatures of our planet—rather than within world literature (a distinction for another day). This approach has allowed me to embrace what I observe to be literary study’s processual nature, a recognition that our readings are necessarily incomplete. Our work is always in process and while there needs to be vigilance here, there can also be kindness and generosity.

Ironically enough, the contribution my dissertation seeks to make is primarily methodological. It’s a project invested in decolonizing the way we perform literary study and it asks for a reconsideration of how we, the students and literary scholars who teach and study Indigenous literatures, can do differently and do better. I do not mean to oversimplify remedies to these and other anxieties we encounter in our work but, rather, to start a conversation about them. There is a heft that comes with what we do and it’s in feeling and conversing about that weight and its various shapes that we demystify our anxieties bit by bit. My way forward has been through comparative studies but yours may be elsewhere—let’s talk about it more.

Vanessa Evans is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at York University. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Calgary and an M.Litt. in Modernities from the University of Glasgow. Vanessa is currently a visiting lecturer at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz.

WLWG Roundtable

“Want a different ethic? Tell a different story.”  –Thomas King

Taking seriously Thomas King’s declaration, this year’s annual roundtable asks what world literature means for the graduate students of York University. This event seeks to create a space where hegemonic narratives can be contested. What might it look like to imagine world literature otherwise (Justice 2018)?

The World Literature Working Group is a student-led initiative that seeks to bring together scholars from a number of departments and disciplines to discuss the world as it pertains to literary, translation, and comparative studies. At this roundtable a panel of graduate student researchers will share ongoing work that sketches the contours of world literature at York University. Guests are invited to attend and are encouraged to participate in this discussion.

PANELISTS INCLUDE:  Shoilee Khan, Angie Park, Zaynab Ali, Carolina De Souza, Tyler Ball

CHAIR: Justyna Poray-Wybranowska


IWL 2016: Tyler Ball

I attended the Institute for World Literature in the summer of 2016 when it was held at Harvard University. The program was attended by over 150 scholars from nearly 50 different countries in all. I enrolled in Eric Hayot’s seminar entitled “The Big and the Small,” which considered the importance of scalar models in world literature; as well as Paul Giles’ seminar on “Cross-temporalities,” which introduced temporal vectors to my analysis. There were plenary lectures given by Rebecca Walkowitz, David Damrosch, and Homi Bhabha. All of the professors regularly held office hours, so I was able to meet with Bruce Robbins, and Margaret Cohen to discuss my dissertation project. I presented my own work at the Postcolonial & World Literature Colloquium to colleagues working in related fields, and received excellent feedback.

Students who attend IWL were provided with a university library card, which in this case gave me access to the largest university collection in the world. Needless to say, I felt as though I’d died and gone to heaven. I used this opportunity to conduct research for a now published article, entitled “Sof’town Slueths: The Hard-Boiled Genre Goes to Jo’burg.”

Although the IWL is a valuable intellectual space, it isn’t just a place for research; there is plenty of opportunity to make connections and have some fun in the process. A short train ride away from Boston are the towns of Gloucester, Amherst and Concord—home to Charles Olson, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, to name but a few. My personal highlight, in this regard, was swimming in Walden Pond before taking a nap in the shade of Emerson’s garden—an experience I will not soon forget!

Investigating Postcoloniality and Postcolonialism as the Empire Writes Back: Special Issue of Socrates Journal

Socrates is an international, multi-disciplinary refereed and indexed scholarly journal interested in promoting research in Language and Literature, Philosophy, Political Science and Law. They are now accepting submissions for papers and creative pieces that engage with aspects of postcolonialism and postcoloniality for their upcoming special issue, Investigating Postcoloniality and Postcolonialism as the Empire Writes Back.

The deadline for submissions is February 28th, 2018. Click here to see their complete cfp and submission guidelines.

Archives of Resistance: Cosmopolitanism, Memory and World Literature Conference

The University of Leeds is hosting an international three-day conference on world literature and its connections to cosmopolitanism, memory studies, and many other aspects of capitalist modernity including refugee crises, neo-fascisms and environmental disaster. Possible paper topics include:

  • Economic crisis
  • World-ecology
  • Combined and uneven development
  • Postcolonialism and decolonial struggles
  • Animal studies
  • Biopolitics/ necropolitics
  • Posthumanism
  • Islamophobia
  • Settler colonialism
  • Indigenous studies
  • Literary sociology (e.g., print culture, book market, UNESCO)
  • Manifestos
  • Petro-culture

Click here to view their full cfp, or here to visit their conference page.

The conference is scheduled to take place June 20th-22nd, 2018, but the  deadline for abstract submissions is coming up very soon – January 15th!

Borders, Place, and Translations Conference

The Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics of California State University in Long Beach is currently accepting abstract submissions for their 53rd annual conference, “Borders, Place, and Translations.” Possible paper topics include:

  • Political places such as the border, the city, the region, and the nation
  • Personal places in literature, film, and other media
  • Speculative and conceptual places such as haunted houses, mazes, and fictionalized landscapes
  • Digital spaces, social media, and the borders of selective community discourse
  • The concept of borders and their relationship to diaspora studies and identity studies
  • The locus classicus, or the “places” of literary texts
  • The relationship of language translation to place
  • The concept of translation beyond the linguistic

The deadline for submissions is February 2nd, 2018, and the conference will take place April 25th-26th, 2018. Click here to view their complete cfp.

Just Representations: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Justice in World Literature Conference

The Colloquium Committee of York University’s English Graduate Students’ Association (EGSA) is now accepting abstract submissions for our annual  conference. This year’s conference, “Just Representations: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Justice in World Literature,” will take place May 4-5, 2018. We welcome submissions on a variety of topics relating to the idea of justice in/and world literature.  Possible paper topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Fictional representations of international criminal courts
  • Issues of justice in world literature
  • Environmental justice/ecocriticism
  • Fascism and eco-fascism
  • Right-wing populism
  • Representing/representations of the Holocaust
  • Israel/Palestine Studies
  • Voices of survivors of cultural genocide
  • Memory and poetics
  • Post-Apartheid drama and literature in South Africa
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a Canadian context
  • The case for and problematics of reparations
  • Indigenous resurgence, resistance, restitution
  • Diasporic literature
  • Refugee experiences
  • Critical Race Studies
  • Decolonial love

Please submit a 250-word abstract for a 15-20 minute presentation, along with a short biographical statement, to The deadline for submissions is February 4, 2018. Click here to see our complete cfp.

As a complement to the colloquium, the theme of the 2019 issue of EGSA’s academic journal, Pivot, will also be “Just Representations.” The journal invites submissions for publication from colloquium participants.

World Literature Working Group Roundtable Session

We are very proud to announce our first ever roundtable session, scheduled to take place Monday, January 29th, 2018, from 4:30pm until 6:30pm in 118 Stong College. All are welcome.

Tea, coffee, and cookies will be served. Come for the intellectual discussion, stay for the free food!

More details to follow.


How do you use world literature theory and methodology in your research? What texts, authors, or critical approaches do you think of when you say “world literature”? Share your research angle!

Our blog is now accepting submissions from graduate students, independent scholars, writers, thinkers, and artists on any topic relating to the field of world literature. Send a 500-1000 word blog entry and a 50 word bio to, and we will let you know when your piece will appear on our blog. We welcome submissions in a variety of styles and formats, including reflection pieces, lists of still-unanswered questions, as well as works in progress.

Please allow for a two-week turnaround time on the submissions, but do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions about the submission process.