Goethe, Borges, and World Literature

Kurosh Amoui

The Hafiz-Goethe Monument, Weimar, Germany. Photo by James Hodkinson.

Goethe’s brief formulation of World Literature (Weltliteratur in German) as noted in his conversations with J. P. Eckermann is well-known for scholars and students of World and Comparative Literature: “National literature is now rather an unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach” (p. 133). The debate on World Literature, whether as a category or as a practice, has always got back to these few lines, notably in David Damrosch’s 2003 What Is World Literature? Yet, this much quoted fragment has almost completely eclipsed another text of Goethe’s that primarily concerns the topic of World Literature: West-East Divan (or West-östlicher Divan in German).

The West-East Divan was first published in 1819, followed by a second expanded edition in 1827 (same year that the Weltliteratur conversation with Eckermann took place). The Divan is primarily known as an imitation of the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz (as noted, for instance, in The Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature); however, in addition to the poetry portion of the book, the Divan comprises an impressive 250 pages of “Notes and Essays for a Better Understanding of the West-East Divan.” The reason why these “Notes and Essays” have remained overlooked in English is not complicated: they were not translated into English until 2010 with Martin Bidney’s complete translation of the Divan (a new complete translation of the Divan by Eric Ormsby has also been recently published. I have yet to look at this new release, but the publication of two translations within ten years after two centuries of neglect suggests what a gem had been dismissed for such a long time). A detailed examination of the “Notes and Essays” is beyond the scope of this blog post, and I hope to publish my reading of the text sooner than later. In the meantime, I maintain that this section of Goethe’s Divan is a remarkable text for students and scholars of World and Comparative Literature for several reasons. First and foremost, it clarifies Goethe’s vision of World Literature when put into practice by him. Although Goethe does not use the term Weltliteratur in the Divan, the text is certainly his most comprehensive account of what it means and what it looks like to go beyond the borders of National Literatures. His specific destination in the Divan is “the Orient,” and, in his own words, he acts as “a traveler who will be worth hearing if he eagerly assimilates the ways of life of a strange country, tries to appropriate its forms of speech, and learns how to share views and comprehend customs” (p. 175). Through this romantic, exotic starting point, Goethe offers a historicist account of “Oriental poetry” that begins with the Bible and continues with pre-Islam Arabic poems, then the Quran, and finally 500 years of Persian poetry between 11th and 16th centuries. (He also touches on the topic of translation in a few paragraphs which could be additionally interesting for the field of World/Comparative Literature.)

What I would like to emphasize here is that Goethe’s “Orient,” based on the “Notes and Essays” of the Divan, is a “real” geopolitical entity with concrete borders, and its poetry could be a means to not only learn about customs and habits of “real Oriental” people, but also to identify the “Geist” and “essence” of the “Orient” and its culture. This “Geist” or “essence” of the “Orient,” that characterizes the “Orient” as opposed to the “Occident” or the “West,” according to Goethe, is “despotism.” (We later see how Karl Marx and Max Weber, for instance, take for granted the legitimacy of this “Oriental despotism” within their sociological analyses of Asiatic societies and Islam.) My disagreement with Goethe, however, is not about his answer, that whether or not “despotism” is the accurate point of differentiation between the “Orient” and the “Occident.” Rather, I believe that the question itself is misleading; looking for a “Geist” or “essence” to create some form of distinction between “Orient” and “Occident” is useless, and such a question can only satisfy an “Orientalist” will to power over the “Orient.” Of course, Goethe had not read Edward Said; but neither had someone like J. L. Borges, and Borges’ approach to the “Orient” and his practice of World Literature is fundamentally different to that of Goethe.

Borges has several short stories that deal with “Oriental” themes, characters, locations, and texts. One can think of “The Aleph,” the mysterious “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Book of Sand,” “Hakim, the Masked Dyer of Merv,” or “Averroës’ Search.” The short story that stands tall among his works of fiction as a practice of World Literature is “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim,” a re-creation of Farid al-din Attar’s 12th century Persian Sufi book of poetry Conference of the Birds. Again, a detailed investigation into Borges’ body of work with respect to World Literature and things of the “Orient” requires a more extensive piece; still, we can get a glimpse into his understanding of the “Orient” by looking at a fragment from his 1977 lecture on “The Thousand and One Nights” (from Seven Nights) where he offers his most direct account of the topic:

“How does one define the Orient (not the real Orient, which does not exist)? I would say that the notions of East and West are generalizations, but that no individual can feel himself to be Oriental. I suppose that a man feels himself to be Persian or Hindu or Malaysian, but not Oriental. In the same way, no one feels himself to be Latin American: we feel ourselves to be Argentines or Chileans. It doesn’t matter; the concept does not exist.” (p. 51)

Borges does not deny the existence of an “Orient,” but at the same time he refuses to think of it as a “real” geopolitical entity with material borders. His “Orient” belongs to the realm of imagination; it is a world within books like 1001 Nights and Conference of the Birds that belong to a planetary library. This is how, contrary to Goethe, he does not fall into an essentializing “Orientalist” trap.

Borges’ understanding of the “Orient” and of the potentials of practices of World Literature (for example what he achieves in “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”) does not come at random; nor is it merely due to his genius. I can think of three main reasons that helped frame this vision of his: 1) as a Spanish-speaking writer in South America, he has a fluctuating relationship with the European culture, suspended between the center and the periphery; 2) his polyglotism, and his knowledge of English, German, Italian, and Arabic in addition to Spanish; 3) his experience with the Jewish diaspora (famously, in his 1934 essay “I, a Jew,” Borges points out that “Acevedo,” his last name from his mother’s side, indicates that his ancestors were Spanish Jews that moved to Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition and then came to South America in early 18th century).

That could be the lesson for us students of World/Comparative Literature, to appreciate the significance of learning languages and to be sensitive and attentive to narratives of diaspora and the periphery, in order to expand our vision of what literature is and can do.

Kurosh Amoui is a PhD candidate in Social & Political Thought at York University, Canada, where his in-progress dissertation is entitled “Snails and Snakes: the Esoteric, the Islamicate, and Contemporary Counter Culture Fiction.” Having received his BA in Sociology at the University of Tehran, Iran, he completed his first MA in English at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan, Canada, and his second MA in Religious Studies at Queen’s University, Canada. He also writes poetry in Farsi/Persian.

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. Seven Nights. Translated by Eliot Weinberger. New York: New Directions, 1984.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Selected Non-Fictions. Edited by Eliot Weinberger. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Damrosch, David. What Is World Literature? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Conversations with Eckermann (1823-1832). Translated by John Oxenford. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. West-East Divan: The Poems, with “Notes and Essays”: Goethe’s Intercultural Dialogues. Translated by Martin Bidney. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. West-Eastern Divan: Complete, Annotated New Translation, Including Goethe’s ‘Notes and Essays’ & the Unpublished Poems. Translated by Eric Ormsby. London: Ginko, 2019.

The Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature: From the European Enlightenment to the Global Present. Edited by David Damrosch, Natalie Melas, and Mbongiseni Buthelezi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.


Seoul-Searching in South Korea: A World Literature Student’s Overseas Research Experience-In-Progress

Angie Min Ah Park

One mid-September morning, I boarded my flight from YYZ to Seoul, South Korea, embarking on my first, semester-long, overseas-research trip. Lifting off the tarmac, this exciting journey marked the end of a hectic summer, mainly spent completing my pre-dissertation requirements, and the start to a new stage of my doctoral study as a candidate. The butterflies in my stomach felt like a combined reaction to the newfound freedom after exams and the fear from the realization that, sink or swim, I am mostly on my own now. The concept of studying abroad was vaguely familiar to me as I had luckily participated in IWL 2018 in Tokyo. Still, this time around, the trip’s elongated length of 12 weeks and its goal of conducting my own project gave me some lurking anxieties. Nonetheless, I guess time flies when you are immersed in new explorations, and it has already been 6 weeks since that nervous 13-hour flight. This post will discuss my work-in-progress thus far, including the process of applying for the Mitacs Research Award and the goals of my research. Although my project is still ongoing, I share this post in case fellow World Literature students aspiring to undertake overseas research during their graduate studies may find this information timely and useful.

So, here we go. My trip was primarily funded by Mitacs, a Canadian, non-profit organization that supports the research innovation and career development of multidisciplinary students, postdocs, and professors. Their program includes global internships with partnering organizations and travel awards such as the one that funded me: the Globalink Research Award. I applied for this award in January 2019, after receiving a kind alert from Dr. Marie-Christine Leps, one of my dissertation-committee members. According to the award description, successful undergraduate or graduate students from Canadian universities will receive $6000 to conduct their own research projects at overseas universities for 12 to 24 weeks from a list of possible countries and regions. The funds support travel, accommodation, and research-related expenses, and up to $500 in student stipend.

The application process to this award, on the other hand, is necessarily extensive. It requires a form to be filled out, signed by the applicant’s home-university and host-university supervisors (meaning the latter has to be found by the applicant prior to applying); supporting letters from both supervisors; the host supervisor’s CV as well as your own; and of course, a research proposal, featuring your rationale, project background, project objectives, its significance, relevant citations, and a detailed timeline. I also had to resubmit my application approximately five weeks after applying (within Mitacs’ normal award adjudication time), mainly because my initial proposal for “research” included taking international-school courses, while the award criteria did not allow its recipients to take coursework, summer schools, etc. with the award funds. Nevertheless, Mitacs generously offered 14 days to submit a revised proposal, and this second proposal was thankfully accepted.

My research in South Korea, made possible by this award, explores: 1) the reception, translation, and dissemination of Korean diasporic literature at “home,” and 2) thematic, formal, or political connections among contemporary and modern Korean literatures and Korean North American literature. This short-term project further contributes to my dissertation that examines the forms, politics, and aesthetics of Korean (-) Canadian literature, reading such texts comparatively and transnationally as “world literature”– according to David Damrosch’s reader-centered definition of this term as “a mode and circulation and of reading” (5). Additionally, I wanted to observe the scholarly conversations regarding world- and diasporic- literature studies in South Korea, perhaps in relevance to the growing institutional and writers’ efforts to globalize Korean cultural works at home and abroad.

The weeks thus far have been both fast and slow. I have visited many literary sites and events, including the Literature and Translation Institute of Korea, the 8th Seoul International Writers’ Festival, the 15th Seoul WOW Book Festival, the Museum of Modern Korean Literature, the Kyobo Bookstore headquarters, and the magnificent Starfield Library, at the bustling commercial centre of the Coex Mall in Gangnam. I have also spent a few weeks exploring the online and offline archives of Seoul and Yonsei University libraries, expanding my knowledge of modern and contemporary Korean literature as well as criticisms on world and diasporic literature studies.

My goal in the upcoming weeks is to establish networks with scholars in South Korea specializing in literatures of the Korean diaspora and to gather publications and quantitative research on the sale, translation, classification, and reception of sample Korean North American texts in South Korea. By the end of this term, I aim to produce an article-length paper on the “place” of Korean (-) Canadian literature, among literary markets, “home” and “host” readers, and nationalistic and trans-nationalizing scholarly discussions.

As I am still in the midst of collecting data, I hope to say more regarding this topic next term. For now, this is all that I wanted to share: a glimpse to my research journey thus far, providing a more pragmatic view to its process than scholarly. If you have any professional or methodological advice on pursuing research abroad or resources on topics related to my work, I invite you to connect with me. In closing, I would also like to invite fellow students of the World Literature Working Group to actively share creative research opportunities amongst our members to contribute to our collective professional development and respective research. Finally, I want to thank Vanessa Evans and WLWG for generously inviting me to share my experience-in-progress.

To read more of my research and for my full bio, visit angieminahpark.com

Tips from a Seasoned Summer School Participant: How to Make the Most of Academic Programs

Justyna Poray-Wybranowska

Having attended two IWL sessions (the 2015 session in Lisbon, Portugal, and the 2018 session in Tokyo, Japan) and two other summer school programs focusing on postcolonial ecocriticism and on climate change adaptation, I can safely say I’m an experienced summer school participant. There is a strategy to making the most of these types of academic programs. Below, I cover what I learned from these experiences, and what I think other students could gain from attending the IWL or similar events. Think of this post as “How To” guide for participating in summer school programs like a boss.

Tip #1: Do all of your readings. If possible, do them before the program starts.

Last year, I spent almost two months in Tokyo. I traveled there to participate in the 8th annual IWL session taking place at the University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus, and stayed an extra three weeks to do as much eating and sightseeing as humanly possible. (It was expensive but totally worth it). The IWL program consists of intensive seminars led by renowned scholars and theorists, colloquia which bring together participants working in a specific field, distinguished guest speakers, and visits to local cultural sites such as museums. We met on campus Monday through Thursday, for between four and nine hours per day. Fridays were reserved for optional cultural activities. Weekends were free time.

The first thing you need to keep in mind about summer schools is that “free time” doesn’t actually mean free time. For most participants, it loosely translates to reading time. Most summer schools assign readings, and they can be quite long. (Each of my two IWL seminars had an inch-thick course pack containing our readings.) Do you have to do all of the readings? No, of course not. You’re an adult. You make your own choices. Should you? Absolutely.

If you’ve ever taught a class of any kind, you’ll recognize the following scenario. You arrive in class, excited to give the day’s lesson. You start talking to students about issues that the readings assigned for today bring up. You get blank stares. You ask them some easy questions, just to get them into it. Silence. It’s clear to you: none of them have done the readings, and none of them have any idea what you’re talking about. This scenario happens all too often, even in summer school programs. It’s disheartening for the seminar leader. It’s awkward for the participants. And it prevents you from getting the most out of the program. There will often be a small handful of participants who do all of the readings – be one of them. It will ensure you make the most of the learning that happens in the program, and it will show the seminar leader that you have put work into familiarizing yourself with the material they assigned. This is important – we’ll get back to it later (in Tip #3).

Ideally, you should do the readings before the program starts. Every summer school I’ve gone to has made the readings available to participants online before the start of the program. (Some quite early, others far too late.) I strongly recommend doing all of your reading before arriving, if at all possible. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Once the program starts, everything will be happening very fast. Your seminar leader will expect you to be familiar with the material on the syllabus for that day. If you haven’t done the readings already, you’ll have to go home after class every day and read in the evenings to prepare yourself for the next day’s seminar. You’ll be tired from class, and reading is the last thing you’ll want to do. It really helps if you’ve done the reading beforehand; that way you can just look through your notes or skim the material for the following day to refresh your memory.
  2. You’re going to want to participate in the social life that inevitably springs up when a group of academics are together in a new city – they’ll want to check out the area, get some food, spend way too long in a bookstore, and get to know new people. You will not feel motivated to skip the socializing in order to stay in your hostel/dorm room and read, and you will fall behind on your reading. But if you’ve done the reading beforehand, you will feel zero academic guilt about going out, and you’ll still be ready for class tomorrow.

Tip #2: Stay on campus and walk to the nearest grocery store.

I stayed on campus at every summer school program I attended except the 2015 IWL in Lisbon. Dorms were the most cost-effective accommodation option and were always located on campus or a short walk from campus. I highly recommend taking advantage of on-campus accommodations the next time you attend a conference or summer school program. They’re generally great.

At the IWL last year, I had the chance to stay in the faculty dorms on campus. (I don’t know how they differed from the student dorm rooms, as I didn’t get to see those, but just knowing that this building was reserved for faculty made me feel fancy.) Staying on campus proved to be an excellent decision. The dorms were clean, quiet, and had a well-equipped shared kitchen. Although staying on a university campus can be costly, it is cheaper than staying in an off-campus hostel/hotel/Airbnb. Consider also the time and money you save by not having to commute to campus every day. In Tokyo, where public transit is lightning-fast but can be quite expensive, staying on campus was a life-saver. It saved me a significant amount of money on back and forth travel, and it meant that I didn’t have to wake up early and face the Tokyo morning rush hour (which is a whole experience on its own) to get to class every day.

There can, however, be surprises with dorm rooms. At a 2017 summer school, I signed up for a shared dorm room and was assigned a roommate. Upon arrival at the dorms, I discovered there was only one bed for the two of us. Cue awkward discussion between two complete strangers about which side of the bed is whose. (Thankfully, my roommate ended up being an awesome person and we got along splendidly.) If you wish to avoid similar surprises, do your homework. Call the dorm, check their website, ask around. Conversely, if you’re feeling adventurous, just go for it.

Once you arrive at your accommodation, it’s time to get your bearings. You’re probably going to want to check out the area you’re staying in, or maybe there’s a certain landmark or site that you’ve been looking forward to visiting. Great. Do all of those things. But another important Day 1 task is locating the nearest grocery store. Travel and accommodations can be expensive, even if you get the cheapest ones, so you’ve got to save money where you can. I do this by limiting how often I eat at restaurants.

Summer school programs, as well as many conferences, will often offer some light breakfast in the form of coffee with muffins or pastries. Possibly fruit, if you’re lucky. But, personally, I need something more substantial for breakfast. The brain burns a lot of calories, and eating seven muffins just isn’t socially acceptable. So I always locate a grocery store early on in my stay and stock up on breakfast food and snack food to get me through the long days. You should do this too. It will save you a lot of money, and keep you from being so famished that you eat seven muffins. Win-win.

Tip #3: Set some goals and go to office hours.

I’ve gone to summer school programs as an MA student (2013), a first-year PhD student (2015), a third-year PhD student (2017), and a fourth-year PhD student (2018). I’ve found that the closer I was to knowing exactly what I wanted to research, the more useful the program was for me.

Summer school programs immerse you in the scholarship and conversations currently happening in a certain field, so it’s a great way of figuring out if this field is for you or not. As an MA student and a first-year PhD student, I mainly attended out of a general interest in the topic. The 2013 summer school program, Just Politics? Postcolonial Ecocriticism Between Imagination and Occupation organized by ASNEL (now called GAPS: Gesellschaft für Anglophone Postkoloniale Studien, or the Association for Anglophone Postcolonial Studies), was directly relevant to my interest in animals and the environment in postcolonial literature. And when I took the Comparative and World Literature course with Dr. Susan Ingram in 2014, world literature caught my interest. It seemed like a useful theoretical tool for putting postcolonial literatures from different geographical regions into conversations with one another. Without getting into the treacherous territory of what world literature is or is not, and how it relates (or doesn’t) to postcolonialism, I can say that the 2015 IWL program definitely spurred my interest in world literature. It presented me with new theoretical perspectives I hadn’t yet encountered and gave me the chance to meet and chat with some of the most renowned world literature scholars working today. It was a lot of fun, and it helped me delve into the “world” of world literature in order to decide whether or not I wanted to do a dissertation project in this field. In addition, it was very useful in terms of forging academic connections.

I say “forging connections” because “networking” is a bad word in academic circles. 99% of academics hate it. But it is a vital part of building your career as a scholar. My first time attending the IWL, I had no goals other than learning about world literature. I kinda-sorta knew what I wanted to research, but my dissertation project ended up changing drastically in my second and third years. Looking back, I know that if I had had a clearer idea of my research trajectory, if I had known then what my project would turn into, I might have attended other talks, signed up for other seminars, and chatted up other people. I therefore think it’s most productive to go to the IWL or to similar events a few years into your PhD, or at least when you know exactly what you will be writing about, as you’ll be able to better strategize your time, select the seminars that are most relevant to you, and connect with other up-and-coming scholars in your field. (This does not mean you shouldn’t go earlier, if the opportunity present itself – I just personally found it to be a more fruitful experience later on in my own research progress.)

My second time attending the IWL, in 2018, I went with a specific game plan in mind. I had two goals: I wanted to pick the brains of scholars whose work I had been following for years and meet other junior scholars who, like me, were working on climate change in world literature and wanted to collaborate in putting together conference panels and other similar events. Let’s talk about Goal 1 first.

I signed up to take seminars with Dr. Ursula K Heise and Dr. Pheng Cheah, whose scholarship had been formative to my own thinking about ecocriticism and human-animal relationships and about postcolonialism and cosmopolitanism, respectively. Both these seminars were excellent. They addressed questions I had been struggling with in my research for a while, and introduced me to wonderful texts that I probably never would have learned about otherwise. 10/10; would take again. I did all the readings, took notes furiously, and actively participated in the classroom discussion. And when I had built up the courage to ask for a meeting, I went to talk to Dr. Heise and Dr. Cheah during their office hours. I highly recommend doing this. It’s great to establish a rapport with your seminar leader early on, and to let them know how your research fits into the themes and issues being discussed in class.

Your seminar leaders are valuable sources of knowledge – they have more research experience than you, they’ve read more widely than you, and chances are they’ll be able to point you towards valuable sources for your own project. I talked to my seminar leaders about my research and my dissertation project, and got valuable reading recommendations from them. In the relative privacy of office hours, I also got to ask them about their views on certain key scholarly issues, and got to hear their personal, un-filtered takes on some of the dominant research in the field – this was priceless, and often hilarious. In preparation for each meeting, I read up on the most recent book or article they published. I recommend doing this too, because it’s useful to know what a certain scholar has been thinking about recently. It helps you understand their critical position, and lets you place yourself in relation to what they’re currently interested in.

I had some specific things that I wanted to accomplish during IWL 2018, and it meant that I had to use my time there effectively. In addition to taking full advantage of seminar leaders’ office hours, I also spent a lot more time getting to know my fellow participants. This contributed to Goal 2. I made connections with early career scholars working all over the world, many of whom I still speak with regularly. We’ve gone to conferences together, proposed panels together, shared CFPs and job calls that are relevant to our respective fields, and established a group chat which is still going strong. These types of connections are invaluable in grad school and after grad school. For one thing, your summer school friends keep you sane when your normal friends (i.e. your friends who are not pursuing lengthy and impractical degrees) cannot understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. For another, they’re useful professional connections.

It’s imperative to know people beyond your program and your institution: they can alert you to vacancies and important upcoming conference in their region, tell you about the job market situation and application conventions in their country, and give you valuable perspective on your own grad school experience. I learned through my conversations with my IWL friends how differently PhD programs work in different parts of the world, and how vastly different expectations can be. Did you know that in some countries, PhD students are thought of as 9-to-5 workers, and are expected to be on campus five days a week? Did you know that there are no exams or dissertation defenses in some PhD programs? Did you know that in some countries, your dissertation isn’t considered “defended” until it has been published as a monograph? It’s wild. So talk to your summer school program friends. Talk to them about the job market. Talk to them about doing collaborative work. Talk to them about future research goals and funding opportunities. They’re full of useful information.

Tip #4: If they fund you, you should go

My final tip is tricky because it involves making big financial decisions. If you can afford it and if your institution can cover your tuition and (at least part of) the costs of the trip, you should definitely go. Some institutions have an easier time funding their students, and this contributes to the disparity in who gets to participate in these types of events and the conversations that transpire there, and who doesn’t – who gets to be at the table, and who doesn’t, as Dr. Ingram says. Some of the participants I spoke with at the IWL were self-funded; their institution couldn’t afford to send them, but they saved money and covered their own expenses. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum were those who were actually paid by their institutions to attend – not only was their tuition, travel, and accommodation fully covered, but they were also paid an hourly wage for each hour they spent in class, and received per diems to cover the cost of food. (This information made me incredibly envious.)

No one knows your financial situation better than you, and it’s impossible for me to give a general rule of when you should shell out the money and go to the summer school, and when you should skip it. For one thing, the financial cost of the summer school (for you) will largely depend on how much your institution can cover. Inquire about that. Search through your institution’s website. Talk to your supervisor and your program assistant. Call your institution’s awards person. For another, the cost will largely depend on where the event is held (some cities are more expensive than others), and on the types of choices you make while there. Will you eat in restaurants every day, or will you stock up on groceries? Will you be taking public transit to class, or will you be walking? How hard do you plan on partying?

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all summer schools are made equal. I’ve been lucky: I’ve gone to four excellent ones. But I’ve heard horror stories from other graduate students about expensive, boring, disorganized, and unprofessional summer schools. So ask around. Try to contact former participants, if you can. Do some research.

Summer school programs like the IWL are often jokingly described as “summer camp for nerds.” And that’s pretty much exactly what they are. They’re places where people who are passionate about their field of study come together and share their research with like-minded colleagues. I have always found them to be a lot of fun. If you’re the type of person who enthusiastically attends conferences, you will love it. My own time at the IWL, and especially the 2018 program, has been vital to my development as a scholar. I had the opportunity to meet with and talk about my research on world literature, environment, and climate change with some of the leading thinkers in these fields. The feedback I received helped me identify and work through some important limitations in my work, giving my dissertation project its current shape. So for me, it was totally worth it. In fact, I may go again. I hear they’re looking for people to lead colloquia at IWL 2020.

Justyna Poray-Wybranowska is an early career researcher specializing in contemporary anglophone literatures, postcolonial studies, disaster studies, and human-animal studies. She holds a PhD from York University and currently teaches at Ryerson University. Jointly funded by SSHRC and the Provost Dissertation Scholarship, her doctoral research is an interdisciplinary environmental humanities project that investigates the relationship between colonialism and ecological catastrophe in literature from the postcolonial South. Justyna’s work on contemporary literature and media has been published in Studies in Canadian Literature and Otherness: Essays and Studies. Newer work on ecocriticism and world cinema is forthcoming in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment and Shifting Grounds: Cultural Tectonics along the Pacific Rim.


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IWL 2018: Angie Min Ah Park

The 8th IWL session took place on the serene campus of the University of Tokyo, erected north of the bustling Tokyo downtown and surrounded by national museums encircling the beautiful Ueno Onshi Park. I had the privilege of participating in this 8th session held in July among more than 120 scholars from 24 countries and 21 institutions.

In this session, the impressive program included four-week seminars taught by David Damrosch (Harvard), Christopher Bush (Northwestern), Pheng Cheah (UC Berkeley), Jing Tsu (Yale), Ursula Heise (UCLA), Mitsuyoshi Numano (U of Tokyo), Delia Ungureanu (U of Bucharest), Zhang Longxi (City U of Hong Kong), and Wiebke Denecke (Boston). Memorable guest lectures were delivered by artists and translators actively engaging with the worldly possibilities of text: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, a web artist duo based in Seoul; Motoyuki Shibata, a renowned Japanese translator; and the bilingual writer imagining between Japanese and German languages, Yoko Tawada.

As a first-year doctoral student, the Institute experience was inspiring both creatively and professionally. I presented developing ideas for my dissertation project on Korean Canadian Literature at the “Sociology and Literature” colloquium in participation with global scholars examining the intersectionality between literature and local and global contexts, including politics, culture(s), institutions, laws, and markets, through their research. The feedback I received from this colloquium offered a diversity of theoretical approaches to consider for my dissertation.

The relationship I built with students and scholars from various institutions also helped me to mark future opportunities for engagement and research dissemination. As one especially helpful engagement, I met doctoral students from South Korea, who offered invaluable advice regarding summer courses and archives pertaining to my research interests in links between modern Korean literature and literatures of the Korean diaspora. Motivated by these interactions, I will be exploring these interests further through a fieldwork research trip in South Korea in the upcoming fall semester!

To read more of my research and for my full bio, visit angieminahpark.com

IWL 2017: Vanessa Evans

When I attended the IWL, the summer school was hosted by the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in joint partnership with Aarhus University. As in previous years, the institute was attended by over 150 scholars from 50 countries which made for a truly unique experience. The scholars I met and the conversations we had (to say nothing of the reading recommendations!) were the highlight for me, but there was so much that was wonderful about those four weeks.

I spent my seminar time enrolled in “Multilingualism, Translation, and World Literature” with Reine Meylaerts (KU Leuven, Belgium) and “Between Nations: Migrant Writing and the Cultural Meeting in the Text” with Mads Rosendahl Thomsen (Aarhus University, Denmark). I enjoyed both seminars immensely but neither more than my weekly Postcolonial Colloquium, led by Tanutrushna Panigrahi (International Institute of Information Technology Bhubaneswar, India). Here I was fortunate to engage with PhD and MA students from South Korea, the United States, India, Austria, and Switzerland, whose work mobilized postcoloniality alongside Middle Welsh and Anglo-Latin Literature, Galician Literature, and Queer Islamic Oralities, to name a few intersections. Our conversations have stayed with me since those Tuesday mornings and I look back at my notes often.

Of our guest lecturers, I was most interested to hear from the then (see: Jean-Claude Arnault scandal) Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius. Her talk, “How to get the Nobel Prize in Literature”, left us all mystified as it revealed very little, if anything at all, about how one “gets” the Nobel prize or how the winner is selected. Everyone spent the following days discussing the lecture only to realize it had achieved its desired effect: further mystification. The fact that I am speaking about this today is testament to its reach!

My Postcolonial Colloquium Group!

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!