CFP: "Cold War and World Literature," A Special Issue of "Journal of World Literature"

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Call for Papers
September 30, 2020 to October 30, 2020
Pennsylvania, United States
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Arabic History / Studies, Asian History / Studies, Latin American and Caribbean History / Studies, Literature

Call for Paper: “Cold War and World Literature,” a Special Issue of Journal of World Literature


Editors: Sorin Radu Cucu, CUNY, LaGuardia Community College; 

Shuang Shen, Penn State University


Cold War as a global history and twentieth-century discourses of world literature have an entangled relationship of co-creation and missed recognition. Erich Auerbach, the renowned scholar of world literature, observed in “Philology and Weltliteratur” (1952) that “all human activity is being concentrated either into European-American or into Russian-Bolshevist patterns.” He lamented that it was becoming increasingly difficult to conduct dialogues across the divide of political camps. Yet, confident that humanity can avoid another (potentially fatal) World War, Auerbach renders the Cold War as a phase of a global history that would ultimately overcome itself. It is against this backdrop that Auerbach laid down his hopes for Weltliteratur, specifically for a synthetic view of human history and culture, which may not alter the “inevitable fate that world-culture is being standardized,” but will nonetheless bear witness to and preserve the memories of the “fruitful multiplicity” at whose “terminal phase” we found ourselves to be in the early 1950s.  


Auerbach’s historical consciousness of the Cold War, however, has yet to find an echo in recent studies of world literature inspired by cultural history, sociology, Marxism, and poststructuralism. Most existing discussions of world literature cannot account for the history of the Cold War because many scholars in the humanities have positioned the discourse of world literature in relation to contemporary globalization as well as liberal democracy, without engaging with their historical connection with the Cold War. Methodologically, we may acknowledge the Cold War as a significant historical backdrop for the genesis of post-WWII discourses of world literature, but we have yet to come up with a firm grasp on how to describe those literary activities -- cultural production, circulation and reception -- that emerged in conjunction with the global Cold War.  As we explore how the discourse of world literature ties to the Cold War, we need to probe the complicated narratives tying Western thought’s conceptions of world to cultural-political movements across the globe and to the dynamic technological networks, originating in Cold War military strategy, that sustain global interdependence. At the same time, we may want to examine whether other kinds of cold war can be thought of and witness in the long history of world wars such as trench warfare in World War I and the current cyberwars of disinformation.


This special issue of JWL eschews a prescriptive and normative approach to world literature and its relation to Cold War discourse. On the contrary, it departs with an intention to reexamine meanings of key terms such as “Cold War,” “global,” “local”, and “literature” as these keywords have been deployed in both Cold War histories and by world literature scholars. The disavowal of the Cold War as a constitutive aspect of world literature stems from thinking the Cold War predominantly as a mere historical period, or as a context for cultural production, for circulation and reception of literature, rather than as a political-military discourse with ideological roots and cultural ramifications. Some recent studies, such as Andrew Hammond’s Global Cold War Literature, merely highlight literature’s response to the Cold War. We are more interested in demonstrating how literature and the Cold War have been co-constitutive of each other, how they together construct worlds at local and global scales. We are particularly interested in theoretical reflections that are based on historically embedded studies of Cold War and world literature.


We invite following topics are suggested for this special issue:

  1. literatures formed in networks of cultural communication and exchange beyond national borders and across the ideological divides of the Cold War; literature formed in non-national spaces (the diaspora for instance) and on the peripheries of empires, transnational literary formations not aligned with dominant cartographic depictions of the world during the Cold War;
  2. discourses of cosmopolitanism, empire, or nationalism that address such cross-border networks and cultural movements in the context of technological transformation of military technologies affecting the global interplay of interstate war with global civil war;
  3. popular literature as world literature, for instance genre fiction, such as spy and Science Fiction, which occupy a prominent place in Cold War culture; conceptualizations of genre as mediator of world literature circulation and production;
  4. translation and circulation of Soviet and Eastern European literatures in the West and the Third World, approached from a comparative perspective to the circulation of Western books (including popular fiction) in the world, the latter having gained more critical attention so far; 
  5. literary canonization, how ‘great’ works of world literature and/or the literature of world wars became entangled with Cold War history and ideology and how they are received at home and in schools;
  6. world literature in relation to Cold War as structure of affect as well as mode of social being in specific military geographies; the perpetuation of these structures in the supposedly “post-Cold War” contemporary moments.


Abstracts of 300 words due  September 30, 2020. We will start reviewing the abstracts on that day, although abstracts that arrive slightly later will be considered too. Send abstracts to and sorinradu27@gmail.comContributors will be notified of preliminary acceptance of their abstracts by October 5, 2020. Full essays of 6,000-8,000 words will be due January 15, 2021. They should follow JWL guidelines (

Contact Info: 

Shuang Shen, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Asian Studies, Penn State University

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