When is Theory? Shifts of Time Frame in Contemporary Literary Studies

Alex Goldiș's picture
April 15, 2021 to April 16, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Literature, World History / Studies, Humanities, Eastern Europe History / Studies


Call for Papers

International Conference: When is Theory? Shifts of Time Frame in Contemporary Literary Studies (15-16 April 2021)

In order to broaden the canon, built on Eurocentric or American premises, recent literary studies have dismantled notions or preconceptions of rigid territorialisation, such as the opposition West-East, South-North, or the nation as the basic unit of cultural analysis. With its insistence on the dependency between space and cultural autonomy, the ʽgeographical turnʼ has been one of the most convincing platforms of redefining the literary system in more democratic terms. An equally important agent for reconsidering the general frames of literary studies, that of temporality, has never been fully acknowledged. For reasons which are worth questioning themselves, the ʽtemporal turnʼ failed to become a privileged angle of re-examining literary relations. 

The absence of a more systematic reflection on the relationship between time frame and theory is all the more surprising as there are important contributions that denounce the rational periodization rooted in European metanarratives of culture. The priority of long-term time structures (longue durée) over the segmented evental history, as defined by the historian Fernand Braudel, permeated not only economical or sociological approaches (Immanuel Wallersteinʼs World Systems theory is openly indebted to this perspective), but also literary re-conceptualizations. World Literature studies, represented by scholars like David Damrosch, Martin Puchner or Wai Chee Dimock, have tried to trace the circulation of literary ideas across what the latter calls ʽdeep timeʼ, understood as ʽa more extended duration (…), planetary in scopeʼ. Following postcolonial accounts that denounced the West refusal to see other cultures existing on the same temporal plane as „chronopolitics” (Johannes Fabian), Pascale Casanovaʼs The World Republic of Letters, a work whose French/European biases have already been criticized, defines the literary economy as a race of the so-called (semi)peripheral national cultures to arrive at a Greenwich meridian of modernity. Far from being a neutral component of world literary system, as traditional studies may have regarded it, time is an important indicator of power relationships.

Given the above considerations, the conference’s aim is to signal the insufficient interrogation of the temporal premises in literary studies and to invite reflections on the ideological presuppositions of the temporal concepts embedded in the vocabulary of theory. Our call for papers openly pleads for a reframing of the material employed in literary studies in order to question the „mechanical clock” that standardized approaches to cultures. It also calls for an elaboration of theories or concepts encompassing diverse and heterogeneous experiences of time.

Perspectives on the outlined topic may include, but are not limited to:

  • Concepts and preconceptions of time in literary studies
  • The meaning of synchronicity, modernity, development, progress in culture
  • The politics of Eurochronology
  • Multiple, disjunctive, incommensurable experiences of time
  • Alternative time units of analysis: longue durée, deep time, structural time, planetary time
  • The Schizophrenic, fragmented, compressed time of postmodernity/ virtual reality/ late capitalism

Suggested references:

Homi Bhabha. Nation and Narration. Routledge, 1990.

Pascale Casanova. The World Republic of Letters, tr. By Malcolm DeBevoise. Harvard University Press, 2007.

Dipesh Chakrabarti. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton University Press, 2000.

Jonathan Crary. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2013.

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

Kathleen Davies. Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021.

Wai Chee Dimock. Through Other Continents: American Literature across Deep Time. Princeton University Press, 2006.

Johannes Fabian. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. Columbia University Press, 1983.

David Harvey. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Blackwell, 1989. 

Ursula Heise. Chronoschisms. Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Christian Moraru. Cosmodernism: American Narrative, Late Globalization, and the New Cultural Imaginary. Ann Arbor, 2011.

Martin Puchner. The Written World. The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, and Civilization. Random House, 2017.

Mads Rosendahl Thomsen. Mapping World Literature: International Canonization and Transnational Literatures. Continuum, 2010.

Simon Schama. Landscape and Memory. Vintage, 1996. 

Immanuel Wallerstein. The Modern World System. University of California Press, 2011.

Contact Info: 

Main organizers: 

Alex Goldiș, Babeș-Bolyai University; Email: alexandru.goldis@ubbcluj.ro

Mihaela Ursa, Babeș-Bolyai University; Email: mihaiela.pop@ubbcluj.ro