What is the relation between literary theory and world literature? Literary studies today tries to reckon with and transcend the parochialism and Eurocentrism of its tradition by adopting transnational, transhistorical, transcultural, translocal perspectives and by exploring the potential of the term ‘world literature’. This large-scale shift of the discipline has been accompanied by a ‘global turn’ within literary theory, resulting in a renewed interrogation of the relation of literature to the world at large and of the ethics and politics of literature in a globalizing world. These developments – the turn to world literature and the global turn in literary theory – are understood sometimes as antagonistic, sometimes as complimentary to one another. While world literature is often presented as an antidote to theory, it is also clearly constituted by a very specific theorizing of literature and as such invites further theoretical challenges and reflections.

The work of Derek Attridge demonstrates the critical and theoretical potential of the encounter between world literature and literary theory. In The Singularity of Literature (2004), Attridge insists that the book is complemented by his work in literary criticism on to the South African writer J. M. Coetzee, published the same year, J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. It is as if the theory of literature – of literature in general – emerges out of a particular literary encounter, in this instance with a postcolonial writer pre-occupied with geopolitical, historical, and ethical limits – not least the limits of literature itself. And it is no coincidence that, while Attridge is critical of an oversimplified mapping of politics onto literature, his theory of literature involves politically charged terms such as singularity, otherness, exclusion, response, responsibility, as well as justice and hospitality.

Responding to Attridge’s recent The Work of Literature (2015), a group of scholars will reflect on the correspondences between world literature, literary theory, and the world writ large. The symposium sets out to explore the limits but also the liminality of literary theory and the historical, geopolitical and theoretical frameworks that inform and perhaps also tacitly delimit world literature.

In English

Thursday, 20 June 2019

19:30 Keynote by Derek Attridge
Untranslatability and the Challenge of World Literature: A South African Example

Friday, 21 June 2019

10:30 Morning coffee

10:45 Welcome and Introduction by Francesco Giusti and Benjamin Lewis Robinson

11:00-13:00 Panel I – Contexts/Worlds

Lorna Margaret Burns
World Literature and the Problem of Postcolonialism: Aesthetics and Dissent

Francesco Giusti
Transcontextual Gestures: A Lyric Approach to the World of Literature

Jarad Zimbler
Working Conditions: The Contexts of A. K. Mehrotra

13:00–14:30 Lunch break

14:30-16.30 Panel II – Responsibilities

Benjamin Lewis Robinson
The World after Fiction in J. M. Coetzee’s Jesus Books

Dirk Wiemann
Learning ‘something world-size’:
The Unaccountable Time of ‘The Detainee’s Tale as Told to Ali Smith’

Rashmi Varma
Extracting Value: Indigeneity as Politics of Form

16.30–17.00 Coffee break

17.00–18.30 Response by Derek Attridge
followed by an open discussion,
moderated by Refqa Abu-Remaileh


Refqa Abu-Remaileh (Freie Universität Berlin)
Lorna Margaret Burns (University of St Andrews)
Rashmi Varma (University of Warwick)
Dirk Wiemann (University of Potsdam)
Jarad Zimbler (University of Birmingham)

Keynote by Derek Attridge
Organized by

Francesco Giusti and Benjamin Lewis Robinson

The event, like all events at the ICI Berlin, is open to the public, free of charge. The audience is presumed to consent to a possible recording on the part of the ICI Berlin. If you would like to attend the event yet might require assistance, please contact Event Management.

Symposium The Work of World Literature

Image Credit © Claudia Peppel, collage (detail)