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Conference
ENTANGLED LITERATURES AND CULTURES:
SYSTEMS OF RELATIONS, INTERSECTIONS, RECIPROCITY
Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tallinn, Estonia 25-26 May 2017
 
The study of cultures inevitably involves comparison and influence, for every culture has developed in a process of exchange with other cultures. Despite this widely acknowledged circumstance, the enquiry into cultures has long suffered from „methodological nationalism"
 
(Ulrich Beck) ‒ a view that posits nations as the only natural units for the comparative study of cultures. The cultures of the Baltic region present a case in point. The Baltics have been an intense battlefield of various political and economic forces and have been part of a number of different states for almost a millennium. The literary culture of the region began to take shape in the context of the local German rule starting from the beginning of the 13th century onward and was up to the end of the 19th century largely multilingual (involving Latin, German, Swedish, Estonian, Latvian, and Russian). The national movements of the 19th century split the multilayered literary field into separate fields centred on national languages. In the 20th century, the national literatures of the region developed in lively interaction with various European literatures as well as, after World War II, under the restrictive regulations of Soviet ideology. At the same time, however, the study of national literatures of the Baltics completely erased the entangled history of literary culture from the respective canons.
 
In recent decades, an interest in cultural transfer has been invigorating research into conceptual models that would do justice to the crisscross patterns of culture. The study of cultural transfer offers a welcome alternative to the nation-centered exploration of cultural influence and exchange by acknowledging métissage (cultural intermingling, or mixed identity) as an essential feature in the development of national cultures. This phenomenon has proved to be crucial in rethinking the question of cultural influence in so far as it draws attention to the processes of re-appropriation and re-writing of transferred cultural models and hence to the originality of the „copy" in a receiving socio-historical configuration.
 
However, the study of cultural transfer still fails to do justice to the entangled nature of cultures: on the one hand, to the general system of relations between different (national) cultural fields and on the other to the reciprocity of unequal exchange in the multiethnic and multicultural contexts which have a common, or partly overlapping, cultural heritage.
 
The conference invites its participants to develop a conceptual framework for studying literatures and cultures as entangled by exploring various cultural contexts where cultural entanglements have been an essential feature, but which cannot be productively studied by means of, for example, postcolonial approaches. Some questions which may prove relevant in this regard are:

‒ What are the advantages of approaching cultures as entangled in relation to comparativism and the study of cultural transfer?

‒ What are the previously overshadowed phenomena that can be illuminated by this approach?

‒ How to do justice to the reciprocity of cultural exchange?

‒ How to study the unequal exchange between cultures that may result from unequal political and economic legacies but does not neatly overlap with it?

The conference will explore these questions by focusing on the literary cultures of different regions of the world understood in the broadest of terms. Contributions that examine entanglements in history, theatre, visual and other fields of culture are welcome.

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS:

 

Kevin F. M. Platt, University of Pennsylvania, USA

„Wavelength, Exchange and the Temporality of the Aesthetic: on Liminality and Avantgardism”

What happens when poetry is broadcast by radio across state borders, or across a crowded room? Russophone Latvian Literature of the Twenty-First Century balances across multiple borders — between Latvian and Russian languages and literary scenes, between the legacies of Soviet social life and contemporary European realities, between the institutional and literary circuits of Russia, Latvia and Europe, and between forms of media. This lecture will be devoted to discussion of the Riga-based Orbita Group, as well as some other, less prominent figures in Russophone Latvian cultural life, and to the processes of translation and broadcast that bring their work to diverse audiences across the globe. The Orbita Group, in particular, has over the past decade or so experimented with the apparatus and the metaphor of the radio. As analysis of both their radio-practices and writings demonstrates, it is the geographical position and mobility of this literary activity that undergirds its innovative significance to multiple „broadcast audiences”. In sum, my lecture will explain how liminal spatiality relates to avant-garde temporality, and how peripherality and distance can place one, paradoxically, at the center of the literary system.

 

Prof. Stefan Helgesson, University of Stockholm, Sweden

„Entanglement, World Literature and World-Making”

Entanglement has no beginning and no end: it is always in medias res. It can, however, be theorised in terms of vectors. In this lecture, I will argue that there is an outward and an inward movement in entanglement that together give shape to literatures and literary works. If much world literature scholarship has focused on outward circulation and international canonisation, an equally significant dimension of world literature concerns the harnessing of external literary resources for local ends. The adjustment that the inward movement requires of world literature theory is – perhaps – enabled by the term „world-making”, which can be developed by way of Hannah Arendt and Pheng Cheah, among others. A possible advantage of a world-making focus is that it keeps entanglement in view and avoids the identity closure of nationalism. A possible disadvantage is that it deflects attention from the structural and political preconditions of literary production. By considering some literary examples from Africa and Latin America, my lecture will put both of these claims to the test.

 

Organisers

The conference is organized within the framework of the institutional research project „Entangled Literatures: Discursive History of Literary Culture in Estonia” (IUT, 2014–2019, project leader: Research Professor Jaan Undusk)

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