Galin Tihanov (Queen Mary University of London)
Fellow in Research Area 1: “Competing Communities”
Alternative Historiographies of World Literature (Russia and Eastern Europe in the 20th century)
In the last twenty years or so since the publication of David Damrosch’s path-breaking book What is World Literature? (2003), the need to scrutinise the currently prevalent Anglo-Saxon discourse of ‘world literature’ and interrogate its premises has become more urgent. This book project, work on which will commence during the fellowship, seeks to develop an advanced theoretical grid that should assist in this endeavour of examination and reconsideration. This grid is essentially chronotopic and consists of several vectors. There needs to be an awareness of at least four major reference points: time, space, language, and what one could term the plain of self-reflexivity, i.e., how literature itself reflects on, and creates images of, ‘world literature’. Establishing this new grid would be impossible without reconstructing and mobilising alternative conceptualisations and historiographies of world literature articulated in Eastern Europe and Russia in the twentieth century; in other words, without learning from the lessons that a different intellectual tradition has worked out in its dialogue with mainstream Western paradigms. These alternatives constitute the backbone and focal point of the project. Konrad, Babits, Szerb and Durišin, to mention but a few names, exemplify a different line of reasoning in the body of discourses that seek to conceptualise world literature. The project will examine their work in detail, alongside the work of other Eastern-European authors. Drawing on their insights, while also modifying and radicalising them, the project will also offer alternative pathways into thinking about world literature that reconsider the prevalent Anglo-Saxon vision of it as a free, liberal exchange facilitated by a global book market.
Galin Tihanov is the George Steiner Professor of Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London. He has held visiting professorships at universities in Europe, North and South America, and Asia. He is the author of five books, including The Birth and Death of Literary Theory: Regimes of Relevance in Russia and Beyond (Stanford UP, 2019) which won the 2020 AATSEEL Prize for “best book in literary studies”. Tihanov has been elected to the British Academy (2021) and to Academia Europaea (2012); he is past president of the ICLA Committee on Literary Theory and member of the Executive Board of the Institute for World Literature at Harvard University, as well as honorary scientific advisor to the Institute of Foreign Literatures, CASS, Beijing. He is currently completing Cosmopolitanism: A Very Short Introduction, commissioned by Oxford UP.