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Multiple Modernities? (2023-)

Central to the EXC 2020's take on world literature is the assumption that it is temporality, first and foremost, that makes literature global. From its beginnings in the late 1990s, the reinvigorated world literature-debate has been responding to the intellectual challenges of globality by insisting on the importance of the entangled temporalities generated almost automatically when different cultures, different art forms, different media or different styles interact. At the same time, the very notion of the global, shaped as it has lately been by the neoliberal inflections of the dominant narratives of so-called "globalisation", is increasingly being subjected to a critique of its historical and temporal implications (Spivack 2000, Cheah 2016, Chakrabarty 2018). As Dipesh Chakrabarty (2007) has pointed out, for instance, the Western idea of a global modernity has highly problematic consequences for non-Western cultures whose approach to the 'modern' must always appear as belated and derivative when measured against a concept of modernization that views the rise of the West as something close to a universal model. One way to address these and similar issues has been to promote a concept of 'multiple modernities'. This notion has been champion by sociologists like Shmuel Eisenstadt (2002), anthropologists like Jack Goody (2010), and, most recently, by literary critics such as Susan Stanford Friedman (2015). They all have sought to supplant the Western idea of 'modernity' that informs modernization theory and comparable narratives of economic and technological progress by theorizing a plurality of modernities depending less on a universalising Western model than on historically specific conditions and on specific socio-cultural constellations.

This project aims to investigate the theoretical problems involved in the various concepts of multiple modernities. Questions include: Is it possible to transfer the twin notions of modernity/modernism into the past? Does such a move, for all its claims to pluralization, not simply impose Western standards of historiography on vastly different social and cultural constellations? Is it possible to imagine a 'modernism' without a 'modernity'? How does the idea of 'multiple modernities' impinge on the conventional concept of modernity as has been developed in Western social theory from the late 19th century onwards? What are the criteria that define a given modernity?