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Research Agenda

RA 3 “Future Perfect” is concerned with literature’s potential for constructing and negotiating complex temporalities of its own. These temporalities are often prone to differ from or even to challenge prevailing political, economic or cultural notions of time. As RA 3 perceives the temporal to be fundamental to the very globality of literature itself – hence the Cluster’s title “Temporal Communities” – the Research Area focuses on the manifold self-reflexive and creative approaches to temporality that literature is capable of developing, especially as it engages with other arts and media. “Future Perfect” is interested in the ways in which temporality not only matters to literature but is one of the most fundamental components through which literature is constituted as literature in the first place.

In dealing with the ways in which literature constructs temporalities of its own and shapes its own relations to time, RA 3 also explores the ways in which literature reaches out through time and is constituted in temporal communities potentially spanning millennia. Central research questions are: How do texts and artefacts actively participate in and comment on such processes of reaching out through time? Which are the practices – such as philology, anthologising and periodising – through which the temporalities of literature are re-written and re-constituted within newly developing temporal communities? How do literary communities establish themselves by constructing their own literary histories, by inventing their own futures and by positioning themselves in relation to other histories and other futures – and even other temporalities?

RA 3 holds that literature, as it reaches out over time, always participates in several temporalities simultaneously. It does so by offering its audiences multiple experiences of temporality, just as these audiences themselves re-contextualise literature over time. Because this notion of literature is fundamentally performative it must take into account the temporal circumstances in which literature is read and disseminated, but also forgotten or suppressed.

The question of temporality arises in particular when literature moves between and/or combines different genres and media. As we study literary phenomena suffused with and constituted by different temporalities, we are intrigued by the ways in which the temporalities associated with form and genre are reconceived in relation to other art forms. We ask: How are notions of temporality employed to police the boundaries of a given art form? How are temporalities affected when a literary work is integrated into or merged with other art forms and media?

One of the issues we are especially interested in is the ways in which literature sees itself as overcoming time or even as being timeless. Projects in RA 3 investigate how texts imagine and anticipate but also deny or seek to prevent their own reception by audiences to come. One of RA 3’s guiding hypotheses is that a given literary work’s act of projecting a future for itself constitutes a central marker of its literariness. Hence, we are especially fascinated by texts and communities that are forged by constructing reciprocal and retroactive temporalities, or by folded and palimpsestic temporalities; in other words: literary phenomena of fusing past and future in complex ways that are dialectical and/or non-teleological.