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Obscured, Unrecognized, Forgotten. Negative Circulation in Literature (2024-)

Looking at the connection between literary evaluation and circulation inevitably leads to privileging the positive: That which is pushed away or eliminated on various levels of selection and in gatekeeping processes disappears – at least for the time being –, is usually no longer visible and continues to remain unconsidered.

If one understands the aspect of negativity in a broader sense, then the existing and known literature moves in a sea of the unknown, in the incalculable realm of works not written or not completed, not published, not bought, not read, not discussed, not present and lost. Although the realm of the hidden, forgotten and unrecognised is more extensive and fundamental than the realm of the positive, the failure, the unpublished, the lack of response or the falling out of public perception or appreciation rarely comes into the field of research. The project will address this negative dimension of valuation and circulation.

The field of negative circulation encompasses different aspects and practices: it ranges from creative failure to individual falling out of scenes, institutions and communities to the active suppression of specific works, for example through censorship, intimidation, exile. It can manifest itself in material practices of negation: Deaccessing archives and libraries, clearing out shelves, destroying books.

The market segments of negative and positive circulation cannot be neatly demarcated. Publications that initially remain marginalised and are declared worthless can be published at a later date and enter the canon. A large part of unofficial, dissident literature wanders through the literary field in this way, only to reach the public after long phases of precarious existence as pigeonhole literature or in subcultural parallel universes. Conversely, the canon is also repeatedly subjected to revisions and re-evaluations that declare formerly central works to be spoilage.

In view of the inverse logic of the literary market, very different questions arise in this context: Can unsaleability become a sign of quality, or at what point does the successful title get the air of being qualitatively inferior? Is there a "too big to fail" for successful authors after a certain point? How can the change in measurability in the online literature market be described? How have the markers of failure/success changed since 2000? Are they processed differently in literature? Under what conditions is negative circulation realised as failure; how can failure be picked up in individual case studies? Can failure be theorised as a reflective dimension of negative circulation? What "other", alternative literary markets/fields of the "forgotten" have developed? How do the forgotten, the lost differ from the "infamous" writers who are never considered literature?