Project

Global Literary Theory (ERC Grant)

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Literary theory is often regarded as a twentieth century invention, with no precedents prior to modernity. This relegates older discourses on literature to the status of source material, pertaining to literature’s past, rather than as springboards for literature’s future. While the self-understanding of literary theory’s modernity helped to bring about the discipline’s birth, and hence was innovative in its own time, at present it accounts for many gaps and limits within its current structure. European aesthetic categories remain normative and lesser-known geographies are marginalized within synthetic accounts of literary form. Even when the literatures studied are non-European, the literary theory used to understand these texts often circulates within a restricted set of modern European traditions.

A more pluralistic approach to literary knowledge that takes account of the radically different temporalities in the genesis of literary form across different literary traditions, and which explores the different meanings of literature across varying historical and cultural contexts, will reinvigorate the discipline of literary studies with new understandings of the capacity of critique, new views of the role of aesthetic judgment and its ontological foundations, and new ways of imagining the status of literature—poetry in particular—in the public sphere. Through four case studies of Arabic, Persian, Turkic, and Georgian literary theory in the Islamic world (especially the Caucasus), we will produce co-authored articles, individual monographs, and a cumulative anthology of key contributions to literary theory from the Islamic world. Moving beyond the parameters of modernity itself, GlobalLIT seeks to invigorate the discipline of literary studies with new answers to ancient questions. While some of our texts have been studied before, most have not been the subject of sustained scholarly research, and have never before been placed into systematic comparison.

Date: 1 May 2018

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Project log

Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
The Persian Prison Poem is the first study of the prison poem genre (habsiyyat) across twelfth-century Central, South, and West Asia. While documenting the emergence of a concept of poetry as a form of political resistance, the book shows the profound entanglements of poetry and power across premodern Eurasia. Indian edition forthcoming with Primus Books.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
In the summer of 2011, an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov (1887) debuted on the Iranian stage. The director and playwright, Amir-Reza Koohestani (b. 1978) create a production that was faithful to the classic status of this text while also maximizing its resonance with a contemporary Iranian audience. I explore how Koohestani achieved this by shifting the dramatic focus from male to female characters and by internalizing the censor’s gaze in his work. André Lefevere’s concept of translation as refraction is used to show how literary texts function within the systems of cultural production that shape political and aesthetic consciousness. As a pre-revolutionary Russian play positioned between East and West, Chekhov’s Ivanov has striking relevance for an Iranian post-revolutionary audience. This case study of watching and performing Chekhov in Tehran illustrates how refracted texts acquire new lives in the process of their performance and translation into new cultural contexts.
Kayvan Tahmasebian
added a research item
There is something literary about dreams when they are written down. Dreams and literature intersect in wonder, imagination, and freedom. The excerpts translated here are dream writings from Khābguzārī by an anonymous writer in the twelfth or thirteenth century, and ʿAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt by Muḥammad b. Maḥmūd Hamadānī (also known as Ṭūsī) (circa 1161–1178). Translated here for the first time into English, the two excerpts provide examples of how dreams shaped literary imagination in medieval Persian dream interpretation manuals (khāb-nāma) and anthologies of wondrous things (ʿajāyib-nāma).
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
This article compares three key texts in Daghestani Islamicate literature by Persian Azeri writer Bākīkhānūf (d. 1847), Lezgi polymath al-Alqadārī (d. 1910), and Qumyq (Turkic) biographer al-Durgilī (d. 1935), with a view to understanding how their authors conceptualized their role as chroniclers of times past. I draw in particular on Italian historian Arnaldo Momigliano’s account of antiquarianism in order to develop a concept of Islamic antiquarianism and to propose a new way of understanding Islamic historiographic methods and traditions. By comparing Daghestani authors' varying historical epistemologies, I also shed light on Daghestani multilingualism. I argue that Daghestani cosmopolitanism is linked to the antiquarian imagination of its most notable theorists and chroniclers of times past.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
Within Iran, the transformation in the Islamic legal understanding of the foreign (ajnabi) into a political concept was accelerated by the encounter with Europe during the 19th century. The classical Iranian understanding of otherness as a domain fully demarcated from the self was replaced by an internalized other, resulting in what we call here the xenological uncanny. This article examines Iranian modernism through the lens of trauma theory, whereby haunted subjects fail in distinguishing between self and other, and modernization is perceived as demonization. The three works we discuss—Sadeq Hedayat’s Blind Owl (1937), Bahram Sadeqi’s Heavenly Kingdom (1961), and Hushang Golshiri’s Prince Ehtejab (1968)—each delineate a different register in the xenological uncanny. Our lineage reveals how modernist Persian prose recapitulates a trajectory of possession and dispossession by the foreign and in the process brings about the traumatic recognition of a foreign voice within the self. In focusing on the divided modernist self from a Persian point of view, we identify an unrecognized trajectory for the uncanny within global literary modernism.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
This essay traces the conception of love and desire (ʿishq) in a Persian verse romance by the Indo-Persian poet Ḥasan Dihlavī, known as ʿIshqnāma (composed in 1301). ʿIshqnāma narrates a tragic and unconsummated love affair between a young Hindu couple. When the two protagonists immolate themselves in what is at once a reworking of the Indic custom of widow burning (sati) and an allusion to the deaths of the famed lovers Laylī and Majnūn, the poet offers an innovative account of the temporality of desire. In transforming the Persian master narrative of love, Ḥasan anticipates Freud’s account of the death drive in relation to the pleasure principle in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1921). This article initiates a dialogue between Freud and Ḥasan Dihlavī in order to suggest that desire for another may be the self’s only means of reckoning with its contingency.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
Our first newsletter has been published! Sign up for future issues here: https://medium.com/global-literary-theory/licit-magic-newsletter-of-the-global-literature-theory-project-globallit-3294c0aaf015
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
Building on Earl Miner's insight that the lyric is a 'foundation genre' of world literature, this article examines the Russo-Persian lyric, a hybrid genre that developed within 19th and 20th century Russian literature, as a case study in lyric translatability. First developed by the Russian Romantic poet Afanasy Fet (d. 1890) and later evident in Sergei Esenin's Persian Motifs (1925), the Russo-Persian lyric adds a new dimension to the Russian-Persian encounter. While tracing the migration of literary form as a process of cultural translation that transforms the original, generating new literary forms for new audiences, I shed light on how the ghazal and its adaptations modifies and extends our understanding of lyric form, and on what is and is not translated by the lyric genre.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
apply here: https://bham.taleo.net/careersection/external/jobdetail.ftl?job=200001VR&tz=GMT%2B01%3A00&tzname=Europe%2FLondon
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
This article engages with cosmopolitan conceptions of culture that flourished in the nineteenth century Caucasus with a view to clarifying the relevance of these legacies today. I focus in particular on the polymath writer ʿAbbās Qulī Āghā Bākīkhānūf (1794–1847). As I explore Bākīkhānūf’s historical writing, I consider how the Persianate literary tradition of which he partakes advance a cosmopolitan conception of community that contests the nationalist histories promulgated by modern European historiography. As a scientific and literary project, Bākīkhānūf’s cosmological cosmopolitanism shows how epistemic openness advances cultural inclusivity, in part by recognizing the relationship between the literary imagination and scientific inquiry.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
Published here: https://modernismmodernity.org/articles/gould-tahmasebian-translation-alienation (open access) In the wake of modernism studies' global turn, this article considers the role of translation in fostering Iranian modernism. Focusing on the poetic translations of Bijan Elahi (1945-2010), one of Iran's most significant poet-translators, we demonstrate how untranslatability becomes a point of departure for his experimental poetics. Elahi used premodern Sufi hermeneutics to develop his modernist theory of translation, whereby the alien core of the text is recognised at the centre of the original. As he engages the translated text from many angles, Elahi confounds polarities between innovation and imitation, and authorship and translation, that continue to bifurcate translation studies. In contributing to the globalization of modernist studies, this work adds to our understanding of modernism's entanglement within premodern concepts of creation, as well as to modernism's recreation of tradition from a non-European periphery.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
This chapter introduces one of the most important and yet least-studied Persian travel narratives to an interdisciplinary readership: the Gift from the Two Iraqs (Tuhfat al-ʿIraqayn), composed in the middle of the twelfth century by the Persian poet Khāqānī Shirvānī. I examine this work's contribution to world literature and global poetics by documenting its deployment of key tropes from a longer tradition of thinking about mobility within Persian and Islamic poetics.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added an update
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
The poetry of Teimuraz I’s marks a turning point in Georgian literary history. From 1629–34, the poet-king of Kartli and Kaxetia (eastern Georgia) undertook to produce a Georgian equivalent to Niẓāmī Ganjevī’s famed quintet (khamsa) that stands as one of the major achievements of classical Persian literature. This chapter explores Teimuraz I’s engagement with the wider Persian tradition in order to better understand the roles of translation and imitation in the early modern Persianate world. In conceiving of translation as a kind of appropriation, Teimuraz I’s engagement with the romances of Niẓāmī and Jāmī offers an alternative to the current understanding of translation as the wholesale reproduction of a syntactical unit. The forms of intertextuality cultivated by these premodern translation practices indicate the limitations of contemporary understandings of translation for tracking multilingual circulation across the Persianate world. While attending to the constraints and possibilities that were opened up by Teimuraz I’s status as a vassal of multiple Ṣafavīd rulers, I also consider the variegated meanings wielded by translation, influence, and vernacular literary expression across the early modern Persianate world.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a research item
This essay examines Giambattista Vico's philology as a contribution to democratic legitimacy. I outline three steps in Vico's account of the historical and political development of philological knowledge: first, his merger of philosophy and philology, and the effects of that merger on the relative claims of reason and authority; second, his use of antiquarian knowledge to supersede historicist accounts of change in time and to position the plebian social class as the true arbiters of language; third, his understanding of philological knowledge as an instrument of political change, and a foundational element in the establishment of democracy. In its treatment of the philological imagination as a tool for bringing about political change, Vico's plebian philology is radically democratic and a crucial instrument in the struggle against the elite from antiquity to the present.
Hany Rashwan
added 2 research items
The conference engages with a range of approaches in Arabic, Turkish and Persian cultures and was overlooked or misunderstood under a long-established Eurocentric hegemony. It encourages scholars to reconstruct the concepts of 'artistic' or 'poetic' language, by engaging with literary theories that have been marginalized due to their distance from the European literary tradition. The workshop investigates how the three cultures answered the substantial question of Roman Jakobson: "poetics deals primarily with the question, what makes a verbal message a work of art?"
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added 2 research items
This contribution belongs to a symposium on Innovations and Turning Points: Toward a History of Kāvya Literature (2014), edited by Yigal Bronner, David Shulman, and Gary Tubb. Situating this collection of essays on South Asian literatures within broader trends within the discipline of comparative literature and cross-cultural poetics, I consider how this volume advances the ability of the discipline to engage with multilingual texts, to develop a literary theory based on difference rather than sameness, and to think concretely about how vernacularizing processes contribute to the formation and circulation of literary cultures.
This essay examines how translation theory can globalize contemporary literary comparison. Whereas Persian studies has historically been isolated from the latest developments within literary theory, world literature has similarly been isolated from the latest developments within the study of non-European literatures. The methodology of hard translation developed here can develop these links. Hard translation incorporates translation in the form of exegesis, while preserving traces of the source language in the target language. Coined in 1929 by the Chinese critic, writer and translator Lu Xun, hard translation (yingyi) is here considered alongside Walter Benjamin's cognate and nearly contemporaneous arguments for translation in a context of linguistic incommensurability.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added an update
The first of three postdoctoral positions for the five year ERC-funded project, "Global Literary Theory," is now open for applications: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BGL258/postdoctoral-research-fellow-in-persian-literary-theory/. Future positions will be in Arabic literature (to begin in 2018) and Turkic literatures (to begin in 2019). Please share widely and feel free to write with questions. The website, to launch in mid-January, will contain a more detailed overview of the project and its agenda.
 
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added an update
http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/lcahm/departments/languages/research/projects/global-literary-theory.aspx (very basic at present, but will contain more resources soon; let me know if there are requests for what should be there!)
 
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added an update
I am thrilled to announce that "Global Literary Theory" has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for 2018-2023: https://erc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/document/file/erc_2017_stg_results_sh.pdf
More soon, including calls for postdocs, a website, and publication news.
 
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added an update
2016 “The Persian Translation of Arabic Aesthetics: Rādūyānī’s Rhetorical Renaissance,” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 33(4): 339-371.
 
Rebecca Ruth Gould
added a project goal
Literary theory is often regarded as a twentieth century invention, with no precedents prior to modernity. This relegates older discourses on literature to the status of source material, pertaining to literature’s past, rather than as springboards for literature’s future. While the self-understanding of literary theory’s modernity helped to bring about the discipline’s birth, and hence was innovative in its own time, at present it accounts for many gaps and limits within its current structure. European aesthetic categories remain normative and lesser-known geographies are marginalized within synthetic accounts of literary form. Even when the literatures studied are non-European, the literary theory used to understand these texts often circulates within a restricted set of modern European traditions.
A more pluralistic approach to literary knowledge that takes account of the radically different temporalities in the genesis of literary form across different literary traditions, and which explores the different meanings of literature across varying historical and cultural contexts, will reinvigorate the discipline of literary studies with new understandings of the capacity of critique, new views of the role of aesthetic judgment and its ontological foundations, and new ways of imagining the status of literature—poetry in particular—in the public sphere. Through four case studies of Arabic, Persian, Turkic, and Georgian literary theory in the Islamic world (especially the Caucasus), we will produce co-authored articles, individual monographs, and a cumulative anthology of key contributions to literary theory from the Islamic world. Moving beyond the parameters of modernity itself, GlobalLIT seeks to invigorate the discipline of literary studies with new answers to ancient questions. While some of our texts have been studied before, most have not been the subject of sustained scholarly research, and have never before been placed into systematic comparison.