Interdisciplinary Humanities Group: Boundaries of Literature

Boundaries of literature

Group Leaders: Jeffrey Angles (World Languages and Literatures) and Beth Bradburn (English)

The Boundaries of Literature group will explore literature’s boundaries in two senses: national and disciplinary, asking questions such as:

(1) What does and should “literature” mean, and how does this shape the ways that we might think about particular national literatures or “world literature” as a whole? What are the consequences of the widely perceived synonymity between “English” and literature? Should borders between nations, cultures, and languages be institutionalized as disciplinary boundaries, and if so, what are the drawbacks and ideological flaws of doing so?

(2) Given that literary studies includes media such as film and comics and that disciplines such as psychology, theatre, medicine, history, and law engage with literary texts, should we rethink the definition of literature? If literature is such an important part of these other disciplines, what are the implications for institutions of higher learning in the twenty-first century? Does it make sense to continue thinking about literary studies as a discrete, bounded field of inquiry? Can we do so without risking further diminished resources for the humanities?

(3) Do the borders within and around literature strengthen the humanities or make them vulnerable? Is this different for different disciplines?

We expect consideration of these questions eventually to bear on the curricular decisions of humanities departments at Western, as well as on the research and creative work of group members. The idea for the group emerged when members realized that WMU departments were engaging in counterproductive competition for the university’s limited resources. This is a significant issue in a time of dwindling resources for the humanities. The desire to avoid competition, pool resources, and recapture student interest has led many universities in Europe and East Asia to rebrand what were traditionally departments of literature as departments of “media studies,” “cultural literacy,” or even “cross-national studies.” Should WMU be thinking along similar lines?

Readings may include: Gerald Graff, Professing Literature (Twentieth Anniversary Edition, 2007); Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters (2007); David Damrosch, What Is World Literature? (2003); Emily Apter, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2005); Deirdre Lynch, Loving Literature: A Cultural History (2014); “Rethinking Literature: Reconsidering the Disciplinary and Textual Boundaries of Literature” (A forthcoming special issue of Poetics Today)