Calendar of Events

Spring 2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Eric Hayot (Comp Lit, Penn State)
Thomas More's Utopia
Comparative Literature in the 21st Century: Literary History After European Time
2:00 pm Curtin 368
Co-sponsored by UWM Department of English; and Department of French, Italian, and Comparative Literature

Though literature is not a technology, the historical models literary scholars use to describe literary history owe a great deal to the languages of originality, novelty, progress, and invention—the core of the idea of technological development. This is no real surprise: putting progress at the center of historicity is one of the things that makes us moderns. But if you think like a modern person then it’s very hard to ever really make a good case for why someone interested in the history of modern literary aesthetics ought to read the literature of the non-Western world.

Eric Hayot’s talk makes that case. It does so by rethinking from the ground up our concepts of literary history and progress, redescribing the history we know (or think we know) in a new language that requires us to be far more worldly and global in our arguments about literary change.

Hayot argues that literature is a world-creating activity. If that is true, then a number of scientific and economic discourses (globalization, for example), often considered as in some way outside of or “beyond” literature, ought instead to be thought of as coeval with it, as partners in humanity’s ongoing attempts to think about the nature of the world. He reads those attempts as “cosmographies” whose social force, measured against the scientific, geographic, and philosophical history of world-concepts, shapes the “physics” of the socially possible. This theory of the cosmographical imagination leads him to a claim that thinking “worldedness” revises existing models of literary history. Connecting the cosmographical imagination to the historical shifts in world-view caused by the Columbian discoveries and Copernican revolutions, Hayot suggests that the very notion of the modern is, at heart, a cosmographical social form.

His talk does, therefore, two things: (1) it develops a vocabulary for the description of aesthetic worlds; and (2) using that vocabulary, it rewrites the history of literature of the last 400 years.

Further elaborations can be found in his forthcoming book, “On Literary Worlds: An Essay,” due from Oxford University Press in September 2012.

Brown bag lunch with Eric Hayot
Thursday, March 1
11:30 am Curtin 939
Recommended reading: Eric Hayot, "Ideologies of the Institution" (part three of his forthcoming book)

UWM alumnus Eric Hayot (’99, PhD) is professor of Comparative Literature at Penn State, where is also the director of the Asian Studies Program. His work over the past ten years has focused mainly on the ways in which “China” has affected the intellectual, literary, and cultural history of the West (conceived as both an ideological monolith and a set of particularities). He is the author of The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity, and Chinese Pain (Oxford, 2009) and Chinese Dreams (Michigan, 2004). Hayot’s talk comes from his forthcoming book, “On Literary Worlds: An Essay,” due from Oxford in September 2012.

Image: Woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein for the 1518 edition of Thomas More's Utopia

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