Cosmopolis and Beyond: Literary Cosmopolitanism After the Republic of Letters
International Conference, Trinity College, Oxford, 18-19 March 2016
Cosmopolitanism, derived from the ancient Greek for ‘world citizenship’, offers a radical alternative to nationalism, asking individuals to imagine themselves as part of a community that goes beyond national and linguistic boundaries. Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in cosmopolitanism in the humanities and social sciences, especially within philosophy, sociology and politics. Cosmopolitanism, however, has also exercised a shaping influence on modern literary culture. It is well known that during the Enlightenment it found an embodiment in the Republic of Letters. Its evolution thereafter included uneasy alliances with the idea of Empire in the nineteenth century, and with the experiments of the international avant gardesand modernist circles, and the phenomenon of globalisation in the twentieth. Through these, and more, cultural formations cosmopolitanism has given rise to new ways of writing, reading, translating and circulating texts; these processes have, in turn, led to new understandings of individual and national identity, new forms of ethics and new configurations of aesthetic and political engagement. From Kant to Derrida, cosmopolitanism has in the course of history been seen as fostering peace and communication across borders. Far from being uncontroversial, though, it has also been attacked by those who have denounced its universalism as impossible and its social ethos as elitist.
This conference intends to explore different literary manifestations of the cosmopolitan ideal, broadly conceived, and its influence on modern literary culture. It seeks to tease out elements of continuity and rupture in a long history of literary cosmopolitanism that goes from the decline of the Republic of Letters to the era of globalisation. In order to do so, it aims to foster a dialogue between experts in different fields of literary studies (English, modern languages, comparative literature) and different historical periods.
For registration and programme, please see the conference website.