This project considers the critical practice of transnationalism and involves the discussion of language, linguistic communities and translation broadly as the “movement” of narratives across cultural and national boundaries. Ever since Goethe’s development of the concept of Weltliteratur in the early 19th century, scholars have sought common ground in the international study of literature. However issues of nation, language and culture have rendered earlier models of understanding problematic. For the nation remains both as historical reality and residual idea in the literary-cultural sphere. Transnational approaches to literary study must address ongoing questions regarding nation, culture and the language community.
Developments over the past decade indicate that transnational studies may provide a meaningful model for literary study in the foreseeable future where global issues predominate. A new awareness of the world has begun to make itself felt in literary theory broadly under the sign of the transnational – of global or world perspectives conceived in a space of interaction and contestation. The methodology of transnationalism interrogates past terminologies of the national and of global hierarchy. And yet the nation remains both a historical reality and residual idea in the literary-cultural sphere. Transnational approaches must address ongoing questions regarding nation, culture and the language community.
One question which is often raised is how, if at all, transnationalism in its contemporary theoretical incarnation should be seen as different from the attempts to internationalize the study of literature and culture that have taken place at various times since German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe initiated the concept of Weltliteratur in the 1820s. In her 1993 book, Nations Without Nationalism, Julia Kristeva argues that “trans-nationalism” involves stimulating and updating “discussion on the meaning of the ‘national’ today” (1). Current exploration of earlier periods such as Romanticism and the Victorian are yielding new insights into global perceptions. Shelley Fisher Fishkin has more recently evoked "the transnational turn" in American literary studies to identify a move beyond either national-based or decontextualized comparative methodologies (2). Australian literary studies is actively negotiating the relationship between its nationalist legacy and the consequences of globalisation. Contemporary Chinese literary commentators are simultaneously engaged in a newly global debate about the reach and the influence of their literary works and traditions. And the peoples and nations of Europe have been negotiating new spaces for the literary and cultural imagination in the wake of 20th century conflict. Language can be viewed as either an impediment or an advantage to understanding in the new environments of study. The process of literary translation is increasingly understood in terms of opportunities for gain rather loss in the global environment. Only by deconstructing the linguistic asymmetry of original and translation can a post-national literature become transnational, writes David Roberts, and yet problems of translation and the movement of narratives across cultural and national borders remain (3). Indeed for outgoing President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Joseph Lo Bianco, “our next challenge comes from the border merging of globalisation, the trans-nationalism galloping across all the spaces once thought to be securely bound and structured by borders” (4). Literary study as an Australian FOR field is currently carried out in a range of departments and in conjunction with diverse disciplines, and draws deeply on the insights of adjacent areas such as cultural studies and social theory.
We literary scholars at the University of Sydney are aiming to explore the potential of transnationalism as a discursive practice and critical methodology for the study of literature. In doing so we will bring together junior and senior colleagues and postgraduate students from a wide range of departments and disciplines including English, the languages, classics, philosophy, history, cultural studies and the social sciences.
(1) Kristeva, Julia. Nations Without Nationalism. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 50.
(2) Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies.” Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, November 12, 2004. American Quarterly 57/1 (2005): 17-57.
(3) Roberts, David. “Literature and Globalization: Some Thoughts on Translation and the Transnational. Keynote Address: German Studies Association of Australia Conference, University of Western Australia, Perth, Nov. 26, 2009. 1.
(4) Joseph Lo Bianco, “Politics, Poetics and Policy: Borders, Bordering and Humanities,” Humanities Australia 3 (2012): 6-20.