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Reading Global. Constructions of World Literature and Latin America

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - RG (Reading Global. Constructions of World Literature and Latin America)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

The debate on world literature is among the most significant cultural historical controversies of our time. The project "Reading Global. Constructions of World Literature and Latin America" was a contribution to this debate that aimed to pursue two goals in particular: a theoretical approach to the current shift in focus of the concept of World Literature involving both the displacement of Eurocentric forms of knowledge and a comprehensive review of selection processes in a globalized publishing world; and an investigation of the production and selection of literature that eschews an established canon as a point of departure.
This approach was based, among other things, on newly available archival materials from publishing houses active on the international market, which provided information on mechanisms of exclusion in the global book market departing from the example of Latin American Literatures.

As Literature is a fundamental medium of human communication and cultural contact it is crucial to understand which are the parameters used in the circulation of this medium - which images of different societies do circulate around the world and which criteria do influence these processes of circulation? RG’s importance for society can be seen in this respect: assuming that literature is a powerful medium where perceptions of global and local societies are shaped a critical understanding of the functioning of book markets and translation politics is crucial to better understand the cultural dimension of globalization. As (world) literature does not simply "exist" but is actively "made" by international book markets, the question of which parameters are at stake in those "makings of World Literature" possesses important implications.

The project's focus on Latin American literatures between 1959 and the present aimed to give new insights into the functioning of literary and cultural aspects of globalization in the past fifty years. Historically, one of the main issues was to investigate and better understand the shift from the "boom" of Latin American literatures in the 1960ies and 1970ies to contemporary Latin American literatures and their global circulation after 1989. The "exceptionality" of Latin American literatures lost importance in a multipolar world, which had important consequences for the aesthetics of these literatures and the way they could be marketed in the publishing houses in Europe and the US but also in (formerly) peripheral spaces, such as China, India, and Africa.
RG was an international 8-members-project with researchers originating from Europe, Argentina, and China. Within the project period between 2015 and 2021, a total of seven monographs on different forms of “producing” World Literature were published. Likewise, eight edited books and special issues in peer-reviewed international journals were published by the PI and other team members. A total of over 40 articles and books chapters were published by the project’s members in publications in Europe, the US, Latin America, and Asia. A new book series directed by the PI was launched at De Gruyter.

RG built international networks and research cooperation with World Literature-related projects in France, Spain, Sweden, and the US. A total of six international conferences was held in Cologne, three of them being hosted jointly with researchers from Harvard University, Brown University, and Université Paris-Seine.
Regarding its dissemination activities, RG created a realm of public discussion between academic approaches to World Literature and the agents and gatekeepers of current global literary book markets: thanks to regular activities, such as "Cologne Talks on World Literature" and conferences with a high participation of book market professionals, such as "World Editors", "Reading Global" connected academic and market perspectives, researchers and book market agents, writers and a general public.

The main research achievements were insights into the functioning of global literary markets regarding Latin American literatures in the past 50 years. Many of the publications within the project studied how the professionalization of book market agents, publishers, and translators, as well as the effects of digitalization and new forms of reception altogether affected the way literary and cultural goods have circulated on a global scale (see books such as “How Is World Literature Made? The Global Circulations of Latin American Literatures“ (2022), “Literatura latinoamericana mundial. Dispositivos y disidencias” (2020), and “De la literatura latinoamericana a la literatura (latinoamericana) mundial” (2019)). Moreover, RG approached understudied and neglected aspects of the global circulation of Latin American literatures, such as the importance of specific literary prizes in the "making of world authors" (in books such as "World Editors. Dynamics of Global Publishing and the Latin American Case between the Archive and the Digital Age" (2021)) and the reception and translation of Latin American literature beyond the Western centers, as was the case with Latin American literature in China and India ( in books such as “Re-Mapping World Literature. Estéticas, mercados y epistemologías entre América Latina y el Sur Global” (2018)). In the final stage of the project the growing exhaustion of the paradigm of globalization and world literature was addressed (in books such as “World Literature, Cosmopolitanism, Globality: Beyond, Against, Post, Otherwise”, 2019).

Methodologically, the project combined "classic" hermeneutic approaches with others taken from cultural sociology, economics, and translations studies. Departing from a material-based approach to literature and literary markets, the analysis of archival materials, such as correspondences between publishers, literary agents, and others, allowed for insights in the "making of world literature" and the factors at stake in these processes; a critical reading of paratextual materials, such as book covers or marketing campaigns, highlighted the often problematic and persisting dimensions of exoticising non-Western literatures; finally, these insights into the "fabrics" of World Literature also permitted to gain an overview of the works that had never entered the realm of global literature and the reasons for these processes of exclusion.
RG opened new dimensions within global book market studies in the field of World Literature and Latin American literatures. The project underlined the importance of material factors and archival research within the field of World Literature studies to better understand the complexity of creating cultural products and value within global and asymmetric cultural markets, as studied regarding the example of Latin America.

RG attained visibility thanks to international cooperation with universities in the US, Europe, Latin America, and China and proved the importance of international cooperation in the context of globally oriented cultural and literary studies. RG integrated actively researchers from the Global South in its conference and publication projects and trained its members for future positions in international academia.