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Mulosige Report Summary

Project ID: 670876
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Mulosige (Multilingual locals, significant geographies: a new approach to world literature)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-06-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Does “world literature” mean literature written or translated in “world languages”? Or literature that circulates globally? Is there a single system or field of world literature? How should we study world literature beyond Europe in a way that does not flatten it into a mirror-image of Europe but is attentive to its specific histories and phenomena? How can we study and theorize Anglo- and Francophone literatures and literatures in African and Asian languages together, in ways that do not simply reinforce the current privileging of Anglophone and Francophone writing?
In the context of renewed scholarly debate on world literature and the global claims of the publishing market, the project “Multilingual locals and significant geographies” (MULOSIGE), directed by Francesca Orsini at SOAS, University of London, argues against simple and summary models of “one-world thinking” that posit the existence of a single world literary system, where what does not circulate globally is provincial, not good enough, not “world literature”.
The picture of a unified global literary map with stable centres and peripheries and a single timeline, the project argues, bears little resemblance to the multilingual world of literature, which consists of many “significant geographies” specific to language, group, and genre, and of multiple, fragile and often unexpected trajectories of written and oral circulation. By exploring the fractured and fractious “multilingual locals” of literature in North India, Morocco, and Ethiopia—three regions with different multilingual histories, colonial experiences, and strong oral traditions—the project aims to establish a multilingual and located approach to world literature. It seeks to develop alternative categories for thinking about world literature and methods for studying and teaching multilingual texts and societies, and to highlight geographies of literary production and circulation that global models render invisible. As globalisation becomes more and more our reality, it is vital that we don’t become blind to its complexities and to the many worlds that make up the world.
Mindful of older histories and geographies of literary multilingualism and critical of the monolingual straitjacket of modern literary histories that partition Anglo- and Francophone literature from Arabic, Amharic, and Hindi/Urdu, the project focuses on three periods: imperial consolidation, decolonization, and the current globalizing moment. It explores local transculturations, local views of world literature, actors and technologies of print and orality, and the circulation of forms and ideas laterally across regions. The aim is to highlight dynamics of appropriation rather than imitation and the multiplicity of choices and trajectories that together form local and transnational literary fields. The project has three strands: North India, Horn of Africa, and Maghreb, each with a postdoc and a PhD student attached. The North Indian strand is led by the PI (who spends 50% of her time on the project), the Maghreb by the Senior Researcher (Karima Laachir, on 20%), and the Horn of Africa by one of the postdocs (Marzagora). The project is doubly comparative, within each region and across the regions; it also actively seeks further comparisons with other relevant regions particularly in Asia and Africa.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The first six months of the project (2016) were devoted to recruiting the team of three post-doctoral fellows and three PhD students. Given the requirement that each postdoctoral fellow know and work with at least two languages of the region and that they engage with world literature theory, the field of candidates in each case was small: the postdoctoral fellow for the Horn of Africa (Marzagora) was appointed early in February 2016. The postdoc for North India (for Urdu and English, Burney) was appointed in April 2016 but could only join in February 2017 as soon as she finished her PhD. The postdoc for the Maghreb initially appointed in June 2016 to start in September declined for personal reason, and a second round of recruitment was also unsuccessful once the candidate selected rejected our salary offer; we are now happy to have recruited a historian of colonial Morocco who works with Arabic, Spanish and French sources (Goicolea) who will start in September 2017. Two of three PhD students were also recruited in May-June 2016 (Clift for Hindi and Urdu historical writing in North India, Blalack for Sufi literary networks in the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa) and they started in September 2016; they both were successfully upgraded to PhD status in May 2017 and have been selected for the Institute of World Literature summer school in Copenhagen in July 2017. We did not find a suitable candidate for the Horn of Africa PhD in the first round, but had a good field for the second round and have selected a lecturer from Ethiopia (Kebele) working on Oromo literature to start in September 2017. We started with an ad-hoc administrative assistant and recruited a project coordinator in June 2016.
Another key activity in the first period, apart from weekly project meetings of the whole team, has been the fortnightly reading group throughout the academic year, which has allowed us to develop a common ground, share key scholarly and primary texts in the respective areas, explore possible themes for focused comparison and read up on other relevant theories and methodologies. In 2016 we hosted the first three Visiting Fellows (or, as we call them, Critical Friends: Vierke, Ricci, and Mallette); we held intense discussions with them about the aims and methodologies of the project and experimented with different forms of activity—reading group, reading of a primary text in a language we don’t know (Ricci). In 2017 we had 4 Critical Friends on topics related to colonialism: Majeed on colonialism and language and the Linguistic Survey of India (February), Mufti on Orientalism and world literature (February), Booth on genres of women’s writing in colonial Egypt (March) and Shankar on the project website, teaching strategies and plans for translations (June). Another academic visitor from Ethiopia (Shiferaw Bekele) was unfortunately refused a UK visa, but he will come to the Delhi workshop in December 2017.
We decided to anticipate the first workshop, on late pre-colonial multilingualism, to June 2016 so as to lay the ground for the intra- and inter-regional comparison in preparation for the first period of the project (in Year 2). We invited 24 speakers from the UK, Europe and the US: 6 on North India (Hindi, Urdu, Persian), 7 on the Maghreb and Arabic more generally, 6 on the Horn of Africa (Amharic, Geez, Arabic and Somali), and 5 critical friends who work on early modern multilingualism in other regions. Two partners, one from India (Apoorvanand) and one from Ethiopia (Mecca), took part. It is vital for us to involve a broader group of scholars working on languages and genres that we can command, but the workshop also alerted us to the need for strategies to encourage both intra- and inter-regional dialogue and comparison. Many of us are specialists used to speaking to specialist audiences, and we happily acknowledge the existence multilingualism in general without considering its consequences for the languages, texts and genres we wor

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

MULOSIGE has already attracted a lot of attention among scholars and students of world literature, comparative literatures, and Asian and African literature, and the PI’s article “The Multilingual Local in world literature” (2015) has already been assigned at US University seminars at Rutgers, UC Berkeley, UT Austin. The MULOSIGE reading group attracts postgraduate students and postdocs from other London Universities as well as from within SOAS, and has strengthened ties with colleagues in other UK Universities, crossing the Area Studies literature/postcolonial Anglophone and Francophone literature divide—one of the aims of the project. The PI’s invitation to teach on the IWL summer school and become part its managing committee; the invitation to Peking University; and invitations to give keynote addresses in Vienna (ICLA), New Delhi (Medieval History Journal, lecture published in Spring 2017), Jena (German Orientalist Congress), Stockholm, Warwick, as well as Marzagora’s invitations to intellectual history workshops in the US, Crete, and fellowship in Berlin (Zentrum Moderner Orient) show the impact the project is having. The MLA panel “Absent Presence” and the PI’s forthcoming article by the same name have highlighted the importance of book history in the project, and the kinds of texts from India and the Middle East that found favour among Western readers in the 19c, to the exclusion of the many other books in Asian, Middle Eastern and African languages that also reached Europe and America through enterprising book importers.
The papers from the workshop on precolonial literary multilingualism have been submitted for a special issue of Comparative Studies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East and are currently under review. We are looking for a journal or publisher for the papers of the Paris workshop.
Looking ahead, the one-day workshop co-organized by the PI and North India/English postdoc (Burney) with Prof Hutchinson of the University of Kent on “West-Eastern Lyric” (November 2017) will continue the exploration of the impact of “Eastern literature” in Europe, but also the circuitous ways in which “Eastern poems” travelled in Europe and back to India. This is important since one of the main aims of the project is to establish a much-needed conversation between literature specialists on Asia and Africa and scholars of European literature. Another one-day workshop comparing settler colonialisms is also planned, either at SOAS or in Oxford, also in November 2017. The first workshop in a partner country is planned at the India International Centre in Delhi for December 2017.
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