IWL 2020: A report from OSL participants

This year’s edition of the Harvard-based Institute of World Literature programme took place — for the first time online… OSL PhDs Jesse van Amelsvoort (Groningen – Campus Fryslân) and Ahmed Nuri (Amsterdam) took part in the programme, and shared their impressions with us.


Jesse van Amelsvoort: Studying World Literature Online

The Institute for World Literature (IWL) is a meeting-point for scholars and students from all around the world. In every other year, we would have met in a major city and cultural hub – after Beijing, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Tokyo, and Boston, this year the IWL was to set up camp in Belgrade. Covid-19 interfered, of course. Instead of the Serbian capital (itself at one point engulfed in protests against the government’s coronavirus policies), the IWL directorship decided that the roughly 130 participants would meet in the virtual world of Zoom.

So, if anything, I’m writing about an IWL session that cannot be compared to previous meetings, nor, hopefully, to its future incarnations. At the same time, a digital IWL made visible the beauty of the global study of world literature: as I would log onto my daily meeting starting at a very reasonable three in the afternoon, I would find there already colleagues from Central and Eastern Europe, one hour ahead of me, from the U.S. and Canadian East Coast, drinking their first (or maybe second) coffee of the day, China (nine in the evening), the U.S. West Coast (six in the morning), and Australia (eleven in the evening). Coming together in this way made the loss of our physical, face-to-face meeting stronger, but also created a sense of community of world literary scholars.

And scholars we were. Critical, engaged, but above all passionate about literature, language, and, really, so much more. Since 2010, David Damrosch and Delia Ungureanu have been building the IWL as a broad church, anchored at Harvard University, but open to people and perspectives from all around the globe. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people talk about literature from five continents, at least five centuries, and a multiple of five languages. The world is a pretty rich place.

The question what world literature is, has haunted the discipline from its inception. As we engage its canonical thinkers from Goethe to Erich Auerbach to David Damrosch and beyond, one further question continuously comes to the fore: What is this world you speak of? Answers abound, but being together with people in their own time zones and in the comfort of their own homes made it very clear it for sure exists. We are all so very clearly in place, while also attempting to think and reach beyond that place, every day again. That is an experience no IWL so far had been able to provide.


Ahmed Nuri: Zooming in on World Literature

The Institute for World Literature (IWL), Harvard University actively, ambitiously, and extensively promotes ideas on and works of world literature and connects both scholars and students from around the world. The 10th IWL session was planned to be held in Belgrade until the COVID 19 pandemic hit the world. Subsequently, the whole program was set up online, via Zoom, our new trusty, lifesaving digital friend.

My experiences as a participant in the IWL 2020 program were academically stimulating and challenging, at times entertaining. For the first two weeks of the program, I was in Istanbul and I attended David Damrosch’s “Globalization and Its Discontents” seminar in which the arguments of the participants were fruitful, inspirational, and instructive. There was also a plenary session with Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, which was quite ironic, as I was living in his neighborhood at the time. More interesting was the fact that I could almost touch his marvelous The Museum of Innocence from my French balcony while watching him on Zoom. In the second week, there was the second plenary session, which was presented by Amsterdam-based post-Yugoslavian author Dubravka Ugrešić. These plenary sessions illustrated the different approaches and understandings of two well-regarded authors regarding the role of translation and the function of writing in general. It was useful to compare an academic approach with the authors` personal positions.

On the weekend between seminar one and two, I traveled from Istanbul to Bulgaria to access some archives and I had to stay in obligatory quarantine for two weeks somewhere in southern Bulgaria. The last two weeks of the IWL program, which included the second seminar “Literature in a World Perspective: Undoing the Monoglossic Turn” by Françoise Král, corresponded to the quarantine period exactly. All the discussions, exchanges, and lectures about literature and language were lively, analytical, passionate, and beyond my expectations. Even though the sessions and interactions were limited by the digital mode, the digital space did not prevent academically productive interactions, exchanges with potential future collaborations, or some entertaining conversations. As is common at conferences, apart from the official seminar program, I had opportunities to interact with the other participants, this time at unofficial Zoom coffee meetings, which I found to be a great way of networking.

All in all, David Damrosch and Delia Ungureanu along with all the well-regarded seminar leaders and motivated participants, provided a welcoming, nonhierarchical, highly professional, and academically ambitious platform on which everyone was critically engaged with and passionate about literature.



Message from OSL’s PhD Representatives

26 August 2020


With this message we would like to inform you that we, Kim Schoof (OU) and Judith Jansma (RUG), are the PhD representatives of OSL. This concretely means two things. First, we represent your interests during our quarterly meetings with the advisory board of OSL. Second, our goal is to create a closer community of OSL PhD candidates, which is why we want to reanimate the yearly PhD day.

It is therefore important for you to know that you can contact us at the email addresses below with all your questions, concerns, ideas and other things you think we should be aware of. We would be delighted to bring your input to the advisory board, or to hear your suggestions for interesting topics or speakers for our next PhD day (June 2021), and are of course open to any other new ideas.


All the best,


Kim Schoof (Kim.Schoof@ou.nl)

Judith Jansma (j.f.jansma@rug.nl)

Eduardo Gallegos Krause | Border narratives: From travel chronicles to the journalistic press. Continuities and discontinuities around the constitution of the pre-modernist chronicle

This research aims to study and understand the link between European travel chronicles from the 19th century onwards, and how these texts were reproduced by the early Chilean press. The research project addresses the continuities and discontinuities, and the similarities and differences between both of them.

Chronicle has been traditionally analyzed and differentiated by identifying three essential periods: The chronicle of the Indias from the 15th to 18th century; The modernist chronicle from the second half (and especially the end) of the 19th century; And the contemporary chronicle from the 1960s and 1970s up today. Notwithstanding, some researchers have pointed to a lack of knowledge, especially with regard to the period between the chronicle of the Indias and the modernist chronicle.

In order to bridge this gap, my research investigates the relation between European travel chronicles and the early Chilean press in the ‘pre-modernist’ phase. The 19th century is characterized by a self-proclaimed global civilizing project, which is currently understood in direct continuity with 15th-century colonialism. This global project aimed to activate cultural and economic connections worldwide with imperialistic purposes. Global (post)colonialism, in a discursive and materialistic way, is the consequence of this process up to the present days.

Travel chronicles are a vehicle and an integral part of the expansionist-colonialist project known as the “colonial culture”. In particular, travel narratives are part of the “travel culture” inherent to the colonial project. Moreover, they are just one of many different cultural devices (such as popular songs, cabaret, human zoos, among others), which are related to the 19th century “colonial immersion”. In these circumstances, European travel literature represents Latin America in terms of exoticism and unexplored regions.

Therefore, the link between European travel chronicles and the way they appear in Chile’s early press seems to be a productive space of scholarly research and reflection.

Duygu Erbil | Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe

Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe

Duygu Erbil | Utrecht University | Supervisor: Ann Rigney, Second Supervisor: Anna Poletti | 01 September 2019 – 01 September 2023

Duygu Erbil is a PhD candidate in the ReAct project. Her project explores the cultural afterlife of Deniz Gezmiş and how this student leader and activist has been remembered in Turkey since his execution in 1972.

My PhD project studies the cultural afterlife of the urban guerrilla and student leader of the ’68 generation in Turkey, Deniz Gezmiş, who was executed by the 1972 military junta with his friends Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan. What interests me is the centrality of his figure in Turkish Marxist iconography. Despite the abundance of “martyrs’ from his generation, and the execution of two other comrades alongside him, it is the “storied life” of Gezmiş that stands out, indicating the “principle of scarcity” and selectivity of cultural memory (Rigney 2005). My research examines the reasons for his extreme memorability.

Within this framework, I am especially interested in the role of ‘violence’ in the memory work that produces his hypercanonisation. His militant urban guerrilla identity makes Gezmiş a troubling figure within the contemporary discourse of non-violent activism, especially when we consider how he has become the representative of the youth, tortured and murdered by the state. I am interested in the dynamics between being an agent of violence and a victim of violence in generating commemoration and transmitting hope.

Judith Jansma | From Submission to Soumission: Populist Perspectives on Culture

Judith Jansma | From Submission to Soumission: Populist Perspectives on Culture | University of Groningen, Faculty of Art, Graduate School for the Humanities (GSH) | Prof. dr. P. Valdivia Martín, Prof. dr. L.P. Rensmann, Dr. A. Godioli | September 1st 2017 – August 30th 2021 | j.f.jansma@rug.nl


In today’s political discourse the idea of a culturally-grounded national identity has made a strong come-back. One can think of Theresa May’s (in)famous  statement that “citizens of the world are actually citizens of nowhere”, or Dutch Christian-democratic party CDA insisting on the integration of the national hymn in the primary school curriculum. Yet this adherence to national identity as a way to deal with complex societal challenges (globalization, multiculturalism) is performed to a much greater extent by populist parties associated with the far right. Their understanding of citizenship being based on the notion of “ethnos” rather than “demos” – leading to a strong “us vs. them” narrative – it should not come as a surprise that culture is an important tool to unite “us” and to exclude “them”.

Therefore, my research project looks at ways in which populist discourse engages with culture. Two research questions are central:

  1. Mapping the use of cultural references in the Netherlands and France: what images, cultural institutions and products do populists identify with or promote?
  2. From Theo van Gogh to Houellebecq: How did populist actors contribute to the public debate surrounding controversial works and authors?

My earlier case study on Soumission  has demonstrated that the novel was interpreted by the Front National as a warning sign for the near future, holding both the elites and the “others” accountable for France’s (fictional) Islamization. However, it is clear that this reading uses the populist tools of simplification and polarization, thereby neglecting the novel’s literary complexity.

Ahmed Nuri | The Representational and Structural Anxieties of Turkish Literary Modernity Literary

Ahmed Nuri | The Representational and Structural Anxieties of Turkish Literary Modernity Literary

Ahmed Nuri | The Representational and Structural Anxieties of Turkish Literary Modernity Literary: Subjectivities and Modernism in the Turkish Novel | ARTES, University of Amsterdam | 11- 10- 2018 (4 years)  | Supervisors: Prof. dr. Luiza Bialasiewicz dr. Guido Snel

This research project intends to understand and investigate the relationship between the notion of modernity and literature in the context of the Ottoman-Turkish modernization through the literary works of three prominent Turkish novelists, Ahmet H. Tanpınar, Adalet Agaoglu, and Orhan Pamuk. The focus of the study on particular novels of these three authors, with an interdisciplinary perspective, combines literary analysis with closed reading, using the tools of narratological analysis, and an analysis of the Turkish novel in the context of world literature. The main goal of the research is to examine literary modernity in Turkey through the selected novels, considering if literature can be a central point to examine the experience of modernity in Turkey, and how the various aspects of (literary) modernity in the Ottoman-Turkish context are represented, narrated, and reconstructed in the novels, whereas these novels have been shaping literary modernism in Turkish literature between the 1950s and 1990s. The study, therefore, suggest a new way of understanding Turkish literary modernity through the conceptual framework of anxiety, which is a phenomenological tool that explains the modes, forms, tensions, and contexts of a phenomenon of “change” and “new” in the simultaneity of socio-cultural, economic, and institutional transformations with regard to literary modernity, particularly the Turkish novel. In this manner, my research consists of an analysis of the literary subjectivities in the novels, constituting a character typology as a character-identity mapping in the Turkish novel. The concept of anxiety is used not only as a phenomenological concept that explains the structural aspects of literary modernity but also as representational formations of literary subjectivities as the manifestations of individual and collective identities in a broader sense. In short, the study aims at developing epistemological knowledge about the Turkish literary modernity, focusing on particular literary texts and the macro-level processes that elaborate the crossroads where fictional literary works penetrate socio-cultural and politicalideological structures and discourses in Turkey and vice versa.

Kim Schoof | Literature as “compearance-attestation”

Kim Schoof | Open Universiteit | Literature as “compearance-attestation”: conceptualizing and interpreting contemporary autobiographical literature as aesthetic attestation to the political self

In the last decades, the popularity of autobiographical literature has increased in such a way that today, ‘it qualifies as a cultural obsession’. (diBattista and Wittman, The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography 2014: 1) While postmodern philosophy criticized the idea that anyone can attest directly to their “true” experiences in written text, writers – feeling encouraged rather than disheartened – never stopped finding creative and aesthetic ways to do so. In fact, many contemporary autobiographical works of literature, such as Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy (2014), Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015), have been widely embraced as exemplary testimonials to what it means to live as an individual in specific political circumstances in today’s world.

Life Writing Studies still lack a fitting conception of these contemporary works of autobiographical literature that at the same time accounts for 1) their rootedness in the true experiences of writers, 2) their literariness, and 3) their political implications. This project will develop such an approach by introducing the hermeneutic concept of self-attestation in Life Writing Studies, a concept that accounts for the first two of these characteristics. Furthermore, by incorporating the critique that postmodern philosophers have formulated on the concept of self-attestation, this project will develop a more up-to-date version of the concept, that elucidates the ways in which individuals in today’s world are defined by their political relations to others: “compearance-attestation”. Literary analyses of several important contemporary works of autobiographical literature will be the end goal of this project.

Clara Vlessing | Defiant Women

Clara Vlessing | Defiant Women | Utrecht University | Supervisor: Prof. dr Ann Rigney | February 2019 – January 2023 | c.l.vlessing[at]uu.nl
My project looks at the cultural afterlives of women activists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It serves as a case study within the wider ERC project ReAct (Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe since 1871), which analyses the relationship between civil resistance and cultural memory in Europe since the late nineteenth century. My research focuses on the afterlives of prominent activists from this period: Louise Michel, Emma Goldman and Sylvia Pankhurst, aiming to answer two closely related questions: How have these activists been remembered? How has that memory changed over time?

Juan Del Valle Rojas | Imagining the Unpredictable: Communication, Power and Technology in José Ricardo Morales’ Transnational Theatre

Juan Del Valle Rojas | University of Groningen

My PhD research is mainly focused on the transnational and interdisciplinary dimension of Communication, Power and Technology in the work of Spanish-Chilean playwright José Ricardo Morales.

In particular, my goal is to shed light on the problematization of communication processes and power appropriation in Morales’ plays and essays. Morales’ major concern for the (im)possibility of communicating/representing the Other has led much of established criticism to label his legacy as absurdist theatre. However, in his book José Ricardo Morales de mar a mar (2014), Pablo Valdivia posits that Morales applied deconstruction avant la lettre to his conception of the performative process. In his plays and essays, language, technology, communication and representation are highly problematized, becoming, in fact, the central focus of his artistic endeavour. Morales anticipated the advent of Internet and digital media, nuclear technology, the dehumanization produced by the disjoint in communication processes and the hyper-globalized world.

My research will focus on three main objectives: (1) Problematize the notions of communication, power and technology in José Ricardo Morales’s transnational theatre; (2) Study the discursive elements in Morales’ writings in connection to the construction of alternative social and virtual imaginaries; (3) Revitalize Morales’ works in the context of educational, political, cultural and economic challenges.

Marloes Mekenkamp | Violence and Affect in Female Poetic Activism in Contemporary Mexico

Marloes Mekenkamp | Violence and Affect in Female Poetic Activism in Contemporary Mexico | Radboud University |  Prof. Dr Maarten Steenmeijer and Dr Brigitte Adriaensen | September 1, 2018 – August 30, 2023 | m.mekenkamp[at]let.ru.nl

Contemporary Mexican cultural production is strongly influenced by the extreme violence that has engulfed the country in recent years. A literary phenomenon that emerged within this context is the production of political poetry written by women that combines commemoration with mobilization. This form of poetic activism recounts violent episodes of Mexico’s recent past by appropriating testimonies by victims. In addition, these poems are remediated in the public sphere, during protest marches and performances that seek to denounce violent acts committed by the state and/or criminal groups and demand justice and peace.

This project studies how the work of three female poets generates and transmits affect in order to mediate memories of violence and engage an audience. Particular attention is paid to “bodily excess”, i.e. spectacles of crying, violence and sexual violence. It is argued that the representation of public mourning, mutilated bodies, and/or explicit scenes of rape in the poems produce intense bodily effects in their recipients that on their turn help to construct a collective memory while mobilizing a counter-action.