Ravenstein Seminar 2021: Literature, Language and Belonging

Utrecht | 20-22 January 2021 (the seminar will move online if necessary)

Organizers: Jesse van Amelsvoort (Groningen), Dr. Birgit Kaiser (Utrecht), Dr. Aukje van Rooden (UvA), prof. dr. Margriet van der Waal (UvA/Groningen)
Venue: Utrecht University, room TBD
Credits: 5-6 EC, or 2 for attendance only.
Open to: PhD candidates and RMA students; OSL members have first access.

Registration will open Fall 2020.

Short description

Literature distinguishes itself from other art forms through its use of language. Without language, no literature. At the same time, language also binds groups of speakers together through its everyday use as means of communication and the intimate ties that exist between language and culture. Therefore, language is closely related to notions of (national) belonging: it offers an individual membership of a particular cultural and political collective. Writers contribute to shape these social collectives, even though some writers do not find themselves at home there and have consequently asked probing questions about the cultural politics of their writing, their use of language and the community-constituting effects of their writing. In this winter school, we will explore the various ways in which literature, through its use of language, creates, sustains and contests notions of belonging. We take our keywords – ‘literature’, ‘language’ and ‘belonging’ as invitations to think about what the connection between these keywords mean or could mean.

Topics we will discuss include:

  • literary multi- and translingualism;
  • translation and (un)translatability;
  • language variety and the aesthetics of difference;
  • meaning-making and the instability of language;
  • language standardization and the nation-state;
  • literary and linguistic expressions of belonging;
  • minority languages and literatures;
  • colonialism and language politics.

We will be joined by national and international scholars who will present their current research projects and discuss the challenges of interdisciplinary and multilingual research. Our aim is to connect literary studies on the one hand with linguistic concerns, and on the other hand build bridges with social scientific disciplines such as anthropology and cultural geography engaging with questions of language and belonging.

The purpose of the winter school is to give participating RMa and PhD students an introduction that is both broad and deep into the complex and changing configurations of literature, language and belonging; to provide them with an overview of current debates and innovative research practices; and to give them the opportunity to explore possible topics for research activities of their own.

Suggested readings

The actual reader with prescribed texts will follow. In the meantime, students wishing to prepare themselves can turn to the following texts:

  • Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006).
  • Apter, Emily, Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (London: Verso, 2013).
  • Dowling, Sarah, Translingual Poetics: Writing Personhood under Settler Colonialism (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018).
  • Gal, Susan, “Migration, Minorities and Multilingualism: Language Ideologies in Europe,” in: Language Ideologies, Policies, and Practices: Language and the Future of Europe, edited by Clare Mar-molinero and Patrick Stevenson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 13-27.
  • Gilmour, Rachael, and Tamar Steinitz (eds.). Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation and Culture (London/New York: Routledge, 2018).
  • Gramling, David, The Invention of Monolingualism (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).
  • Grönstrand, Heidi, Markus Huss, and Ralf Kauranen (eds.), The Aesthetics and Politics of Linguistic Borders: Multilingualism in Northern European Literature (London/New York: Routledge, 2019).
  • Helgesson, Stefan, and Thomas Mads Rosendahl, Literature and the World (London/New York: Routledge, 2019).
  • Kellman, Steven, The Translingual Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
  • Laachir, Karima, Sara Marzagora, and Francesca Orsini, “Significant Geographies: In lieu of World Literature,” in: Journal of World Literature 3.3 (2018): 290-310.
  • Lennon, Brian, In Babel’s Shadow: Multilingual Literatures, Monolingual States (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
  • Lionnet, Françoise, and Shu-mei Shih (eds.), Minor Transnationalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).
  • Orsini, Francesca, “The Multilingual Local in World Literature,” in: Comparative Literature 67.4 (2015): 345-74.
  • Sommer, Doris, Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
  • Walkowitz, Rebecca, Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in the Age of World Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).
  • Yildiz, Yasemin, Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).


We have confirmed the following speakers as keynote speakers:

  • Philip Leonard (Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom)
  • Rachael Gilmour (Queen Mary, London, United Kingdom)
  • Sarah Dowling (University of Toronto, Canada). Title: “Settler Monolingualism: Language Politics and Racialization in North America”
  • Helena Bodin (Stockholm University, Sweden).

The afternoon of 21 January is devoted to the practice of translation across languages. For this, we will show the film The Miracle of The Little Prince (2018, dir. Marjoleine Boonstra), followed by a panel with the director of the film and a translator.

Tentative schedule

Wednesday 20 January (Introductory workshop for RMa students)

09:00              Walk in and registration

09:45               Welcome and introduction

10:00               Paper pitches

12:30               Lunch break

13:30               Talk 1 by organisers

14:15               Talk 2 by organisers

15:00               Coffee break

15:15               Talk 3 by organisers

16:00               Talk 4 by organisers

16:45               Wrap-up and reflection

Thursday 21 January (First conference day)

10:00               Opening day 2

10:15               Keynote 1

11:45               Coffee break

12:00               Keynote 2

13:30               Lunch

14:30               Film showing: The Miracle of The Little Prince (2018, 89 min.)

16:00               Panel: translators on translation

16:45               Drinks

18:00               Conference dinner

Friday 22 January (Second conference day)

10:00               Keynote 3

11:30               Coffee break

11:45               Keynote 4

13:15               Lunch

14:00               Paper discussions / peer review

15:30               Wrap up

Format lectures

We want to activate the students and therefore want to ask 2 students (preferably PhD candidates, but also more advanced RMa students) to give a brief response after each keynote lecture. This will be part of their participation. Thus, the indicative lecture format is as follows: 45 min lecture, 5 minutes for quick clarifications, 5-10 minutes for the responses, with up to 30 minutes for general discussion. When students register for the winter school, they will be asked to indicate their theoretical interests so we can combine them with the right keynote speaker.

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