20 – 21 Jun 2019

The Work of World Literature

What is the relation between literary theory and world literature? Literary studies today tries to reckon with and transcend the parochialism and Eurocentrism of its tradition by adopting transnational, transhistorical, transcultural, translocal perspectives and by exploring the potential of the term ‘world literature’. This large-scale shift of the discipline has been accompanied by a ‘global turn’ within literary theory, resulting in a renewed interrogation of the relation of literature to the world at large and of the ethics and politics of literature in a globalizing world. These developments – the turn to world literature and the global turn in literary theory – are understood sometimes as antagonistic, sometimes as complimentary to one another. While world literature is often presented as an antidote to theory, it is also clearly constituted by a very specific theorizing of literature and as such invites further theoretical challenges and reflections.

The work of Derek Attridge demonstrates the critical and theoretical potential of the encounter between world literature and literary theory. In The Singularity of Literature (2004), Attridge insists that the book is complemented by his work in literary criticism on to the South African writer J. M. Coetzee, published the same year, J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. It is as if the theory of literature – of literature in general – emerges out of a particular literary encounter, in this instance with a postcolonial writer pre-occupied with geopolitical, historical, and ethical limits – not least the limits of literature itself. And it is no coincidence that, while Attridge is critical of an oversimplified mapping of politics onto literature, his theory of literature involves politically charged terms such as singularity, otherness, exclusion, response, responsibility, as well as justice and hospitality.

Responding to Attridge’s recent The Work of Literature (2015), a group of scholars will reflect on the correspondences between world literature, literary theory, and the world writ large. The symposium sets out to explore the limits but also the liminality of literary theory and the historical, geopolitical and theoretical frameworks that inform and perhaps also tacitly delimit world literature.


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Refqa Abu-Remaileh 
Lorna Margaret Burns 
Rashmi Varma 
Dirk Wiemann 
Jarad Zimbler
Derek Attridge

Organized by

Francesco Giusti
Benjamin Lewis Robinson

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: The Work of World Literature, symposium, ICI Berlin, 20–21 June 2019 <>