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Writing the Cosmopolitan Imagination: Genre Transactions in World-Literary Space 

Bilateral research and exchange prgramme funded by DAAD and UGC from 2016 to 2020

A bilateral research and exchange network involving the Departments of English and German at the University of Potsdam and at the University of Delhi. The program was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) for a period of four years from 2016 to 2020.

Writing the Cosmopolitan Imagination: Genre Transactions in World-Literary Space conjoins three research themes that are crucially relevant in current literary and cultural studies: It links the discussion of an emergent transnational ‘world literature’ with contemporary debates over cosmopolitanism, planetarity and global citizenship as well as with the recent turn towards genre as an inherently social dimension of literature. By bringing these three dimensions together, the collaboration project aims to reassess and productively investigate in a sustained bilateral dialogue the ways in which literature contributes to the articulation of identities in the globalization process.

Writing the Cosmopolitan Imagination: Genre Transactions in World-Literary Space comprises the following measures:

  • individual research projects by PhD and postdoctoral researchers in English or German Studies;
  • reciprocal faculty members’ exchange including the teaching of seminars at the host university;
  • reciprocal students’ exchange;
  • extensive reciprocal students' seminar excursions to Delhi and Potsdam/Berlin;
  • summer and winter schools at both partner institutions;
  • international conferences with publication of proceedings;
  • guided students’ project work/students' excursions (three weeks) at both locations;
  • development of a joint module with an e-learning component;
  • joint PhD supervision where applicable

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gutter texts

In graphic narratives, the ‘gutter’ denotes the gap between panels that a reader has to imaginatively fill to generate narrative sequence. A similar ‘gappiness’ has become a hallmark of contemporary fiction as the loosely interlaced multistrand plot structures of influential ‘world novels’ (Bolaño, Mitchell, Powers) illustrate. While texts like these have been widely discussed, the Gutter Texts project shifts focus to a range of narrative forms that have so far received far less critical attention, such as the verse novel or the story cycle: narrative forms that are marked at all levels by the tense constellation of “segmentive and sequential tendencies” (Brian McHale) and a conspicuously gappy texture.

This is an ongoing research focus, whose first output -- Anglophone Verse Novels as Gutter Texts: Postcolonial Literature and the Politics of Gaps (Bloomsbury Academic 2023) -- is a monograph on contemporary verse novels across the Anglophone world. Particularly prolific in the postcolonial world and among diasporic or minoritarian writers in the Global North, verse novels today offer productive alternatives to the dominant prose novel. The study concentrates on two of the most prominent areas in which verse novels ‘do the job’ of the novel with a difference: the figuration of a planetary imaginary, and the shaping of postnational imagined communities. In ‘planetary’ verse novels from the Caribbean, Canada, Samoa and Hawai’i, the central trope of volcanism evokes a processual rather than a complete and finished planet: a world in constant un/making. Post-national verse novels (discussed with a focus on Britain) modify the established paradigms of the imagined community not only by attending to the erstwhile excluded but by locating the post-nation in heterogeneous worldly timepsaces. A concluding chapter speculates whether the resurgence of verse novels correlates with the apprehension of inhabiting a world that has become unpredictable and dangerous but also promising: a ‘post-prosaic’ world.

Texts analysed include Michael Cawood Green, Sinking; Derek Walcott, Omeros; Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red; Abert Wendt, The Adventures of Vela; W.S. Merwin, The Folding Cliffs; Kae Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos; Bernardine Evaristo, The Emperor's Babe; Patience Abgabe, Telling Tales; M. Nourbese Philip, Zong!

Widening the strictly form-oriented focus of Anglophone Verse Novels, a follow-up book (working titel Lost in the Known: Berlin in Anglophone Fiction after 1989) will analyse a number of Anglophone Berlin novels  by expanding the scope of the notion of the gutter as a general token of incompleteness -- whether of the city, its representation, or the subject immersed in it.