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A Theme Issue of Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies

Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures


Daniel Purdy (Penn State University), Stefan Uhlig (UC Davis), Chunjie Zhang (UC Davis)


This special issue of Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies on “Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures” aims to enrich the debate around these key terms for post-national literary and cultural studies without reinforcing their conventional linkages. We endeavor to understand Goethe not only as a literary and historical figure but also as a construct through which institutions and traditions are produced. To a certain extent, the making of Goethe in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries accompanies modernity’s various pursuits on different scales.


We welcome contributions that enhance our understandings of the linkages between Goethe, worlds, and literatures. We seek to rethink the interactions between these historical and theoretical perspectives and read the three keywords in their multiple relations. Indeed, Goethe’s endorsement of a world literature has anchored some uncritical conceptions of a global, largely English, and translated, canon. Across two centuries, the German Goethe cult has, likewise, variously reinvented its hero as a national and cosmopolitan authority. Work on Goethe tends, by contrast, to respond to questions about worlds and literatures in somewhat narrow historical frames without effectively connecting to current debates on world literature and cosmopolitanism. Studies like Pheng Cheah’s What is a World? and Aamir Mufti’s Forget English! pull against a narrow Eurocentric worldliness and point toward an opportunity to reread Goethe. At the same time, the long history of Goethe’s reception and representation offers insights into the extensive archeology of these related concepts. How have the author’s various comments, scattered across different publications, been redeployed to serve diverse cultural agendas? What function has the invocation of the author’s name served in various historical debates over world literary relations?

Goethe’s comments on world literature have helped to shape debates about cultural globalization, canonization, and humanist universalism. Rather than take the link for granted, we seek to complicate this dominant construction. We want to ask how a German writer who spent decades of his life around 1800 in provincial Weimar has remained such a resource for global theorizing in the present. How could Goethe’s world with all its cultural, political, linguistic, and even imaginative confinements speak for and to diverse literatures and cultures of the European and non-European worlds, both then and now? What worlds and literatures can we construe through Goethe and, conversely, do we need his authorship to think world literature(s) historically? How does the canonization of Goethe define his place in literary studies or his dominance for the debate about world literature? What are its long-term cultural or geopolitical implications if – to name just one example – Oswald Spengler’s notion of the decline of the West draws heavily both on the Faustian spirit and on Goethe’s works? We solicit contributions that engage the interactions between Goethe, worlds, and literatures to reframe both his writings and their resonance within a globalized contemporary environment. Interdisciplinary approaches are welcome as Goethe’s leverage extends through social thought, historiography, and cultural history as much as literary studies. We look for studies that explore the history and theory of our rubrics from the Goethezeit up to the present.


Please submit 1-2 page abstracts by January 1, 2017. Deadline for submission of manuscripts is June 1, 2017. All submissions will be peer reviewed and final acceptances will be based on the results of the review. Please send queries, abstracts, and manuscripts to the editorial team: Daniel Purdy ([log in to unmask])<mailto:[log in to unmask])>, Stefan Uhlig ([log in to unmask])<mailto:[log in to unmask])>, and Chunjie Zhang ([log in to unmask])<mailto:[log in to unmask])>.




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