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Literature in the World


Thomas Vaessens, Gaston Franssen


Literary Culture – Media – Constructions of Identity and Heritage – History of the Present – Topicality of the Past – Ideology – Effect/Affect – Cultural Theory

Members of the group:

  • Stephan Besser
  • Paul Bijl
  • Femke Essink 
  • Gaston Franssen
  • Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes
  • Henk van der Liet
  • Willemijn van der Linden
  • Lisa Kuitert
  • Graham Riach
  • Jan Rock
  • Lisanne Snelders 
  • Rik Spanjers 
  • Thomas Vaessens
  • Anouk Zuurmond


Description of research program:

The research group focuses on the interaction of literary practices with the discourses, ideologies and habits of perception that structure modern and contemporary society at large.

The history of modern literature is not understood as a sequence of more or less timeless milestones, but as an ongoing cultural process in which the meanings, significance and value(s) attached to texts change, and in which the various cultural practices in which ‘literature’ is performed differ over time. Literature is investigated in its capacity to connect to changeable contexts: its feasibility (or canonicity) depends on the extent to which it’s given new meanings and forms, conceivably in other media (adaptation, appropriation). By studying the connections and intersections between literature and the modern and contemporary world, the group aims to contribute to the insight of the dynamics of modern literary culture. The research centers around three broad themes:

·         Impact of Literature: the divergent connections texts make in the course of their ‘afterlife(s)’ with other discourses and contexts and how these connections are linked to cultural memory, social and political change as well as national identity;

·         The Cultural Practices of Literature:  how ‘literature’ is produced, used and appropriated (the Republic of Letters, literary criticism, writerly/readerly communities, celebrity/fan culture);

·         Cultural Transformation: literary culture and (re)mediation, democratization of taste.

The group members share a critical engagement with essentialist approaches to the past and heritage and reductive forms of contextualization. They support the opening up of the literary space made possible by Cultural studies and New Cultural History: the relevance of popular culture, digital writing, non‐fiction, therapeutic and scientific writing, and the literariness of cultural representations in general.

Envisaged results:

The research group’s principal aim is to join forces and to develop a distinct profile for the study of modern and contemporary literary culture and heritage at our university. The coherency of the group is safeguarded in monthly meeting in which the group’s (strategic) activities are discussed, such as: joint research proposals (NWO, ERC), co‐publications, panel proposals, research seminars, Winter/Summer Schools for PhD‐students (Onderzoekschool Literatuurwetenschap OSL), collaborations with international partners…

The research output of the group members will be actively monitored and managed with an eye to the coherence and integration of the program.

Societal relevance:

The research group’s shared concerns are related to urgent questions in both current scholarship as in today’s public debate in/on culture:

·         Literary culture and cultural production as privileged domain for the formation and reconfiguration of national (collective) identities; culture’s role in relation to nationalisms since the 19th century on the one hand and the critique of limited notions of identity (cf. the ‘rise’ of world literature, post‐colonial literature etc.) and of collective identities on the other hand; contextualizing intellectual debates and the role of public intellectuals;

·         The topicality of the past and the extended history of the present: culture as a set of practices that construct and undo images of the past and notions of heritage; retaking and remodeling heritage to explore future vistas;

·         New perspectives for comparative literary and cultural analysis: rethinking literature, culture and the humanities: not as universalizing projects, but as forms of dynamic, localized cosmopolitanism;

·         Analysis of the discourses of cultural heritage and “digital humanities”: Fears of forgetting and fantasies of completeness and contemporary culture and academia; exploration of contemporary ‘archive fever’ and database aesthetics as strategies of a repositioning and reformatting of the humanities;

·         Critical engagement with essentialist approaches to the past and heritage and reductive forms of contextualization;

·         Opening up the space of literature: the relevance of popular culture, digital writing, nonfiction, therapeutic and scientific writing, and the literariness of cultural representations in general.

Additionally, public events and non‐academic dissemination of research‐output are considered to be part of the groups aims and activities. Public lectures and debates will be organized in collaboration with Spui25, Studium Generale, Perdu, de Balie, and other institutions.

This research group is active in the following constellations: