The question of literary history and the nation—the question that animates the essays collected in this issue of MLQ—often seems as old as literature itself. For if literature is what is taught, and this teaching takes place within institutions and structures, then the organization of the literary as an object of study always seems to demand a historical accounting of its coming into being and a justification of its work within cultural formations—regional, national, or global. The earliest histories of many literatures are motivated by the need to mark out boundaries of language and culture that differentiate nations from one another, even when realities on the ground affirm the essentially transnational nature of literature itself. So, literary history finds itself in a perpetual dilemma: it deals with objects of analysis that exist outside borders, yet the institution of literature demands national...
Phantom Time: Literary History at the Edge of the Nation
Simon Gikandi is Robert Schirmer Professor and Chair of English at Princeton University and president of the Modern Language Association (MLA). He was editor of PMLA from 2011 to 2016. His most recent book is Slavery and the Culture of Taste (2011), cowinner of the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Award and the African Studies Association’s Melville J. Herskovits Award and a Choice Outstanding Academic title. He is the editor of volume 11 of The Oxford History of the Novel in English: The Novel in Africa and the Caribbean since the 1950s. He is working on a series of research projects revolving around the relationship between slavery and the origins of modern culture and the institution of the novel from below. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018.
Simon Gikandi; Phantom Time: Literary History at the Edge of the Nation. Modern Language Quarterly 1 December 2019; 80 (4): 495–504. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-7777845
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