Universality of Literature and Universals in Literature: Historical and Ahistorical Perspectives

Slovenian Comparative Literature Association, Institute of Slovene Literature and Literary Studies (Ljubljana), University of Maribor (Faculty of Arts)
Closing date for submissions: 
15 October, 2013
Event dates: 
28.11.2013 - 29.11.2013
Contact address: dejan.kos@um.si
E-mail contact: 

Universality of Literature and Universals in Literature: Historical and Ahistorical Perspectives


International conference

Maribor, November 28–29, 2013


Organizers: Slovenian Comparative Literature Association, Institute of Slovene Literature and Literary Studies (Ljubljana), University of Maribor (Faculty of Arts)


Organized by: Dejan Kos


In their value judgments, literary studies frequently proceed from the assumption that certain phenomena in their subject area have universal validity. Older traditions of literary studies connect the concept of universality mainly with the so-called literary canon. Exemplary literary texts are supposed to reach those spheres of collective memory that presumably exceed the arbitrariness of the changing historical circumstances. This assumption is not only problematic because of its lack of theoretical reasoning, but also because literary history is the history of the changing mechanisms of literary evaluation as well: antique poetics arise from preferences different to medieval ones, normative aesthetics of the early modern period have little in common with the modern idea of aesthetic autonomy, emancipatory concepts of literary historiography which developed in the 19th and the 20th century are virtually incompatible with the post-modern logic of fragmentariness and discontinuity, etc. Although the idea of the universality of literature emerged in different periods, it is defined in the framework of each contemporary value system. In a way, it is historical and ahistorical at the same time. The conference shall try to contribute to solving this contradiction.

Along with the aforementioned traditions, analytical and descriptive concepts of literary studies have been developing in recent decades. These concepts offer new arguments in favor of the thesis about the universal dimensions of literature. Not only is the main concept theoretically sharp now, but it is also supported by empirical evidence. Supposedly, literary phenomena grounded in common structures and in the functions of biological, anthropological, cognitive, communication (language, poetics, aesthetics, semiotics, narratology), social or cultural systems are universal (or at least “quasi-universal”). Recognizing these sorts of structures also opens new questions regarding the historicity/ahistoricity of literary phenomena and their universal/arbitrary significance for the construction of collective identities. These are the very questions that constitute the core issues of the conference.

The complexity of the issues at hand also demands an adequate scientific-theoretical (self)reflexion. Consideration needs to be given to hermeneutic as well as to empirical methods. Models that are capable of linking the two paradigms into a useful synthesis also deserve special attention. Therefore, the conference represents a contribution to the development of the epistemological foundations of literary studies as well. Nowadays, literary studies may be on the margins of the humanities and social studies disciplines, but they can develop into the prototype of the interdisciplinary identity of those disciplines – especially due to the multidimensionality of the research area encompassing cognitive, emotional, normative, aesthetic and ontological dimensions of human existence.



The working language of the conference will be English. Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes. A computer with a LCD projector will be available in the conference hall. The number of presenters is limited to twelve.

Please submit the title and abstract of the paper (up to 250 words), along with your affiliation, office address and CV (up to 100 words) by 15 October. After a review procedure, selected papers will be published in the journal Primerjalna književnost (Comparative Literature).


Contact address: dejan.kos@um.si



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