Goethe Society Sponsored Roundtable at MLA 2020 (Seattle)
Organizers: Jason Groves (University of Washington) and Ervin Malakaj (University of British Columbia)
Decolonization and the Age of Goethe
This roundtable seeks to establish productive connections between the scholarship on the Age of Goethe and recent conversations on decolonization in the academy generally as well as German Studies in particular. Broadly, work in decolonization of the academy calls for an acknowledgement of the role its constituent disciplines have played in the consecration and naturalization of violent discourses. In this light, scholars like Dalia Gebrial have shown how European Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought was “constituted through and alongside imperialism and slavery.” Along the same lines, scholars, such as contributors to Sara Eigen and Mark Larrimore’s volume The German Invention of Race (2006), have demonstrated how 18th- and early 19th-century German cultural pundits were major contributors to various debates on race ostensibly prefiguring 19th-century race science.
Although German-speaking lands are, strictly speaking, precolonial in the Age of Goethe, its literature and art was shot through with colonial fantasies of discovery and exploration, as Susanne Zantop and others have shown. If reality caught up with the imagination, in terms of Germany’s early 19th-century colonial ambitions, was there also a decolonial counter-discourse and counter-imaginary in this age that later became realized? Relatedly, where and how have the later writers and thinkers who were instrumental in decolonization movements drawn from writers and thinkers of the Goethezeit? At the same time, it would be important to explore how and where the legacies of this age’s colonial imagination remain both unquestioned within the academy and active in contemporary societies.
On the one hand, we are interested in seeking out critical voices during the age and on the other we are seeking out decoloniality models for the age. We particularly welcome contributions that theorize effective frameworks for grasping the intersectional complexity of power configurations in literary and visual cultures or that establish links to various intellectual traditions by way of generating fruitful pathways for decoloniality and its cultural producers. In order to include a range of voices and perspectives on an issue currently generating considerable interest in the field, this session will be organized as a roundtable. Though each presenter will have approximately 8-10 minutes, we hope that the roundtable as a whole will be more inclusive and generative than a panel.