Literature between Deconstruction and the Frankfurt School


German / Comparative Literature

Edward Wildanger (Brown University)

Dennis Johannssen (Brown University)

Over the last decades, the view that literature can be the object of a science or Wissenschaft has been questioned. Rather than seeing the world of literary works as a more or less autonomous sphere that corresponds in various ways to social, economical, or anthropological realities, literature is portrayed as a linguistic practice capable of always undermining every theoretical view or ontological thesis about what literature is or does.

This challenge to Literaturwissenschaft and philological knowledge (Erkenntnis) relies for the most part on thinkers in the tradition of both deconstruction and Frankfurt School Critical Theory, thinkers like Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Peter Szondi, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthes. This panel invites contributions that investigate and juxtapose these thinkers’ practices and theories of reading and writing (about) literature.

Do the labels “Frankfurt School” and “deconstruction” refer to distinct ways of thinking, reading, and writing about literary works? How do the thinkers associated with these labels rely on texts and linguistic practices in their critique of the philosophical tradition? What productive intersections or tenacious differences can be found? What traditions do they invoke or criticize, and how do their interventions work with certain literary forms and genres? Do they have similar views on the relation between theory and literature, and what are the politics of their respective attempts to rethink and recast this relationship?

Evolving approaches like new philology, visual studies, and cultural studies (Kulturwissenschaften) can hardly avoid passing the crossroads of deconstruction and Critical Theory. What can they learn from the various oppositions and similarities between these ways of thinking? Resisting definition, “literature” offers an empty stage to relate or pry apart the various ambitions of literary theory and philosophical aesthetics.

How do deconstruction and Frankfurt School Critical Theory think and write about literature? Over the last decades, several attempts have been made to bring these traditions closer together, but are there productive differences that cannot be easily eliminated, differences that tell us something about the condition of today’s literary studies vis-à-vis disciplinary philosophy and social theory? What are the differences between the ways in which Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Blanchot, and Jacques Derrida tried to rethink and reshape the relation between literary theory and linguistic practice? Please submit an abstract of 250 words.