Economies of the Literary Nation: Literary Capitalism and Nationalism in the Long 19th Century
A conference in Budapest, 13–14 June 2022,
with keynote speaker
Prof. Galin Tihanov (George Steiner Professor of Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London)
The concept of “national literature” was one of the best-selling ideas in the long 19th century. The conviction that the forms and themes of literature were best determined by (inherited or resurrected) national traditions and that their main task was to articulate the nation’s character and demonstrate its spiritual merits enjoyed immense transnational virulence. The success of literary nationalism, however, was propelled by socio-economic tendencies bound up less with national traditions than modern market culture. National literatures were forged and consolidated as praxis and canon amidst (and by the means of) the commercialization and industrialization of literary production, distribution and consumption.
The joint march of nationalism and capitalism framed the nineteenth-century reconfiguration of the literary field in manifold ways. Literature became a privileged site for the self-assertion of national movements which in turn demanded considerable economic resources to finance the infrastructure and institutions of national culture. As much the efficient distribution of the nation’s literary output relied on commercial channels, literary commerce (as well as the marketing of nationalism on the whole) grew into a non-negligible economic factor. Conversely, the development of national markets, and not only cultural ones, was feeding on a collective consciousness raised and nurtured by national literature. Notwithstanding their interdependences, the respective tendencies of literary nation-building and capitalist transformation remained conflictual throughout the 19th century. In addition to the negotiations of spiritual and utilitarian values, the national framing of literature was also confronted with the felt cosmopolitanism of capitalism, i.e. its reluctance to observe political, geographical, and cultural boundaries. Whereas literary historiography and criticism asserted the national idiosyncrasy of literary ideas, forms, and genres, in capitalist economies these cultural goods and assets could only be recognized as standardized items offered in market exchange, transcending their national belonging.
We invite papers that tackle this entanglement of literature, nationalism, and capitalism from aesthetic, political, and economic aspects, as represented in nineteenth-century criticism, cultural praxis, or poetry, fiction and drama. We are equally open to national case studies and to larger-scale comparative explorations.
Topics may include (but are not restricted to):