In contrast to the traditional understanding of German literature as a national or even nationalist project, and in contrast to postcolonial criticism in the recent past, this talk proposes to locate German literature in the international world. Due to its internal fragmentation into different political entities, as well as to its central geographic-political location on the European continent, Germany – understood as the conglomerate of German-speaking lands – has been constantly concerned with the question of international world order, playing a key role in the development of international law from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. The talk maps the ways in which poetic literature in the German language both constituted and reacted to international law. This international approach helps us gain a macro-historical perspective on German literature, as well as reinterpret canonical texts.
Chenxi Tang is professor of German at The University of California, Berkeley. His recent research revolves around a large-scale project on international law and literature. The first volume of this project, Imagining World Order: International Law and Literature in Early Modern Europe, 1500 -1800 (Cornell University Press, forthcoming), shows how international law emerged in the early modern period, how literature worked on the problems inherent in international law and imaginatively rehearsed various models of world order, and how in the process a set of literary forms common to major European languages – a European literature – evolved. Currently, he is completing the second volume of the project, which deals with the period from the French Revolution to the founding of the United Nations. Prof. Tang’s early projects Writing World History (PhD dissertation) and The Geographic Imagination of Modernity (Stanford University Press, 2008) study how modern Europe created a temporal-spatial framework for itself.