Unjust Philologies in the "Modern University"
In this seminar, we wish to examine how people of different positionalities vis a vis the ‘center’ and ‘peripheries’ of modern research universities, practice comparative literary studies within institutions which, from the start, were built upon the logic of exclusion and exclusionary tactics. The “modern university” stands in a long tradition of colonial and racialized traditions of knowledge-making which purported to be secular and universalizable. Calls to remove the names of racists, slave owners, and those who created and benefited from the colonial empire from university buildings are only the beginning for us to reflect on the unjust philological practices upon which institutionally sanctioned textual interpretation, theoretical approaches, rhetoric, and even scholarly habitus of body - accents, tones, hand gestures - are based.
We call these practices “unjust” as they have, for centuries, excluded a range of scholars in the process of inculcating objective and disinterested practices of reading and interpretation in the history of comparative literary studies whose affects are produced and reproduced as universal. Even projects of ‘global’ philologies, which seek to bring together traditions of philology outside Europe and North America fail to critique how philology’s attention to certain privileged textual particularities has become, over time, an operation synonymous with the universalizing claims of the Eurocentric West to produce literary authority. How can we work against European disciplinary formations that have made philology a part of colonial and imperial epistemologies, and thereby the origins of the university itself?
To work through this question, we must speak and write not only from the detached perspective of the authoritative European male philologist, but recognize that it is enormously generative to approach texts and practices of reading, interpretation, and feeling as practices of situated knowledge-making, launched from positionalities of those radically different from the scholars for whom and by whom universities and their philological practices were created.
We believe it must be our scholarly responsibility, as literary scholars trained in philological techniques of critical interpretation, to examine the varieties of unjust knowledge-making which found our discipline(s) and institutions. It is those who have been positioned at the peripheries of the ‘scholarly field’ who are best able to witness the injustices wrought by the history of philology as they are borne out in the modern research university. How would a philologist with a decolonising theoretical framework go about reading texts deemed both canonical and non-canonical? And what constitutes the particular theoretical and conceptual frameworks which continue the tradition of “unjust philologies,” continually excluding difference and alterity?