Small Literatures and Neighborhood

In the 19th and 20th centuries, “small literatures” represented special social, temporal and aesthetic mechanisms of interaction in Eastern and Central Europe and, therefore, they are the 2022 annual focus of EUTIM’s project, “Small Literatures and Neighbourhood”.

Small literatures, such as Czech, Yiddish, Sorbian, Ukrainian, Slovenian or Georgian literatures, have been developing since the end of the 19th century, especially in multi-ethnic continental empires. The development of these literatures – even if, like Georgian literature, they already had a long tradition – is different from the conditions of national literatures. On the one hand, the circulation of texts was often restricted by imperial power; on the other hand, small literatures benefitted from informal multilingual communication spaces in which texts occur, circulate and change in different languages. The social conditions for the emergence of these literatures influence their functions and also their significance for the respective language communities. Thus, texts written in “small” languages not only have an aesthetic function, but are also instruments of nation-building because they produce and disseminate narratives envisioning ethnic communities or national cultures, and their unfolding. Similarly, these texts are part of the politicisation and institutionalisation of developing communities. Lastly, the competitive relations between big and small literatures themselves can also be observed in these processes.

The notion “small literatures” refers to the external perspective that considers the differences of formation and development that distinguish small literatures from those that developed in homogeneous cultural and monolingual spaces, as Franz Kafka first outlined in Prague in 1911. Accordingly, in our annual focus, we want to investigate the role that small literatures played and continue to play in social processes and debates within their communicative space, and the influence modernisation paradigms have on small literatures and their reflections. We also intend to look at the entanglements between big and small literatures, and key actors and their roles in the entanglement process.

Ultimately, we wish to demonstrate the present significance of this topic. This would sharpen the difference between Sorbian literature as the “small literature” of a “minority” recognised in Germany (according to Kafka’s formulation) and German-language literature as “littérature mineure” (“minority literature”) in the sense of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, as connected to our 21st-century present.