Although we often take it for granted that there are literatures composed in a host of different languages, the emergence of a literature is an improbable and complex historical achievement. In fact, most known languages did not develop writing, let alone a literature. This symposium seeks to discuss the cultural processes that, in a variety of different contexts, brought forth literatures. Our focus shall be not just on concrete historical circumstances, but also on the procedures, structures, and institutions that encouraged the development of distinct literatures. We are particularly interested in considering such issues as the consequences of different varieties of script, the creation of writing and the interaction with oral practices, the rise of print circulation, the passage from sacred to profane writing and reading practices, the use of antecedent cultural models, the distinction between local custom and cultural appropriation, the role of translation, and the participation in nation-building projects.
Our one-day symposium shall bring together scholars from within the Princeton community as well as a small number of external guests. In doing so, we wish to establish a context for discussion among a number of faculty members at Princeton who share an interest in literary beginnings. Our goal is to initiate dialogue among a group of disciplines at Princeton that do not often have the occasion for scholarly exchange. In particular, our symposium shall bring together scholars of East Asian, Ancient European, African, and Modern European literatures. The compact format of the symposium should allow for an intensive discussion.