The focus of this essential research area is the comparative analysis and enhancement of literary theory approaches and techniques of interpretation as well as the historic reconstruction and systematic determination of central terms of literary studies. After decades of intensive theory construction and dedicated disputes over method, the current situation of literary studies is informed by a pragmatic pluralism of methods which allows for manifold hybrid forms. The seminars question current theory proposals with regard to their compatibility, their implicit premises, their productivity, the range of their interpretation offerings and their blank spaces. Some dissertations do address this essential level directly and analyze the potential of interpretation or the capacity of the conceptual outfit of certain theoretical approaches. Other projects question the representation techniques and philosophical premises of more recent literary theories, attempt to develop alternative concepts or test certain theory options on literary case examples.
The research on intertextuality, another focus of this research area – regarded as decided anti-teleological and non-intentional game of textual reference possibilities – makes the openness of literary productions become notably evident. Research is done on the use of genre conventions within texts, on forms of parody or satire, the reorganization of discursive patterns, the deconstruction or alienation of paradigms and the repertoire of the meta text, which facilitates forms of literary reflection. Analysis of intertextuality advances the dialogue of the national literatures and between cultural and literary studies. It spotlights the dynamic relationship between texts and other media without neglecting the historic perspective.
Literature as textual practice does also include the areas of rhetoric and aesthetics, whose transdisciplinary and comparative direction is researched more and more during the last years.
This research area was realigned in 2012 and expanded institutionally through a new professorship in the field of Japanese studies (Dr. Elena Giannoulis). It supplements the previous focus of Postcolonial Studies, represented by the English philology professorship (Dr. Cordula Lemke), through another non-European perspective. In this research area, comparative work transcending the field of European literatures is executed. The focus is on methods and theories of transculturalism, translation and a "global philology", whose basic principles and challenges are yet to be researched. Today, this area constitutes a theoretical center of the Graduate School where the comparative and transnational interests of all members meet.
The comparative orientation of the Graduate School requires the analysis of literary texts in their cultural contexts and their respective inter- and transcultural connections. Literary studies have an important share in the negotiation of cultural ambivalences as well as in the analysis of hybrid phenomena and reflect on differences of scientific traditions inside and outside of Europe. This involves a problematization of hegemonic, eurocentric Western thinking and criticism of canonization processes.
From a literary studies perspective, a central aspect of cultural negotioations is translation. Translation Studies have questioned the concept of translation as negotiation with authentic meaning. Translations include transfers of cultural contexts, so the translator is a negotiator between cultures and needs to consider questions on equivalence, authenticity and intentionality as well as power imbalances. Although today, dehierarchization of literary production is a shared assumption, the complex interaction between power structures negotiating old ascriptions and new identities remains a prevailing and explosive matter.
The transnational comparative approach of FSGS gains supraregional visibility through its journal series Weltliteraturen / World Literatures. To date, the series has seen 10 editions published through De Gruyter. Programmatically, the first edition develops possible approaches to the topic of world literatures.
The Graduate School systematically applies for relevant projects and cooperates with literary studies projects consolidating this research area: The project of the Einstein Visiting Fellowship Transpacifica. Mitteleuropäische Observationen einer Neuen Mitte (1900–1945) analyzes the challenges of Asian-American modernity which grow out of exotistic and orientialistic analyses as well as colonization attempts of European forces. The international fellows of the associated project Travelling Traditions: Comparative Perspectives on Near Eastern Literatures develop transcultural questions from a Middle East perspective. With North-South Literary and Cultural Interactions, Dr. Cordula Lemke (professorship FSGS) established a trinational doctoral study programme funded by DAAD with Kenyatta University (Kenya) and University of Cape Town (South Africa). These projects integrate researchers from Asia, the Middle East and Africa into the Graduate School.
Within the tension between reception and production of knowledge, this research area analyzes the field of epistemological functions of literature. Literature addresses matters of knowledge, memorizes bodies of knowledge and makes knowledge circulate, it uses and popularizes scientific knowledge and refers to specific regimes of knowledge, being unfolded within and perpetuated through it. As literature is not restricted to a dedicated matter of knowledge or defined field of knowledge, the knowledge of literature is rather characterized through its linguistic and genre specific form: It is less explicitly stated, it combines heterogeneous and conflicting discurses, it develops reality concepts in relative discreteness. The Graduate School cooperates closely with CRC Episteme in Motion. Transfer of Knowledge from the Ancient World to the Early Modern Period.
The German philology professorship of FSGS (Dr. Irmela Krüger-Fürhoff) was staffed having current literary studies approaches to the field of literature and knowledge in mind, which is researched by many doctoral candidates. They work on literature in the context of differentiating knowledge cultures as well as on natural and humanistic science discourses.
The ongoing interest in the mediality of oral and written "literary" practices and in their dependence from cultural techniques and technologies is reflected in the dissertations within this research area. The focus is on current and resurgent practices such as salon culture, poetry slams, graphic novel, blogs and intermedia art forms.
Interferences between literary texts and other media or arts form a sub-category of this research area: Here, phenomena are addressed that have been analyzed predominantly by intermediality research, such as the description of an artwork in another medium (ekphrasis), the evocation or imitation of another art form or another medium as in cinematic writing or in the musicalization of fiction.
The third Graduate School's annual conference focussed on the topic Fiction in the comparison of the arts and media (Fiktion im Vergleich der Künste und Medien). The media studies focus of the Graduate School was reflected in the filling of the comparative (Dr. Remigius Bunia) and Romance philology (Dr. Irina Rajewsky) professorships as well as in the German philology professorship (Dr. Irmela Krüger-Fürhoff) with researchers on these topics.