Modernism, Postmodernism & Contemporaneity

The rise of modern romance literatures, like the rise of Europe’s centralizing nation-states and their colonial projects in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, unfolded simultaneously with the development of modern science and technology as well as the gradual articulation of a secular culture of so-called “universal values.”  The age of the great European migrations to other continents slowly gave way to the counter-migrations of indigenous and postcolonial communities back to the metropolis.  In the contemporary period, the new transoceanic space composed of multiple centers and peripheries has witnessed the flourishing of artists who variously call themselves “diasporic,” “transnational,” “cosmopolitan,” and “postnational” – or else uphold the claims of emergent nation-states or sub-state nations – and who have created some of the finest works of the imagination studied at Duke and elsewhere.

These conflicted and multifarious versions of modernity are in keeping with Duke’s mission to foster teaching and scholarship that remain positioned at the symbolic (and geographical) frontiers of knowledge.  The Department takes seriously Néstor García Canclini’s injunction that we theorize the history of modern Eurocentric cultures as a “sinuous process” in which discrepancies in the degree of cultural modernization found among discrete locations express the socio-economic heterogeneity produced along ethnic, gender, and class lines.  But it also takes seriously Dipesh Chrakrabarty’s claim that each European nation-state which participated in the colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas shows at its core the same internal inconsistencies that we see between metropolitan centers and colonial peripheries.  These differences are studied by our faculty by looking at a myriad representations and counter-representations that span print, visual, and digital media.

Very few other programs in the U.S. – indeed in the world – have implemented curricula in which a broad cross-section of European and non-European modernities are showcased year in and year out.  Thus, in the study of modern and contemporary Italian literature and culture at Duke, attention to the industrialized north and its connections to avant-garde movements is complemented by the presentation of ongoing debates around the “southern question.”  Here one can also study the rise of Spain’s plurinational literatures as a belated response to the loss of Latin American markets in the nineteenth century, or follow globalization’s fostering of both international networks of solidarity among indigenous groups and the transnational circulation of capital in what has been called Spain’s Second Conquest of Latin American markets.  Finally, one may find courses that trace the mutations of social practices and multiculturalist platforms (such as the recent littérature-monde manifesto) in la France métropolitaine vis-à-vis its ultra-peripheral Caribbean departments and former colonies.  The cumulative picture that emerges from these multiple engagements attests to the versatility or our faculty and the capaciousness of Romance Studies.