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Today’s cascading crises the world over are increasingly prompting questions of the good life, of its very possibility and forms – questions that have always been at the heart of literature. Not only is literature a privileged medium of cultural reflection, but it also offers a test ground whereon thought experiments of the good life can be formed, aesthetically realized, and critically interrogated. In this capacity, then, it seems more important than ever to read literary texts – in their formal heterogeneity and conceptual diversity – as a stage for the enactment and critique of the dominant models and good life ‘fantasies’ specific to our current age.

This conference aims to inquire into ideas of the good life in different cultures as well as in various literary genres and text types with a focus on modernity, i.e. starting from the 19th century and its economic orientation. Its focus lies not only on themes, but expressly also on aesthetic and literary forms of representation. It is part of the specific characteristics of poetic and fictional texts that they do not offer normative knowledge and ideas, but rather plural aesthetic representations and perspectives.

The conference is organized around three central areas of concern, the first being

(1) dominant, hegemonic and culturally specific models of the good life in different cultural contexts, such as the American Dream, the welfare state, neoliberalism, identity politics, or hedonism, to name just a few.

(2) The second area deals with the role of literature vis-à-vis these models, inquiring in theoretical and conceptual terms into the function of literature as a medium of cultural reflection by which to critically assess hegemonic models of the good life.

(3) The third area will trace specific narratives and counter-narratives of the good life and its dominant cultural models in exemplary analyses and case studies of a broad spectrum of genres and text types.

Find out more about the programme here