The Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies

The Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies

is a collaboration of doctoral schools in Belgium, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France, and USA that seeks to further an understanding of the European presence in the fields of literature, art and culture in an era of globalization, to promote interdisciplinary thoughts in the fields of literary and cultural studies, to explore changes in European self-understanding and self-criticism across the cultures and disciplines in and beyond Europe, and to develop co-operation between European as well as between non-European research environments.



Hermes 2018: Vulnerability

University College London
Italian Institute of Germanic Studies
Villa Sciarra-Wurts, Rome, Italy
18-22 June 2018


Invited Speakers

Giandomenico Iannetti (University College London)

Katherine Ibbett (University of Oxford)

Peter Leary (University College London)

Timothy Mathews (University College London)

Simona Micali (University of Siena)

Baldassare Pastore (University of Ferrara)

Ellen Sapega (University of Wisconsin-Madison) - tbc

Organising Committee

Florian Mussgnug (UCL)

Jennifer Rushworth (UCL)

Roberta Ascarelli (IIGS)

Lucia Corso (Enna)


Faculty of Arts and Humanities, UCL

PRIN “Legal Entity and Vulnerability”

University of Enna Kore

Italian Institute of Germanic Studies

General Information

University College London (UCL) is proud to be a founding member of the Hermes

Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies, a long-standing collaboration of eleven

doctoral schools in Belgium, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great

Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France, and the USA, with a proven record of

international excellence in the field of Comparative Literary Studies. The Consortium’s

annual summer school, hosted in turn by each partner institution, brings together

specialists, delegates from the partner universities and 22 PhD students (two per university).

Intensive training workshops and work-in-progress presentations focus on shared

methodologies and themes and lead to the publication of an annual edited volume,

published by UCL Press in the Comparative Literature and Culture series, co-edited by Prof.

Timothy Mathews and Dr Florian Mussgnug.


The 2018 edition of Hermes, jointly hosted by UCL and the Italian Institute of Germanic

Studies in Rome [Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici], will take its timely topic from the

UCL Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) ongoing research initiative for 2017-18:

“Vulnerability”. We will explore the intrinsic ambivalence of this concept, which suggests both

fragility and openness, and will pay attention to narratives of vulnerability but also to the

ways in which texts and traditions may become vulnerable: to loss, censorship, editorial

intervention, or interpretation. We will engage with shifting historical contexts and approach

comparative studies as an opening to other fields of disciplinary inquiry, including

neuroscience, which provides new perspectives on human perception and defence

behaviour. Our philosophical and juridical understanding of vulnerability will be further

advanced by the contribution of PRIN 2015 “Legal Entity and Vulnerability”, a large

collaborative research initiative funded by the National Research Council of Italy.

Hermes aims to expand internationally collaborative research and research-based learning,

and promotes international mobility and collaboration across Europe. Our summer school

thus embraces the aims of the newly established UCL Rome Regional Partnership Fund,

which facilitates and supports academic collaboration between UCL and institutional

partners in Central Italy. We are delighted that this year’s summer school will be hosted in

Rome and welcome this opportunity to open the Hermes network to the Italian doctoral

schools associated with the Italian Institute of Germanic Studies.


Call for Contributions

Vulnerability, from the Latin vulnus (‘wound’), signifies a susceptibility to being wounded. It

suggests both fragility and openness, and it is this ambivalence that we wish to explore.

Thinking about vulnerability often raises questions which are political and ethical in nature:

who or what is vulnerable? What reactions does vulnerability provoke? What forms of

responsibility does vulnerability entail? Vulnerability has been argued to be a defining

characteristic of the human condition. The American philosopher Daniel Callahan writes that

“we are as human beings intrinsically vulnerable. We are vulnerable to time and nature […]

and we are vulnerable to each other”. Yet these vulnerabilities are shared not only by

humans but also, for instance, by non-human animals. Indeed, the recognition that animals,

too, are vulnerable is a key argument in animal rights. To recall a much-quoted phrase from

Jeremy Bentham: “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they


In literary studies, vulnerability can be approached from a number of different angles. It may

concern characters and situations, and encourage us to reconsider literary expressions of

suffering and woundedness on the level of plot, theme, and characterization. Then again,

texts themselves may also be vulnerable: to loss, censorship, editorial intervention, or

interpretation. How is a text made vulnerable by its readers and how are readers made

vulnerable by certain texts?

In the context of this conference we want to explore the specific contributions that

comparative literature can make to vulnerability studies. A comparative approach

encourages us to consider whether vulnerability has a distinct form in literature from different

times and different places. It also benefits from a recognition of the importance of other

disciplines — philosophy, psychoanalysis, neuroscience inter alia — in understanding

discourses of vulnerability. Finally, we propose that comparative literature might itself be

understood to be defined by its own vulnerability, in the two senses of the term introduced

earlier: fragility and openness. Like comparative literature, vulnerability is at heart a mode

and form of relationality.

We welcome abstracts (150 words) related — but not limited — to the areas listed below.

Each speaker will be allocated 20 minutes to give their paper. In addition to presenting on

their own work and areas of expertise, speakers may wish in their papers to reflect on

methodological questions raised by the general topic of vulnerability.

• Figurations of vulnerability, in literature, art, humanitarian discourse, politics and


• The constitution/construction and representation of vulnerable subjects and groups,

regions, languages, populations or communities

• The vulnerability of text(s) and writing

• The instrumentalizations of vulnerability in human rights discourse, humanitarian

studies, refugee studies, public policy and politics

• Vulnerability and victimhood: ethics, values, agency and moral judgement

• Vulnerability and violence: epistemic, actual and strategic

• The relationship of ‘vulnerability’ to ‘precarity’, ‘fragility’ or ‘risk’

• Vulnerable forms: genres, mediums, practices, objects, structures, materials, modes

of being, life-worlds

• The gendering/ageing/sexing of vulnerability: vulnerability and intersectionality

• Vulnerability and visibility, vulnerability and difference, vulnerability as image

• Vulnerability and the law, discourses of protection, care and control, compassion and


• Vulnerability, performance and performativity

• Vulnerability and power, vulnerability and strength/resilience

• Comparative literature as a vulnerable discipline


Abstracts of no more than 150 words, accompanied by a short biographical

presentation of similar length should be submitted by email to

by Monday, 5th March 2018.


Practical Information

Accommodation for delegates, speakers and student participants will be provided for four

nights (18th June to 22nd June 2018) at Villa Maria Guest House, in the immediate

proximity of Villa Sciarra-Wurts and within easy walking distance from the vibrant

neighbourhood of Trastevere and the historical centre of Rome. Students will be hosted in

shared double rooms with en suite bathrooms.

A conference fee of EUR 270.00 per participant, to be paid to the organisers on arrival, will

include participation, accommodation, lunch on four days, conference dinner, and a guided

walking tour of Rome.

Participants are requested to make their own travel arrangements. Please see here

information on how to reach Villa Maria Guest House. In case of dietary or other special

needs, please contact the organisers at your earliest convenience, at



Participants are encouraged to consult the IAS homepage for reading suggestions and

information about ongoing research initiatives and events around the theme of vulnerability.

Recommended preparatory reading will be sent by the organisers in pdf, in preparation for

the summer school. We also recommend the following monographs and edited collections:

Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ed. by J. H. Burns and

H. L. A. Hart (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

Butler, Judith and Zeynep Gambetti (eds), Vulnerability in Resistance (Durham and London: Duke

University Press, 2016).

Callahan, Daniel, ‘The Vulnerability of the Human Condition’, in Bioethics and Biolaw, ed. by P. Kemp,

J. Rendtorff, and N. Mattsson Johansen, 2 vols (Copenhagen: Rhodos International Science

and Art Publishers, 2000), II, 115–22.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel, and Susana Onega (eds), Victimhood and Vulnerability in 21st-Century Fiction

(New York: Routledge, 2017).

Ganteau, Jean-Michel, The Ethics and Aesthetics of Vulnerability in Contemporary British Fiction

(London: Routledge, 2015).

Gilson, Erinn, The Ethics of Vulnerability (London: Routledge, 2016).

Greene, Thomas M., The Vulnerable Text: Essays on Renaissance Literature (New York: Columbia

University Press, 1986).

Haraway, Donna J., Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham and London:

Duke University Press, 2016).

Latour, Bruno, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (Cambridge: Polity, 2017).

McCoy, Marina, Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Literature and

Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Maillard, Nathalie, La Vulnérabilité : une nouvelle catégorie morale? (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2011).

Mathews, Timothy, Alberto Giacometti: The Art of Relation (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014).

Morton, Timothy, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, (Minneapolis and

London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

Pick, Anat, Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (New York: Columbia

University Press, 2011).

ten Have, Henk, Vulnerability: Challenging Bioethics (London: Routledge, 2016).

Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 1985).

Tylus, Jane, Writing and Vulnerability in the Late Renaissance (Stanford: Stanford University Press,


Hermes, Aarhus University, June 12th-16th 2017: Contexts

Conference theme

Literature and art are always situated in a context, both literally, metaphorically and by reference. But what does this ‘situatedness’ mean? How do literature and art imagine or critically reflect a community, a state or a world and what does the social and cultural context of the reader or the spectator mean for the interpretation of a work of literature or art? What is the political potential of literature and art? Do globalization and new media change our understanding of what context is? And do new methods of comparatism or Big Data entail new ways of perceiving the concept of context?

In this graduate seminar we wish to focus on the way ‘context’ is understood in literary and cultural studies. In a certain sense, contexts have become wider. It has been argued that aesthetics is always already cosmopolitan or globalized (Papastergiadis 2012), and that Big Data-methods in literature departments will open up literary studies to the great unread (Manovich 2015). New comparatists have argued in favor of a new universalism or a planetary consciousness (Apter, Spivak) and for a relational, transcultural understanding of context (Baucom, Dobie). Yet there is also a new focus on the importance of ‘nearness’, of micro-historical circulation, personal life-stories (Schaffer, Smith), concrete political contexts, personal precariousness (Butler) and affective, phenomenological and performative effects of literature and art on individuals (Ngai, Ahmed). In between the global and the local, we find the nation state that used to be the geographical cornerstone of comparatism as well as the ethnic or political communities often discussed in cultural studies. Talking about context also often means addressing the relation between aesthetics and politics. New approaches have pointed out the inherent political importance of aesthetic form and of giving voice to the unheard (Rancière) and of creating new forms of collective subjectivity and agency (Mouffe, Douzinas).

Literature and art matter in the world and so do storytelling, street art, performative media actions, commercials, documentary movies, political self fashioning etc. that all draw on different forms of aesthetics. We invite participants to critically discuss the role of context in the interpretation, canonization and circulation of literary and artistic works as well as the methodological implications of contextual interpretations.


Topics, suggested but not limited to

• Aesthetics and politics

• The politics of literary form

• Big Data and new approaches to context

• The contextualized reader or spectator

• Aesthetics in a globalized context

• Microhistories

• Circulation of literature and art in different contexts

• Context’s function within comparative method

• Mediated contexts and their relation to literary works or artworks

• Historical forms and discussions about context

• The role of the reader/spectator

• Ethnicity, race-, gender- based contexts



Bruce Robbins, Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, New York

Susana Araujo, Senior researcher at the Centre for Comparative Studies of the Faculty of Arts University of Lisbon

Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, Professor with Special Responsibilities, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University

Frederik Tygstrup, Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, Copenhagen University



Paper proposals (abstracts) of approx. 300 words should be sent to Karen-Margrethe Simonsen ( or Jakob Ladegaard ( no later than February 15, 2017.


Price for participation

270 Euro (includes participation, excursion, lunch all days, one dinner and lodging at hostel)



School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University Langelandsgade 139 8000 Aarhus C Denmark



Ahmed, Sarah. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univesity Press, 2014.

Apter, Emily. The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature, Princeton University Press, 2006.

Baucom, Ian. Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London/New York: Verso, 2004.

Dobie, Madeleine, Trading Places. Colonialism and Slavery in Eighteenth-Century, Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, 2010.

Douzinas, Costas. Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis. Cambridge, UK/Malden: Polity Press, 2013.

Manovich, Lev. "The Science of Culture? Social Computing, Digital Humanities, and Cultural Analytics."

Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically. London – New York: Verso, 2013.

Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings, Cambridge, Mass/London: 2005.

Papastergiadis, Nikos. Cosmopolitanism and Culture, Cambridge UK/Malden: Polity Press, 2012.

Rancière, Jacques. Politique de la littérature. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2007. (Politics of Literature, Polity Press, 2011).

Schaffer, Kay and Sidonie Smith: Human Rights and Narrated Lives. The Ethics of Recognition. New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2004.

Spivak, Gayatri, Death of a Discipline, New York: Columbia Press, 2003.