Literary Prestige and the Laureate Position in Cultural Space

April 13, 2023 (Thursday) / 5:00 pm6:30 pm

English Faculty Lounge, Fisher-Bennett Hall, 3340 Walnut St.

Literary Prestige and the Laureate Position in Cultural Space

Günter Leypoldt

Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Heidelberg

Presented by Theorizing in the Program in Comparative Literature & Literary Theory

This lecture looks at literary prestige from the perspective of a new theory of value. It argues that today’s system of literary prizes has evolved from an older socio-institutional formation that I will call the “laureate position” in cultural space.

The first part will explore how the laureate position turns literary artifacts into strong-valued “higher goods” (as opposed to, say, quotidian entertainment practices) that dominate the making of “literary heritage.” Relevant issues will be how laureate-oriented authorship connects to regimes of “vocation,” “singularity” and peer-review.

The second part will look at how the making of literary prestige crystallizes long-standing tensions between the laureate position’s professional curators and the problem brokers of the civil sphere (the former concerned with defining literature as a higher good, the latter with civil-sacred notions of good democratic behavior or “moral decency”). There is a range of recent examples for such tensions (e.g. the controversies around Peter Handke’s 2019 Nobel, or the scandal around American Dirt).

Cosponsored by the Department of English and the Wolf Humanities Center.

Günter Leypoldt is a Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, speaker of the Research Training Group “Authority and Trust in the US” at Heidelberg Center for American Studies. His present research interests include transatlantic Anglophone literature from 1800 to the present, cultural theory, book history, and the sociology of aesthetic experience and knowledge production. He is the author of Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective (2009), editor of Intellectual Authority and Literary Culture in the US, 1790-1900 (2013), and co-editor of American Cultural Icons (2010), Reading Practices (2015), and Authority and Trust in US Culture and Society (2021). His essays appeared in such journals as American Literary History, Modern Language Quarterly, New Literary History, American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Critical Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, and Post45.