Transnational Intermediation in Scandinavian and German Literature

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Antje Wischmann (Division of Scandinavian Studies, Institute of European and Comparative Literature and Language Studies, University of Vienna)

Philipp Wagner, MA (University of Greifswald), associated PhD student

Fields of Research

The processes of global interconnectedness have called attention to the importance of multilingual competences in research and teaching. Our research project attends to the interlplay of collective, group-specific and individual actors and their dealings with so-called language barriers. This focus is suitable for an analysis of the multilingual interplay in and of translations between source and target languages by sociology of literature (cf. e.g. Johan Svedjedal 2012, Pascale Casanova 1999).

The French literary scholar Casanova argues in her theoretical contribution entitled The World Republic of Letters (2007/1999) for an analysis of 'world literature' that draws an analogy between the literary field and the global economic and political system, producing its own form of capital. According to Casanova, the value generated by a literary text is linked to the writer-specific use of language and constitutes itself in acts of communication between national and international reception. This is the starting point for analysis: "[...] it becomes possible to measure the literariness (the power, prestige, and volume of linguistic and literary capital) of a language, not in terms of the number of writers and readers it has, but in terms of the number of cosmopolitan intermediaries — publishers, editors, critics, and especially translators — who assure the circulation of texts into the language or out of it" (p. 20 f.).

In his inspiring anthology Svensk litteratur som världslitteratur (Swedish Literature as World Literature 2012), the sociologically oriented literary scholar Svedjedal focuses on Swedish-language literature on the global market under the new conditions of mediatised, institutional and political power. Swedish is, statistically, among the ten most important source languages of literary translations. In view of the country’s rather peripheral positioning from an outside perspective, we must ask how this literature has attracted so much attention and such an active community of recipients. Svedjedal proposes an in-depth analysis of the involved institutions and distributors, bibliographies and databases, documented cultural policies, translation activities, as well as networks of writers and publishers. In addition, in-depth case studies of individual key figures and literary texts would significantly contribute to the understanding of the history of cultural mobility, according to Svedjedal and his team. The role of German as a transit language in the European mediation and translation of Scandinavian literature, a characteristic of the time period from the 1870s to the 1940s, is less significant today, as exemplary cases show.


  • „Bonniers Förlag – a publishing company of Swedish and translated authors“. Transnational strategies of intermediation (A. Wischmann):

This publication explores the power relations in national literatures and the constitution of the field at institutional level and with regard to the publishing company’s history. The selected publishing company has traditionally already been adjusted to the European system of intermediation in literature. Among others, the following questions are addressed in in-depth analyses: What assumptions are articulated within the framework of transnational exchange relationships (e.g. on the subjects of literary history, politics or aesthetics) and on the basis of the concepts of alterity, such as the concepts of distance and proximity? What frames of knowledge do the individual actors operate on in order to position the Svandinavian/German texts with a focus on German/Scandinavian literature?

  • The Reading Tour of Sweden by the Dortmunder Gruppe 61 in April 1970. A Case Study on Cultural Exchange about Working Class Literature and its Staging (Ph. Wagner):

On the basis of accompanying media coverage, the study analyses the reading tour as an event aiming at advancing the ‘equality’ between German and Swedish literature from a cultural-political perspective. Both texts qualified as working class literature at that time – a genre that is still popular in Sweden, in contrast to Germany. Therefore, the study's research question addresses the historical conditions that influenced the "regime of mobility" (Glick Schiller/Salazar 2013) of the reading tour and its impact on literary fields.

Positioning of the Research within Mobility Discourse

The project focuses on transnational cultural mobility. We will build on the findings of Svedjedal's research group, adopt its critical attitude towards source materials and even go beyond its work through our increased emphasis on historicity. The empirical groundwork will consider different, under-researched phenomena of mobility and will analyse texts and authors in transnational fields.