Ph.D. Student in History, Harvard University; Graduate Student Affiliate & Krupp Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship Recipient, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University
October 21, 2022
12:00pm - 1:15pm
Hoffmann Room, Adolphus Busch Hall
The Dissertation Workshop is a graduate educational seminar open to graduate students and their advisors. CES invites graduates students who are interested in attending this workshop or in presenting their research to contact CES Dissertation Workshop Coordinator Nikolas Weyland.
Alexander Hartley is a fourth-year graduate student in comparative literature at Harvard University. Hartley is originally from the United Kingdom. His work focuses on the
intersections of law, politics, and culture in the English-, French- and
German-speaking worlds, with a particular interest on copyright. Outside his
dissertation project, his writing has addressed Samuel Beckett and Bertolt
Brecht’s lawsuits; the American mid-century policy and poetry of ‘urban
renewal’; and the idea of ‘tolerance’ in late critical theory.
This prospectus argues that literary modernism’s challenges and changes to the idea of authorship were in part provoked by the legal changes that brought about the copyright world system. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the British and French empires expanded and consolidated the reach of copyright across their dominions. At the same time, the local production and circulation of written matter in colonial territories, ranging from daily newsprint to prestige literature, grew explosively. The development of colonial copyright offered both protections and provocations to writers who lived in zones such as the Caribbean where the force of colonial law was strongly felt. Colonial copyright offered a way of self-presenting as an author and reaching wide literary markets, but also, for some writers, represented a European individualist and idealist notion of authorship that was at odds with indigenous and counter-hegemonic ideas of literary production.
While scholars have examined the way in which writers such as Claude McKay, C.L.R. James, and Aimé and Suzanne Césaire contributed to modernism’s reevaluation of the idea of authorship, the literature hasn’t taken into account the importance of this swelling legal frontier in provoking that reevaluation. This project aims to correct that, and to show that even centrally important ‘metropolitan’ modernists such as E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf were, in their own articulations about the role and nature of the literary writer, crucially influenced by the expansion of a ‘copyright world system’ squarely centered on London and Paris.