Journal of Literary Theory Vol. 18, No. 1 (2024)

Special Issue »The Autonomy of Literature«

Submission Deadline: 15 July 2023

Call for Articles

Although the concept of autonomy has primarily been associated with older traditions of philosophical aesthetics from Schiller to Adorno, it still (or once again) plays a prominent and often controversial role in literary theory. Despite a broadly-held acceptance of the assumption that a societal differentiation in the late 18th century led to an autonomy of literature, »the nature and scope of this autonomy has always been under debate« (van Rooden 2015, 167). Recently, not only the widespread assumptions about the formation of the aesthetics of autonomy have come under criticism (cf. Porter 2010; Kivy 2012; Axelsson et al. 2021): The presumed ›autonomy‹ of modern literature has also been fundamentally criticized as a ›purifying‹ self-stylization of programmatic modernism, which conceals the heteronomies of modern literature (cf. Hahn 2013; Albers et al. 2022). In discussions about literature’s (alleged) loss of importance in the present, the autonomy of literature is viewed as both part of the problem and part of the solution (cf. van Rooden 2019, 167sq.; Jusdanis 2005). Indeed, the idea that individual literary works – as opposed to literature as a system or field – are autonomous is frequently criticized as an extension of a metaphysically-rooted aesthetics. However, in recent times the concept of autonomy continues to be employed to refer to specific claims of literary texts that ought to be respected in the process of interpretation and evaluation.

The proposed issue of the Journal of Literary Theory will follow up on these discussions to primarily pursue two goals: Recent debates surrounding the autonomy of literature, in part, seem to be driven by very different usages of the term ›autonomy‹. Therefore, one goal of this issue is to contribute to clarifying the term ›autonomy‹ with respect to literary theory. In this context, it is worth considering whether the concept of autonomy is an indispensable component of modern literature, or whether it is too ambiguous to be of use. Second, with the issue proposed we aim at continuing the debate surrounding the autonomy or heteronomy of literature. Herein, we welcome contributions that expand on a variety of pertinent theories, including those by Adorno, Bourdieu or Luhmann. This does not mean that submissions should simply revisit canonical positions; rather, we invite contributors to (critically) respond to new challenges as they appear in current theoretical, historical, and empirical approaches.

Questions which contributions might address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • To what extent should the concept of autonomy in literary hermeneutics, as well as in literary history and literary theory, still play a role? How could this autonomy be defined and what would respecting this concept entail in terms of analysing a literary work (or a genre)?
  • The concept of autonomy is frequently employed as a description of the field of modern literature, but it also contains evaluative connotations, which are difficult to set aside entirely. Can this complexity or thickness of the concept of autonomy be viewed as productive? Or should the concept of autonomy/heteronomy be substituted with more neutral or symmetrical terminology?
  • What is the antonym of ›autonomy of literature‹? One self-evident answer is ›heteronomy of literature‹. However, heteronomy can be understood as a political engagement or commitment as well as a dependence on the market, on specific institutions, or even as forms of censorship. Additionally, autonomous literature is occasionally contrasted with realistic or referential literature. How can this polyvalence be explained and which of these oppositions are consistent and applicable?
  • Both Bourdieu’s and Luhmann’s theories on the autonomy of modern literature have been frequently used to support historical case studies (e.g., Joch et al. 2009; Werber 2011; Amlinger 2021). Should and can these theories be further advanced as a means to account for new developments in literature or to incorporate new insights, such as those on the heteronomous aspects of literature?
  • How can more recent developments in sociology be connected to the question of the autonomy of literature, namely practice theory, social network analysis, or new approaches to differentiation theory? Which new perspectives regarding the terminology or the phenomenon of the autonomy of literature result from these approaches?

Die Contributions should not exceed 50,000 characters in length and have to be submitted by 1 April 2021. Please submit your contribution electronically via our website www.jltonline.de under »Articles«.

Articles are chosen for publication by an international advisory board in a double-blind review process.

For further information about JLT and to view the submission guidelines, please visit www.jltonline.de/index.php/articles (»About JLT« and »For Authors«) or contact the editorial office at jlt@phil.uni-goettingen.de.


JLT aims to publish work on fundamental issues in methodology and the construction of theories and concepts, as well as articles on particular literary theories. Case studies, i.e. studies on specific authors, works, or problems of literary history, are accepted only if they adopt a predominantly systematic perspective, contribute to the reconstruction of the history of literary theory, or pursue innovative methods. Moreover, the Journal of Literary Theory contains work reviewing and outlining trends of theoretical debates in literary theory and related disciplines.

Please contact the editorial office if you have further questions.

JLT - Journal of Literary Theory
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Albers, Irene/Marcus Hahn/Frederic Ponten (Hg.), Heteronomieästhetik der Moderne, Berlin/Boston 2022.

Amlinger, Carolin, Schreiben. Eine Soziologie literarischer Arbeit, Berlin 2021.

Axelsson, Karl/Camilla Flodin/Mattias Pirholt (Hg.), Beyond Autonomy in Eighteenth-Century British and German Aesthetics, London 2021.

Hahn, Marcus, Heteronomieästhetik der Moderne. Eine Skizze, Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaft 7:1 (2013), 23–35.

Joch, Markus et al. (Hg.), Mediale Erregungen? Autonomie und Aufmerksamkeit im Literatur- und Kulturbetrieb der Gegenwart, Tübingen 2009.

Jusdanis, Gregory, Two Cheers for Aesthetic Autonomy, Cultural Critique 61 (2005), 22–54.

Kivy, Peter, What Really Happened in the Eighteenth Century: The ›Modern System‹ Re-examined (Again), British Journal of Aesthetics 52:1 (2012), 61–74.

Porter, James I., Why Art Has Never Been Autonomous, Arethusa 43:2 (2010), 165–180.

Van Rooden, Aukje, Reconsidering Literary Autonomy: From an Individual Towards a Relational Paradigm, Journal of the History of Ideas 76:2 (2015), 167–190.

Werber, Niels (Hg.), Systemtheoretische Literaturwissenschaft. Begriffe – Methoden – Anwendungen, Berlin/New York 2011.