Volume 74, Issue 2 | June 2013

Special Issue: What Counts as World Literature?

Author Title
Caroline Levine and B. Venkat Mani Introduction
Author Title
David Damrosch World Literature in a Postliterary Age  
This essay considers the shifting valences of “world” and “literature” in the American academic context of the past half century. The first part of the essay, which takes up the debates during the 1950s and 1960s on the teaching of world literature in translation, looks particularly at the institutional differences between the Ivy League programs in comparative literature and the world literature programs that were growing rapidly at large midwestern state universities. Damrosch argues that we are now better able to mediate between the demands of elite and mass education and between work in original languages and in translation. In the second part Damrosch proposes that the fundamental tension today has shifted to the question of the place of literary studies in a multimedia age, and he explores how we can make affirmative use of the common translation of classic texts across not only languages but media.
Rebecca L. Walkowitz Close Reading in an Age of Global Writing  
Walkowitz argues in this essay that we need to understand more flexibly both the production and the circulation of world literature, inasmuch as some literary works begin comparatively and collaboratively, in multiple language editions and in several geographies at once or nearly at once, and artworks address the world in different ways and in different temporalities. This essay approaches these concerns by turning to the born-translated oeuvre of the collaborative web artists known as Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries. Young-hae Chang and Marc Voge’s works are born-translated, first, because they appear simultaneously in multiple languages and, second, because they engage formally, thematically, and typographically with the theory and practice of translation. Chang and Voge help us think about the relationship between modernism and world literature. They show that the reading methods we bring to born-translated writing are symbiotic with dominant accounts of modernism, and they give us the opportunity to develop new methods and new approaches to literary history.
Azade Seyhan World Literatures Reimagined: Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days and A.H. Tanpinar’s Five Cities  
This essay investigates what differentiates the idea and practice of world literature(s) from those of national literatures, exile literature, and transnational or cosmopolitan literature. It identifies provincialism, Europolitanism, and the separation of literature and history as the primary factors that resist the prospects of world literature and short-circuit the interconnected synapses of life and the social imaginary. By examining Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days and A. H. Tanpinar’s Five Cities, Seyhan considers how a critical understanding of texts born at geographic peripheries or peripheral literary sites, yet outside provincial borders, endorses a vital engagement with world literature(s). A renewed reading of such works highlights their appointment with history and their reflection on the specificities of cultural variables that invest them with universal appeal.
Caroline Levine The Great Unwritten: World Literature and the Effacement of Orality  
Many scholars have embraced world literature as a project to understand literature’s role in a large-scale story of global inequality. Yet critics have paid remarkably little attention to one of the most unevenly distributed of the world’s resources: literacy itself. For most of human history, the written word has been the province of a privileged minority. This essay argues that current discussions of world literature have taken their shape from three print-based institutions—the mass literacy movements of the late nineteenth century, the publishing industry, and the university—all of which have valued writing at the expense of meaningful attention to oral works. Levine explores the serious political implications of effacing orality and proposes specific ways to incorporate orature into the institutions of world literature.
B. Venkat Mani Borrowing Privileges: Libraries and the Institutionalization of World Literature  
This essay addresses a major gap in the recent scholarship on world literature: the neglect of libraries and print cultural institutions to determine world-literary circulation and reception. Mani makes a case for the dual role of libraries as instrumental to and as instruments of access to world literature. Locating world literature at the intersection of libraries, print-cultural studies, and translation histories, the essay opens up new significations for our understanding of world literature as a comparative project. Instead of reinforcing ownership and expertise by fixating on the original language of creation and scholarly expertise, the essay proposes a perspective on world literature that is based on borrowing privileges: through translation, reading, and collections in private and public libraries. Mani ends by discussing Hermann Hesse’s essay Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur (A Library of World Literature, 1929). Direct and indirect censorship, the cultural politics of intimidation, and the ethnicization of German national literature make Hesse’s essay, and its afterlife, an exemplary means of evaluating world literature through the politics of (in)accessibility.
Peter Höyng “The Gospel of World Harmony” or Beethoven’s Transformation of Schiller’s An die Freude to World Music Literature  
In Beethoven’s last symphony one encounters a prototype in which music serves as a powerful catalyst for literature. It is his music that transported Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”) beyond its temporal, linguistic, and geographic origin. If one dubs this phenomenon “world music literature,” it implies that three domains are essential for it: first, creating a literary text; second, setting the text to music; and third, having access to both and enabling the composition to circulate within large networks and groups around the globe. Within this context Schiller’s text and Beethoven’s musical setting of it are unique in that text and music thematize and joyfully celebrate the very notion of access as the liberating act of a unifying group identity. HÖyng describes a performance of the choral work as documented in Kinshasa Symphony (2011), reading it as a prime example of access to and circulation of Beethoven’s monumental music, then outlines how Beethoven’s access to literature serves as a paradigm of gaining access within a network of friends and discovering the liberating force of literature.
Paulo de Medeiros Blindness, Invisibility, and the Negative Inheritance of World Literature  
World literature can be seen as one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “good things,” a great idealization of the capacities of the human spirit and at the same time a fierce contest for power and dominance. In this contest the question of minor literature invariably surfaces in relation to issues of canonicity and to world literature in general. References to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s work on Franz Kafka inevitably misread its revolutionary potential and become reductive. In the different European literatures, issues stemming from the aftermath of colonialism reveal the bankruptcy of the category of minor literature when one thinks about world literature. Several examples from lusophone writers and others point to the need to rethink the national categorization of literature. Instead of seeing some literatures as minor, Medeiros proposes seeing them as “eccentric,” questioning the division between center and periphery.
Djelal Kadir World Literature: The Allophone, the Differential, and the Common  
This essay explores three aspects of the phenomenon of world literature in its resurgence in critical discourse: (1) world literature as allophone, or as heteroglossic alterity emanating from discrete geographic points with particular and would-be exclusive traditions; (2) world literature as differential idiom, an integral part of a heterogeneous corpus in contestation; and (3) world literature as unitary and universal concept projected globally from particular sites of discourse. Each aspect has had a degree of epochal primacy in literary history. All three aspects seem to coincide in an agonal three-dimensionality, with each projecting its own discursive tangent into a global agora with some mutual apprehension, but with an even greater lack of mutual comprehensibility in the concatenation.

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