Literary and Cultural Circulation

by José Luís Jobim (Volume editor)
Edited Collection X, 388 Pages
Series: Brazilian Studies, Volume 1


An important question concerning literary studies is the circulation of literary works beyond their place of origin. Many other aspects must also be taken into consideration, such as the asymmetric positioning of authors and their work in international circulation, which is conditioned by the relative position of languages and cultures in the global market. This volume focuses on literary and cultural circulation and includes essays that explore this topic through case studies, analysing works and authors from diverse literatures and cultures, and discussions of the theoretical issues surrounding circulation and all that it entails: temporality, place, method, material objects and concepts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Note on the Texts
  • Introduction: Towards a New Approach to the Study of Literary and Cultural Circulation (José Luís Jobim)
  • 1 Untimeliness, Recognition and Respect in the Work of Gonçalo Tavares (Helena Carvalhão Buescu)
  • 2 Cultural Circulation and the Age of Cultures in Witold Gombrowicz (Olga Kempinska)
  • 3 Circulation as Constitutive Principle (Fabio Akcelrud Durão)
  • 4 Literatures for a Global Imaginary: The Circulation of Digital Literature in Spanish (Begoña Regueiro / Amelia Sanz / Miriam Llamas)
  • 5 E-books in Spanish: A Global Object in Circulation (Laura Sánchez Gómez)
  • 6 Revisiting Transculturation in Latin America: The Case of Marvelous Realism (Eduardo F. Coutinho)
  • 7 J. J. Slauerhoff, Dutch Literature and World Literature (Theo D’haen)
  • 8 When America First Became Latin (Paulo Moreira)
  • 9 Comparative Literature and Literary Circulation: Reflections on a Critical Trajectory (Benjamin Abdala Junior)
  • 10 Some Considerations on Processes of Literary Circulation: The Indigenous Cultural Matrix within the Brazilian Cultural Matrix (Fábio Almeida de Carvalho)
  • 11 “Tupy or not tupy that is the question”. The Void and the Question of Literary and Cultural Circulation in Amazonia: Considerations on a Literature “without a character” (Roberto Mibielli)
  • 12 The Idea of Sobranceria in the Luso-Brazilian Essay of National Interpretation (Robert Patrick Newcomb)
  • 13 The Circulation of Ideas within Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism between France and Brazil: The Role of Travellers (Maria Elizabeth Chaves de Mello)
  • 14 The Brazilian Encyclopaedia, Language Policy and the Circulation of Ideas about the Democratization of Culture: Mário de Andrade (1939) and Eurialo Canabrava (1957) (Bethania Mariani)
  • 15 Machado de Assis: The Theater of the World (Kenneth David Jackson)
  • 16 In Search of a Land of Happiness: Utopia and Its Discontents (Zhang Longxi)
  • 17 Cannibalism as Cultural Appropriation: From Caliban to the Cannibalist Manifesto (José Luís Jobim)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →

Note on the Texts

In this volume you will notice that the chapters have been written in either British or US English, according to each contributor’s preference. This is an intentional editorial decision. Instead of imposing a common standard, we prefer to embrace the differences as a healthy sign of diversity, which is not only a hallmark of this collection but central to the field of literary studies. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →



Towards a New Approach to the Study of Literary and Cultural Circulation

This volume is about literary and cultural circulation and includes essays that explore this topic through case studies, analysing works and authors from diverse literatures and cultures, and discussions of the theoretical issues surrounding circulation and all that it entails: temporality, place, method, material objects and concepts.

Even when circulation occurs in places where there is an analogous context of works that circulate, together with parameters for value judgments and models for producing other works, there may be differences deriving in some way from temporal and spatial factors. But this is not always perceived, since nowadays an understanding of the phenomenon that has come to be known as globalization circulates powerfully, presupposing an unlimited present time and boundless spatial reach, founded on the metaphor of the World Wide Web. This is a consubstantial element of the transnational capitalist order that is said to shape our day-to-day actions, homogenize attributions of value and, in some way, also condemn the past and all communitarian particularisms to a kind of limbo. This present time is saturated with meanings that also exclude new meanings, which are unable or refuse to adhere to the hegemonic order, the counterpart of which is the dissemination of an awareness that what is presented as a description is, in fact, an interpretation, since what is described is time interpreted in a present in which the anteriority of other times gains meaning, albeit that of the disappearance of that anteriority. ← 1 | 2 →

Within the construction of historical knowledge, what has taken place is often represented as being part of a chain of continuity leading up to the present moment, or reasons are put forward to explain why the legacy of the past has been abandoned or has vanished, but on the understanding that what has emerged, after the disappearance of what once was, can only be adequately comprehended based on a present absence.

Helena Carvalhão Buescu, on the subject of temporality, reminds us that historical evolution and literary circulation also occur at different temporal speeds. Drawing on Claudio Guillén’s argument, Buescu draws our attention to the differences in terms of speed and dynamism between: a) long-term phenomena, such as literary genres (whose widespread circulation and durability can give the impression that they are “universal”); b) medium-term phenomena, such as so-called literary periods; and c) short-term phenomena, such as the vanguards of the early twentieth century. Buescu is more interested, however, in what Claudio Guillén calls intermittent durations, which encompass phenomena in different historical contexts, generating a kind of differentiated repetition:

Its capacity for intermittence thus becomes a historical fact that implies a special form of historicity: of interest is not only what a phenomenon is, but also the way it relates to other historical occurrences, and therefore the links it maintains with the latter.

Buescu argues that these links can range between different combinations, either leading to continuity or rupture, and can also involve relationships between literary objects, in different temporalities, not only considerations of each in isolation, within the original temporal context in which it was created. The author thus concludes:

All this also signifies something else, which I would like to underline here, due to the consequences it has as regards the historical nature of literature: it is that we can never consider a literary (or cultural) phenomenon as definitively confined to the past, because via its intermittence it can reappear, repeated and yet new, in a historically unpredictable context. This emergence will affect, indelibly, the past (as well as the present and future) history of this phenomenon. The non-encapsulation of the past in the past is part of the historical nature of literature and, in my view, dictates the ways in which it manifests itself. ← 2 | 3 →

In Buescu’s opinion, reflections on literary circulation cannot ignore the provisional or definitive absences of works that might reappear or vanish forever, such as that of Lucretius, which disappeared until the beginning of the fifteenth century, or the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, seemingly lost forever, since literary circulation is made up of not only what manifestly circulates, but also what circulates deficiently or, even, what is prevented (for diverse reasons) from circulating.

The position of the author or reader itself must be taken into account, when this author/reader knows that s/he is following in the wake of a previous literary phenomenon, and re-appropriates the latter to give it a meaning that is inevitably different from before, but still referring to that anteriority. Consequently, Buescu illustrates the interpretive challenge of making the past and the present merge:

We cannot read only from “today” (although we always do): we also have to recognize that we are being presented with another way of reading that, via an awareness of the untimely nature of literary material, identifies the latter as having arrived out of its time. Reading at the point at which “past” and “present” come together, reading with the understanding that only literary circulation can allow them to converge and yet remain differentiated, becomes in this way a hermeneutic challenge that is, simultaneously, a historical challenge.

Characteristics can be attributed to temporality, as was the case of Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969), the Polish writer based in Argentina, whose work is analysed by Olga Kempinska within a more wide-ranging context in which, from the 1930s onwards, the question of time and age acquired greater significance within cultural theory. According to Kempinska, Gombrowicz used the concept of immaturity to contrast, on various levels, with what he considered to be maturity. At the level of national literature and culture, the Polish author believed that there were “mature” cultures, in which “form” consolidated over long-term periods was imposed and which had the power to circulate authoritatively this consolidated version of “form” within “immature” cultures (such as those of Poland or Argentina). Kempinska thus argues that: ← 3 | 4 →

French culture, in the writer’s opinion, is the paradigmatic “mature” culture, since it is recognized by other cultures as the point of comparison and the model to be imitated: “That France, which throughout the centuries has become the international complex. This actually requires analysis” (Gombrowicz 1997a: 436). Having a “form” and being able to impose it on others – and, in this respect, Borges is, in Gombrowicz’s view, the most mature Argentine writer – is described, with intense antipathy, in terms of human age: “I knew a long time ago the hidden origins of my Parisphobia, I knew that that city touches my most sensitive side, age, the problem of age, and undoubtedly if I had fallen out with Paris it is because it was a city ‘aged over forty’” (Gombrowicz 1997b: 260). Instead of shutting himself away in a false maturity, Gombrowicz endeavours to assume his inevitable immaturity, both in an individual and a cultural sense: “If you abhor immaturity, it is because you have it within you – but, in my case, Polish immaturity regulates my entire relationship with culture” (Gombrowicz 1997a: 60).

According to Kempinska, Gombrowicz contends that “mature” culture also signifies a closing off within a set of knowledge and discourses, particularly of a cultural nature, that is potentially restrictive, amongst other reasons, because it means paying tribute to a temporally distant “form”, closing off aesthetic experience: “Maturity, as understood by Gombrowicz, is also inseparable from mistakes and, thus, being an illusion not recognized as such, it paradoxically resembles its opposite, immaturity”. This means that, in the cultural spheres where immaturity predominates, in other words, where the weight of the legacy of the past is less evident, and “form” is less crystallized and thus weaker, it is also easier to avoid being identified with that legacy, both in an individual context and in the realm of aesthetics, resisting its circulation in its original terms.

When we talk about the circulation of literary works and other cultural artefacts (films, music, paintings and so on) we do not always also pay attention to the factors involved in this process of circulation. Even when the relative value of a work of art is determined by whether it circulates beyond its place of origin, there are few critics who accept the fact that a work’s circulation beyond its place of origin depends not only on its supposed intrinsic value, allegedly “recognized” in the other places that it circulates, but also on a series of other factors, such as: the relative importance of the theme of the work for the new spatial contexts it is inserted into; the proximity or distance, real or imagined, between the place of origin and ← 4 | 5 → that of re-insertion; the dominant interests in the place where the work is re-appropriated, according to which it may be considered relevant or not; factors hindering or facilitating comparative cultural analysis of the local, regional, national and international literary and cultural systems, with their respective hierarchies and practices, and so on.

There are politico-economic agents whose actions and reach are local, regional or global, and whose presence or absence in literary and cultural circulation can be a determining factor. These agents, understandably, always operate on behalf of their own interests, seeking to accommodate them via varied strategies in contexts where there are both opportunities and limitations.

In the case of agents operating at a global level, one of the most effective ways of increasing their power is by approving global norms that benefit them, in equally global forums where they can assert their power. However, the results are not always in their favour in the field of literature and culture, especially when it is a case of proposals whose very formulation emphasizes the consideration of economic aspects in matters deemed to be more important or special. A good example of this was the proposal to designate all so-called “cultural goods” (books, music, films, etc.) as simply the merchandise of international trade.

As we know, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the North American government used all the weight of its influence so that in international forums cultural goods were thought of in the same way as all other goods that were the focus of negotiations between different countries. It was argued that, if cultural goods can be bought and sold, like all other goods, then they should be treated in the same way, since they are all examples of merchandise in the context of international trade, and should thus be governed by the same rules that apply to the buying and selling of other merchandise. But what exactly are these rules?

The most important is that there should not be any type of special attention or prerogative given by the respective government or society of a given nation State, and cultural goods should be produced and circulated just like other products. For example, a North American film should not receive any kind of privilege, or financial or tax incentive from the U.S. government, and should not only have free access to all other national markets, ← 5 | 6 → but also competitors in those markets should not have received any support from the State in question. This supposedly signifies equal opportunities at an international level for all cultural producers, and freedom of circulation for the goods they produce, without governmental “intervention”. Of course, if this point of view is followed strictly to the letter, the question of cultural goods would have to be exclusively determined by the World Trade Organization (Jobim 2012).

The opposing point of view to this one was initially put forward by Canada and France, and was founded on the principle that cultural goods, although they have characteristics in common with merchandise, cannot be treated in the same way as chairs, tyres or nails. Why not? Because cultural goods are composed of elements that are important for the meaning of human existence as a whole, and for the various different communities of human beings, with their own particularities.

Furthermore, the arguments in favour of treating cultural goods like any other kind of products, albeit supported by a discourse that proposed formal equalities, in fact consolidated real inequalities, since the idea that everyone has or should have the same conditions for producing and consuming cultural goods conflicts with the reality that cultural producers in countries with more resources have more power. If specific countries have a bigger and richer “market” for their “cultural goods”, this also implies easier access to financing and promoting these goods not only within national borders but also beyond them. This greater access also enables the way of life of the populations of these more privileged countries to circulate more widely in other countries.

The argument put forward by those who defended the idea of “cultural exception” to the general rule of the circulation of goods was that some kind of intervention may be justifiable if, amongst other things, it aims to render less unequal the production and circulation opportunities of “cultural goods”. After all, if cultural goods were only subject to the hegemonies and predominant forces that characterize “market” trade relations, this would cause a series of problems. Of course, not problems for the nations with greater economic might, which flood the markets of less privileged nations with films, music and books that shape the dominant meanings in ← 6 | 7 → those powerful nations, overlooking other meanings that would be relevant for less privileged national communities.

In any event, the dominant logic of the proposal to include cultural goods within the sphere of the World Trade Organization corresponds to the hypothesis put forward by Fabio Akcelrud Durão that, in a context entirely ruled by the principle of exchange, circulation and commodification tend to amount to one and the same thing, and to affect the understanding of works of art as autonomous and self-contained entities:

Before becoming a type of approach, a new lens through which to study the literary realm, circulation was the domain of publishing houses’ sales departments, part and parcel of their marketing strategies. At best it provided information for historians by offering a perspective external to the literary experience, which did not differentiate significantly between novels and soft drinks, and remained distanced from what ultimately could be seen to justify the existence of literature as something without use, lacking a utilitarian purpose (cf. Durão 2008b). This is not to say that commercial concerns and disregard for form have disappeared; on the contrary, it is obvious that the aesthetic as a legitimate sphere in its own right is weaker now than in the recent past, and that circulation continues to be an essential tool for the culture industry. What has changed, however, is that now circulation is able to lay claim to being in some way constitutive of the literary object itself. It is as if circulation has become, more than a mere access route, a new vector of textual organization to be added to the list of traditional ones, such as time, space, characterization or narrative point of view.

If a work of art is considered within the global economic system it forms part of, in which alterations in monetary value can derive more from citations in fashion columns, Facebook posts and celebrity endorsements than from the formal features of the work itself, then we should pay special attention to Durão’s theory that the facilitation or acceleration of the circulation of works via their insertion in the contemporary circuit of the culture industry may signify precisely that “ambitious literary works, those that aspire to exist as singular entities, will have to develop strategies to defend themselves against their very ability to circulate”. In Durão’s view, circulation is an immanent aspect of literary works, rather than an addendum or appendix, something that occurs a posteriori, since, as a constitutive component, it allows for the re-conceptualization of commonplace literary elements, it offers the possibility of re-configuring literary history, ← 7 | 8 → and it provides a new stage on which to describe the drama of literature in contemporary life.

As this new stage, today, is also digital, this leads on to a series of other questions. In the opinion of Begoña Regueiro, Amelia Sanz and Miriam Llamas, although there may be intentions to iron out cultural differences in order to move towards a supposedly global order or a cultural knowledge that can become a connective tissue within global communities – including attempts to establish a digital culture, or “cyberculture”, above and beyond other cultural restrictions, so that it is understandable to all and is shared via digital media – there is a series of issues that must be borne in mind, such as: the experimental complexity of many texts belonging to a particular canon of digital literature, that can be seen as a cause or a consequence of the small-scale distribution of these texts (and of the impossibility of them being globalized to the level of best-sellers); the tendency to become globalized always in the hyper-colonial sense; real linguistic diversity, that offers resistance to standardization, whether via the use of English as a new global lingua franca, or the use of a “neutral” Spanish; the existence of works that incorporate different translations of the same text, so that translation as a creative act becomes part of the work itself.

Hence the importance of Regueiro, Sanz and Llamas’s analysis of certain global discourses that permeate digital literatures and permit global circulation, in three different ways: via a set of knowledge that lies in globalized configurations that make possible a reading constructed as global, but with a particular anchoring; via the tension between a specific global discourse and the national or local cultural stereotypes that have acquired a global reach; or via the globalization of daily life, as an individual or collective experience.


X, 388
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (August)
Literature Culture Circulation
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. X, 388 pp.

Biographical notes

José Luís Jobim (Volume editor)

José Luís Jobim is Professor of Literature and Chair of the Graduate Program in Literary Studies at Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil. He was President of the Brazilian Comparative Literature Association and has authored sixteen books and seventythree articles in Brazilian and international journals during his thirty-year career. His recent publications about literary and cultural circulation include Le dialogue Europe-Brésil dans l´oeuvre de Machado de Assis (Paris/Niterói: EDUFF, 2016) and «From Europe to Latin America», Journal of World Literature, vol. 1 (2016). He has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University and the Universidad de la República (Uruguay), among others.


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398 pages