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Foundational Texts of World Literature

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Edited By Dominique Jullien

What makes a world author? How did Homer become a «cosmopolitan» author? How does a Mayan creation narrative challenge our Western logocentric ideas of foundational texts? What might world literature look like to a fourth-century Roman reader? How do past and more recent translations of Dante’s Commedia help us to rethink the changing definitions of world literature? How did the Alexander romance adapt to an Islamic context? How did Tasso’s epic adapt to a later cultural context dominated by the «Turkish Fear»? What shaped the West’s first impression of The Tale of Genji? How does the Ovidian myth of Arachne migrate from Japan to the Caribbean? What are the foundational metaphors at the root of Goethe’s weltliteratur paradigm? What happens when cultures import canonical texts for lack of their own? By what process does an eccentric writer reconstruct a new foundational text from heterogeneous fragments of other cultures? How did literary criticism contribute to the canonization of the Thousand and One Nights in Western literature? What is left of the primacy of the national language when writers are published simultaneously in various translations? How do modern misreadings shape our understanding of national epics and ensure their survival?
World literature, first intuited in Goethe’s foundational idea of weltliteratur as literature that seeks to transcend national boundaries, is viewed here in its essential mobility and migratory capacity, which relies on the centrality of the reading act. This volume focuses on foundational texts as they are read across cultures, languages and historical contexts. Its goal is to reflect on canonical texts – from Homer’s Odyssey to Murakami’s Genji, from Cervantes to Mayan hieroglyphs, from Dante to Coetzee, from Goethe to Lezama Lima, from the Thousand and One Nights to Jorge Luis Borges – in a global perspective: how they are translated, appropriated, transformed, how they travel across different cultures and languages, their foundational status evolving accordingly in a post-European world.
Foundational Texts of World Literature includes contributions by Gerardo Aldana, Sandra Bermann, Piero Boitani, Michael Emmerich, Azadeh Yamini Hamedani, Stefan Helgesson, Paulo Lemos Horta, Juan Pablo Lupi, Peter Madsen, Ulrich Marzolph, Suzanne Saïd, Evanghelia Stead, Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, and Richard Van Leeuwen.

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Introduction Dominique Jullien 1

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Introduction Dominique Jullien n the Fall of 2009, the first meeting of our research group on world literature was held at the University of California, Santa Barbara.1 Its theme, fittingly, was foundational texts. (The themes for subsequent meetings include tradition and creation, translation, genre and networks). Our goal was to open up a broad spectrum of inquiry and perspectives into the question of foundational texts as they travel across cultures, periods and languages. The texts are taken in David Damrosch’s understanding of world literature as literature that travels, “a mode of circulation and of reading” (Damrosch 5), and the migratory component is central to almost all the papers collected. World literature, whatever definition it receives in the critical industry that has sprung up around the notion in recent years, is here broadly and basically understood as mobile: constantly evolving along the lines of new translations, new readings, and new encounters. This means that the reader is at the heart of the process. Placing the reader (whether individual or not) at the center of the mobile reflects the essentially Borgesian understanding of world literature: the essays in this collection all exemplify the implications and oftentimes the paradoxes of a continual and constantly evolving process of inter-reading. Jorge Luis Borges, like Goethe a voraciously cosmopolitan and “Catholic” reader, sketched out in parabolic form a number of key paradigms for thinking about the mobility of world literature, paradigms that have become themselves foundational. The ghost of Pierre Menard haunts many of this volume’s...

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