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Foundational Texts of World Literature


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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Homer, or How to Create a World Writer (Suzanne Saïd) 29


Homer, or How to Create a World Writer Suzanne Saïd ome of the most distinguished philologists of the past two centuries1 have attempted to discover the “true” Homer, that is the Homer who seemed plausible to them, given their reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and their understanding of the relation between the author and his work. Contemporary scholars are more skeptical. In her influential book, The Lives of the Greek Poets, Mary Lefkowitz openly hoped “to show that virtually all the material in all the lives is fiction”.2 The titles of recent papers or books by Walter Burkert (“The Making of Homer in the sixth century B.C: rhapsodes versus Stesichorus”, 1987 ), Martin L. West (“The Invention of Homer”, 1999) and Barbara Graziosi (Inventing Homer. The Early Reception of Epic, 2002) are also revealing. Their authors no longer try to separate the wheat from the chaff and the facts from the fiction, but read ancient biographies as testimonies to the reception of the work, that is, its diffusion and significance. In this paper, I propose to present, first, how the Ancients constructed the author Homer from his poems, focusing on his name, on his genealogies, and last but not least, on the lists of his fatherlands, which mirror the gradual extension of the Homeric poems’ reception: starting from Ionia, Homer’s reputation quickly became panhellenic, and grew afterwards according to the spread of Hellenism in the Eastern Mediterranean, first with Alexander’s conquests and secondly with the expansion of...

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