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Foundational Texts of World Literature

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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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On Deciphering Ancient Mesoamerican Foundational Texts: The Challenges of a Non-Logos-Based Creation Narrative (Gerardo Aldana) 47

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On Deciphering Ancient Mesoamerican Foundational Texts: The Challenges of a Non-Logos-Based Creation Narrative Gerardo Aldana he decipherment of the Mayan hieroglyphic script means that we now have available an entirely new body of literature that in many respects represents a new data set to Western scholarship. Because scholars recognize the independent development of civilization in Mesoamerica, there is no reason to believe that Mayan literature was somehow influenced by African, Mediterranean, or Asian cultural traditions. A foundational text found within Mayan literature, then, might provide unique insights into the very notion of world literature. On the other hand, there are several complications to accessing anything that might be considered a foundational text within Classic Mayan culture, or ancient Mesoamerica at large. These stem not only from the consideration of oral narratives and iconography relative to what we might want to call a “foundational text”, but also from the very possibility of accessing the meanings of any non-Indo-European language “text” and so determining whether it amounts to something approaching “foundationality” beyond the difficulties of language translation. And these alone are considerable given that the very grammatology of Mesoamerican languages differ from Indo- European ones (Henne 2007). This essay, therefore, is dedicated to a consideration of visibilities/cognizabilities. Beginning outside a logos-based philosophical tradition, we must determine what tools are available to us in the consideration of literary expression. In order to address tools and potential foundationality, I take up a narrative that has long been recognized as pan- Mesoamerican during the Postclassic...

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