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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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In the Light of Translation: on Dante and World Literature (Sandra Bermann) 85


In the Light of Translation: On Dante and World Literature Sandra Bermann dam Kirsch reminds us in a 2003 article that for a very long while, about 500 years, there were no English translations of the Divina Commedia. In the 19th century, there were some two dozen. In the 20th there were over three dozen. And the rate of new translations of the Commedia and particularly of the Inferno (always the most popular of the canticles) has doubled with the turn of the 21st century. As Kirsch claims, “In fact, we’re living in a golden age of Dante translation.” (1)1 In the following pages, I explore some of the reasons why Dante’s Commedia has in fact become such an important site for literary translation in the Anglophone world, and what this might suggest for us as students of World Literature. In the initial two sections of the paper, I look to the recent history of Dante studies to explain the surge in translations: first, Eliot’s early 20th century view of Dante as a “classic” of European literature—but one whose work was in little need of translation; second, the very different view in the late 20th and 21st century of the Commedia as a site of multiple interpretations, inviting dialogue, poetic imitation and translation. In the third section of the essay, I consider contemporary conceptions of translation as a strong supporting reason for the sudden Dante boom. In the final section, I briefly reverse my strategy to ask how...

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