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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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Epic Encounters—from Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata to Miklós Zrinyi’s Obsidio Szigetiana (Peter Madsen) 119


Epic Encounters—From Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata to Miklós Zrinyi’s Obsidio Szigetiana Peter Madsen rom Lithuania to the Iberian Peninsula, Tasso’s epic heroic poem about the first crusade was widely read, translated and imitated. Since the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the fight between the Ottoman Empire and various European forces over significant parts of Europe, as well as widespread fear of further invasions were defining factors in the formation of European consciousness. Based on a mixture of information and imagination, representations of Islam and of the Ottoman regime were articulated in a variety of media, directly or—as in Gerusalemme Liberata—retrospectively. Among the texts that became foundational in this context, Tasso’s poem stands out. A few decades after the fall of Constantinople, European expansions eastward south of Africa and westward across the Atlantic gradually globalized the picture of the world, yet the fight over Eastern and Central Europe was still conceived as concerning world power. In this sense Gerusalemme Liberata was a piece of world literature in its own historical context and through its impact across the continent. THE TURKISH THREAT On October 1st 1480, the prominent Italian humanist Marsilio Ficino sent two volumes of his letters to the king of Hungary Matthias Corvinus. To accompany the books Ficino wrote a letter that was formed as a laudatio yet also as ‘An exhortation to war against the barbarians’, i.e. the Ottomans, the ‘Turks’. As a new “victorious Hercules” the Hungarian king should rise against “these dire...

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