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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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Foundational Metaphors: Goethe’s World Literature; Posnett’s Comparative Literature (Azadeh Yamini Hamedani) 155

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Foundational Metaphors: Goethe’s World Literature; Posnett’s Comparative Literature Azadeh Yamini-Hamedani “With metaphor we experience the metamorphosis of both language and reality” —Ricœur 85 he present article seeks to explore foundational metaphors in Goethe’s imagining of world literature and Posnett’s envisioning of comparative literature. These two terms, comparative and world literature, have come to mean so much in recent decades that any attempt to arrive at a stable definition leads to the realization that each person involved defines, shifts, and practices their meaning in accordance with their views. The present article, thus, does not strive to define what world and comparative literature are or what they have become, but rather how they were imagined into being, into language. To unfold how these terms come into being, we turn to the metaphors that surround them. Here, I define metaphor in a Ricœurian sense as a “spark of imagination… a ‘thinking more’ at the conceptual level,” “an emergent meaning created by language” (Ricœur 358, 114). What metaphors do Goethe and Posnett employ to express their vision of literature? What story do these metaphors tell, and what new possibilities do they create in experiencing and thinking about literature? In 1814 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, at the age of 65, with The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust I behind him, ventured through a translation into the poetry of Hafez, a Persian lyric poet of the fourteenth century. Fearing to lose his own voice in the poems of Hafez, Goethe was moved...

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