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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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Subversive Foundations: Renaissance Classics and the Imported Canon (Mads Rosendahl Thomsen) 207


Subversive Foundations: Renaissance Classics and the Imported Canon Mads Rosendahl Thomsen THE DESIRE FOR A CLASSIC he notion of foundational texts commonly refers to religious or philosophical texts that have had and may still have an extraordinary influence on cultures over centuries. However, such texts are not part of most vernacular literatures in the original. The Bible is the prime example of a book that is both foundational and customarily read in translation. In literary history the idea of a vernacular classic that serves as a cornerstone in a national literature has had and continues to have a great influence on the literatures with such vernacular foundations as well as on those without such texts. The desire for the vernacular classic is a part of the structure of literary histories. It is quite well known which literatures have such classics (Blair 33ff). Greece has Homer’s epics. Italy has Dante’s Divine Comedy. England has Shakespeare’s plays, and Spain has Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Whether the nation is large or small is not relevant; Iceland, for example, has its sagas, whereas larger national literatures such as the Russian and the German do not possess pre-romantic classics that stand as unrivalled as the texts mentioned above. On the other hand, France, with its rich literary tradition, lacks the central text upon which later authors must measure themselves. Michel de Montaigne is one candidate, another is Rabelais, whom Milan Kundera considers to be a treasure overlooked by the French treasure, and he scolds French literary...

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