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Recherche littéraire/Literary Research

Fall 2019


Edited By Marc Maufort

Daniel Acke, Mark Anderson, Eugene L. Arva, Franca Bellarsi, Valérie-Anne Belleflamme, Thomas Buffet, Ipshita Chanda, Mateusz Chmurski, Wiebke Denecke, Christophe Den Tandt, Lieven D’hulst, César Domínguez, Manfred Engel, Dorothy Figueira, John B. Forster, Massimo Fusillo, Gerald Gillespie, Marie Herbillon, S. Satish Kumar, François Lecercle, Ursula Lindqvist, Jocelyn Martin, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Sam McCracken, Isabelle Meuret, Delphine Munos, Daniel-Henri Pageaux, Danielle Perrot-Corpet, Frank Schulze-Engler, Monica Spiridon, Jüri Talvet, Daria Tunca, Cyril Vettorato, Hein Viljoen, Jenny Webb

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Marc Maufort: Anne Tomiche, dir. Le Comparatisme comme approche critique/Comparative Literature as a Critical Approach. Tome 5: Local et Mondial : circulations/Local and Global: Circulations. Pp. 561. Paris : Classiques Garnier, 2017. ISBN: 9782406065340.

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Anne Tomiche, dir. Le Comparatisme comme approche critique/Comparative Literature as a Critical Approach. Tome 5: Local et Mondial : circulations/Local and Global: Circulations. Pp. 561. Paris : Classiques Garnier, 2017. ISBN: 9782406065340.

Successfully editing conference proceedings is a notoriously difficult task. In the impressive 6 volumes collecting selected presentations made at the 2013 ICLA Paris congress, Anne Tomiche and her editorial team achieved such a tour de force. Volume 5 mirrors the complex cathedral-like structure of the whole set of books. Usefully reprinting at the outset the bilingual introduction penned by Anne Tomiche in order to frame the entire series, the volume subsequently tackles its main focus, the much debated nexus between the local and the global in contemporary literary scholarship. The secondary motif of the present volume is effectively ushered in by Florence Delay’s poetic mediation on “Paysages et Pays.” In this promenade-like essay on the origins of the author’s love of comparative literature, the notions of linguistic domains and cultural exchanges supersede any attempt at confrontation. Extolling her admiration for the neglected French writer Valéry Larbaud, Delay privileges change of scenery and strangeness in shaping her vision of comparative poetics.

The remainder of the volume is divided into three main parts, entitled respectively “Literature and Space in a Global Context,” “Oriental/Occidental: Beyond Essentialism,” and “Eastern, Western, Oriental, Occidental: What World?” The wealth of material contained in the volume precludes any exhaustive summary. Like this reviewer, every reader will have its favorite section.

The first part opens up with a series of essays, curated by Jean Bessière and Gerald Gillespie, offering new perspectives on the fraught concept ←361 | 362→of world literature. In “Confectioning World Literature: Reader’s Guides and the Uniformity of Taste,” Keysan Sarkosh examines how popular reader’s guides such as Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die introduce a “new wave of world literature” (64) based on questionable, cult-based, criteria. This is especially true as these reader’s guides privilege fiction and contemporary literature only. In “The Real Problem with World Literature,” Ken Seigneurie argues that the “common criticism that World Literature flattens cultural specificities into a world market idiom is misplaced” (80). Instead, he underlines “the more widespread and fundamental problem of ideological rigidity in the North American classroom and in North American publishing” (80). Thibaut Casagrande concludes this section on World Literature with an astute contribution entitled “Le personnage romanesque de l’actrice, une figure mondialisée?” Drawing from examples as diverse as The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone by Tennessee Williams, Lit défait by Françoise Sagan or Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, the critic contends that novels focusing on the figure of the actress could be regarded as a globalized genre, inspired by and critiquing Hollywood stereotypes.

The second sub-section of Part I, “Literature, Space, and Territories,” comprises equally challenging essays. Let it suffice to mention how some contributions prompt us to rethink the boundaries of comparative literature. In “Inhabiting Spatial Fissures. Marginal Subjects and Thirdspaces,” Ana Avalos and Nadia Der-Ohannesian examine how “spaces of resistance” they call “Thirdspaces” (160) are articulated in Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” (1999) and Edwidge Danticat’s “The Bridal Seamstress” and “The Funeral Singer” (2004). This “Thirdspace,” they conclude, “questions homogenizing forces and exposes the suffering of those who inhabit the cracks of an allegedly even social space, which, examined up close, is not uniform at all” (168). In “Geopoetics and Comparative Literature,” Oksana Weretiuk shows how the interdisciplinary dimension of comparative methodologies could be enhanced through the link geopoetics provides between science, politics and literature, thus enabling comparisons of “the artistic text with geographic, geological and ecological concerns” (180). In “Crossing the Lines. Passports and Borders as Motifs in Contemporary Migration Literature,” Jesper Gulddal shows how passports and borders, i.e. expressions of movement control, can become a narrative resource (196), particularly in T. C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain (1995) and Herta Müller’s Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt (1986). Thus, the ←362 | 363→author concludes that the “chronotope of movement control” becomes a “principle of narrative organization” (204).

The second part of this volume, which collects essays edited by Jean-Pierre Dubost, could be likened to an embedded scholarly book devoted to a reassessment of Edward Said’s notion of Orientalism. In a detailed introduction, “Déconstruire l’orientalisme; des-essentialiser la relation orientale: quelle grammaire, quels outils?” Dubost articulates the aim of this section of the volume, i.e. to determine the ways in which Said’s concept of Orientalism could be reconsidered from a multiplicity of perspectives, thus entailing a de-essentialization (211). As Dubost indicates, towards the end of his life, Said himself acknowledged the necessity of rethinking the Orient in terms echoing Edouard Glissant’s concept of “relation,” as an ongoing process implying cross-cultural encounters (211). The contributions collected here thus stress the ambivalences inherent in Said’s dichotomous East/West binary (214) along the lines of Glissant’s central notion of “enmeshment” (217). Dubost argues that this infinite “enmeshment” between East and West is characterized by countless mutations as well as endless nomadism (218, 219). Dubost also privileges a kind of decentering akin to Julia Kristeva’s notion of “lateral contact” (“prendre en écharpe”) (221). According to such visions of the world, “il n’y a pas ‘l’Orient’ ni ‘l’Occident’, il n’y a que des tracés de devenir et des figures de relation” (224). All in all, the case studies collected in this part of the book precisely seek to find ways in which comparative literature could express a kind of “non-hegemonic universality” (234). In “Résistances orientalistes. Relire les voyageurs français à Constantinople (1ère moitié du XIXè siècle),” Sarga Moussa convincingly highlights a critique of Orientalist stereotypes in Gérard de Nerval’s works. While Orientalism has often been considered exclusively as epitomizing the opposition between Europe and Asia, the next three essays refreshingly focus on the Spanish and Portuguese contexts in America. While Axel Gasquet focuses primarily on Argentina (“L’orientalisme hispano-américain, entre l’oubli et la marginalisation”), Ignacio Lopez-Calvo examines the position of Chinese and Japanese minorities in Peruvian literature (“Constructing an Ethnic Space through Cultural Production. The Case of the Tusan and Nikkei in Peru”). Everton V. Machado devotes his essay to a reconceptualization of Portuguese orientalism (“Repenser l’orientalisme lusitanien”). Two essays further deal with travel narratives written by Egyptians touring Europe: Randa Sabry offers a new reading of Ahmad Zaki Pacha’s travel narratives, Le Départ pour le Congrès (1892) ←363 | 364→et L’Univers à Paris (1900) (“Tourisme et humanisme chez Ahmad Zaki Pacha”). Rania Fathy reconsiders Arabic travel narratives in the anthology published in 1933 by the Egyptian journalist Ahmed El-Sawy (“Le voyage en France. Visions d’artistes égyptiens dans Paris (1933)”). The subsequent scholarly contributions lead us to the Indian sub-continent. In “De-orientalizing ‘Indian Literature’ and Indian Literary History? On Native/Foreign Dialectics and the Politics of Translation,” Laetitia Zecchini argues that “the entanglement of the ‘Orient’ and ‘Occident,’ of Eastern and Western histories and discourses is a defining trait of knowledge formation about India” (327). Finally, in “Indian Literatures as Comparative Literature,” Didier Coste comes to the conclusion that any comparative study of Indian literatures must foreground the “age-old glocal” (359).

The last Part of the book amplifies the concerns about the East/West dichotomy broached in earlier chapters. In the opening essay, “Whose World Is It Anyway?,” Dorothy Figueira raises pertinent questions as to the viability of pedagogies of alterity in the North American context. She detects failures in the efforts to address the Other in such American-based disciplines as multicultural, postcolonial and world literature studies. These theories of alterity, unlike comparative literature, rely too ostensibly on the English language. Indeed, as Figueira points out, learning foreign languages has increasingly ceased to be recognized as esssential training in American academe over the past few decades. Instead, reading non-Western works in English translation only has become the norm. As she claims: “World Literature, like its cold war and more recent precursors, also seeks to market the Other for commodification and consumption in the West” (370). In other words, “in order ‘to be’ or ‘speak out’, the non-white and/or non-Anglophone culture must seek legitimacy and recognition from Anglophone white culture and use the language of that culture to produce itself” (373). As Figueira concludes, “a Euro-Amero-centric vision continues to articulate the meaning of the humanities and define standards as well as validate the insights of Euro-American academia” (377). In a subsequent section, “Literary and Cultural Inter-Relations between India, Its Neighbouring Countries and the World,” essays presented and compiled by Chandra Mohan prolong the de-essentializing approach to Indian literatures already tackled briefly in the preceding part of the volume. As Mohan indicates in his introduction, the contributions gathered in this section privilege pluralistic perspectives on the Indian subcontinent. Jasbir Jain focuses on cross-cultural narratives ←364 | 365→of healing (“Aman Ki Asha. Initiatives and Narratives of Healing in the Subcontinent”), while Anisur Rahman compares Sufi music in India and Pakistan (“Love Songs to the Divine. Sufi Music in India and Pakistan”). E. V. Ramakrishnan examines how Faiz Ahmed Faiz can be regarded as a public poet, “one who shaped a unique lexicon and a syntax of experience rooted in the Urdu poetic tradition” (413). He convincingly demonstrates that the “poet resists and rejects the territorial concept of the nation-state in favour of a ‘human geography’ of neighbourhood” (420). Ipshita Chanda traces the intermedial/performance ramifications of the genre of namah in Indian West Bengal and Bangladesh. She defines it as follows: “originating in pre-Islamic Persia, the namah is generally identified with the epic narrative of the glory of ancient Persia, connecting it to the rise of Islam in Persia” (425). In “Shared Cultures and Different Spaces. A Conflictual Relationship with Subjectivity,” Asha Sundaram focuses on the common Tamil experience of Sri Lankan and Indian writers, respectively Jean Arasanayagam and Bama. In the final essay of this section, “Ramifications of the Ramayana in India, Indonesia and Thailand. A Comparative Study,” Soma Mukherjee submits that a number of “Southeast Asian versions of the Ramayana are not mere translations or adaptations of one Indian version; rather, they are a mixture of many versions.” (454). Thus, the critic concludes, “the Ramayana and its journey through Southeast Asia have become appropriate examples of cross-cultural literary transactions” (456).

The final section of Tome 5 of Comparative Literature as a Critical Approach further expands this debate on the differences “Between East and West.” It includes fascinating essays on such diverse topics as Asian-style letters by Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (Yorimitsu Hashimoto), the reception of the Fukushima disaster in German and Japanese literatures (Herrad Heselhaus), the Japanese reception of Stendhal (Julie Brock), literary representations of Shanghai as a city torn apart between Eastern and Western values (Lisa Bernstein and Richard Schumaker), an examination of the influence of Taine on a Bengali woman’s travels narratives in England (Sayantan Dasgupta), the reception of Frank Hardy’s Power without Glory and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in Communist Eastern Europe (Danica Cerce), as well as an analysis of the voices of Eastern European scholars exiled in America (Roxana Eichel).

All in all, Local and Global: Circulations contains a wealth of innovative scholarly material written in an engaging style. The sections devoted to world literature, the legacy of Said’s Orientalism and the literary relations ←365 | 366→between India and its neighbouring countries truly contribute to a reassessment of comparative poetics today. This volume certainly deserves a place of choice in the library of any scholar interested in the pitfalls awaiting the discipline of comparative literature as it sets out to negotiate globalization.


Marc Maufort

Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)