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Contextualizing World Literature

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Edited By Jean Bessière and Gerald Gillespie

This book revisits the notion of World Literature and its applications in Comparative Literature. It suggests the notion not as a means to sift out international paradigms for reading literatures, but as a set of guidelines for the construction of interlocking and/or reciprocally illuminating multilingual literary clusters. These ensembles are of very diverse shapes: the world, a region, a country, a language block, a network of cross-cultural «interferences» – while the so-called minor literatures invite to question the use of these ensembles. Within this frame, fourteen essays respond to the basic paradox of World Literature: how may specific methodological and critical outlooks allow expression of the universal? The answers to this question can be arranged in three groups: 1. Recognition of the need to break loose from European or Western critical perspectives; 2. Presentation of macro- and microcosmic dimensions connectedness and its processes; 3. Definitions of the methodological efforts and hermeneutic orientations to be applied.
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Introduction

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Jean BESSIÈRE

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3

Gerald GILLESPIE

Stanford University

The present volume, Contextualizing World Literature, has its roots in a special program which Steven Sondrup, as then incumbent President of the International Comparative Literature Association, asked its editors to design for the triennial congress of the Association held at Paris in July 2013. Because of exceptional interest in the topic on several continents, we proposed a Presidential panel dedicated to “World Literature.” This expression, starting from the famous Goethean coinage “Weltliteratur,” has known diverse translations and applications. For example, “Universal Literature” has been used earlier in English, while “Littérature universelle” has been in constant use in French until francophone writers as a set have more recently employed the expression “Littérature-monde.” It should be remarked that this latter expression originally was intended neither as a translation of Goethe’s formulation nor of the cognate English version, but to designate in particular the world dimension of Francophone literatures. “Littérature-monde” is nevertheless today utilized to translate the more broadly focused term “World Literature.”

To nourish the debate about World Literature we issued a call internationally to faculty members from diverse cultures, diverse countries, diverse languages, diverse orientations in Comparative Literature and urged each to choose his or her subject freely. At the same time, we decided that the group of living past Presidents of ICLA constituted a valuable reserve list to call upon, because of their...

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