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Contextualizing World Literature


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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“World Literature”: A View from Outside the Window


← 28 | 29 → “World Literature”

A View from Outside the Window

Ipshita CHANDA

Jadavpur University

What kind of category is world literature? Seen from a safe distance, it appears to transcend all the limitations placed upon our engagement with what is beyond us, cancelling everything that circumscribes human selves located in geopolitical and cultural reality. Goethe finds the epitome of World Literature encapsulated in the sameness that he discerns in the popular trivial literature of the Chinese. He tells Eckerman that “the Chinese think, act, and feel almost exactly like us” (132), i.e., the enlightened nineteenth-century European. For Rabindranath Tagore, it represents the “entirety of the literary act,” not limited by narrow domestic walls of nation or “jati,” which he constitutes as a cultural rather than a political entity. In saying that literature is not bound by the possessiveness of property relations he poses Visva sahitya, World Literature, against the narrow “national” concept of literature (Tagore “Visva sahitya”). World Literature transcends property by belonging to the entirety of the human race, rather than the “jati” which produced it. In both definitions, the universal is broached as a category for rising above the particular.

How is this to be achieved in literary studies? Etiemble made a move towards a method when he identified “literary invariants” as same the world over (Etiemble 1958, 166). He refers to the conditions of literary production and goes on to assert that “reliable constants exist by which...

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