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Contextualizing World Literature


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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A Moving Target…



University of Toronto

Needless to say, the very expression World Literature is treacherous because irresistibly attractive; on the surface its two components seem self-evident until one realizes their infinite complexity and that of their alliance. As in the case of traditional literary history there was a time – and there still are circumstances – when a theoretical definition seemed or seems unnecessary. “World” designated a cultured global readership and “literature” was unambiguously identified with the formal characterization of works of excellence in recognizable genres. But again, even such words as “excellence” and “genre” have been and are disputable until it is realized that consensus on our object (rather than a certainty guaranteed in the abstract) is needed, and must be achieved, before valid discussion can occur. And this in turn calls for the acceptance of a pragmatic approach, one which raises questions and admits the variability of answers.

The work of the I.C.L.A.’s Committee on “Mapping Multiculturalism in World Literatures” tackles what is perhaps the most important issue in trying to imagine the future of a field of knowledge which calls itself “world literature.” The question of language has only gradually imposed itself, as in practice it had tended to be taken for granted that works pertaining to world literature are relevant to it in their original language, in translations, or both. Yet the “cartography” of literary phenomena must be a prerequisite if the discipline is to cover a consistent and truly...

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