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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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By Land or Sea: Models of World Literature


← 60 | 61 → By Land or Sea

Models of World Literature


University of Chicago

One of the issues around which disagreements crystallize on the theme of world literature is translation. The more texts and traditions we aspire to talk about, the more we must rely on translation, except for a very few of us who are lucky enough to read ten or twenty languages in the original. And reliance on translation has always been frowned on in “truly comparative literature,” as Étiemble called it, the more demanding specialty that in France at least has “general literature” as its popular face. I think we’re right to be anxious about translation, because every age has a tendency to imprint its own idées fixes on the translations it makes, and presumably we are more likely to identify and resonate with idées fixes that are closer to our own than we would with the ideas in a text from remoter times and places, although it is the more foreign ideas that ought to be more valuable.

Given this suspicion of translation, which I share, it is astonishing to run across a poem like this one, a short fragment, possibly never finished, by Osip Mandel’stam, written some time in the 1930s while he was banished from Moscow at the time of great purges:

Tartars, Uzbeks and Nenets

And the whole Ukrainian nation,

And the Volga Germans...

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