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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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The Well-Tempered Relativism, Or How to Compare the Incomparable



The University of Bucharest

Towards a Critical Approach to the Territorial Reason

The object of comparative literature, as defined by Goethe, was territoriality: die Welt. Born in a centrifugal frame of reference, it pushed forward a prestigious source of models which were to be emulated in the most remote peripheral areas. In the much wider horizon of a centre-oriented geo-political world, the comparative practice developed towards crafting a coherent spatial symbolism, rich in cartographic metaphors.

However, we must admit that, despite all its forays off-track, traditional comparative literature did succeed in avoiding the virtual Babel-like difference which would have legitimated adages such as: “To every literature its theoretical discourse and its particular practice of research.”

The new-born discipline initially strove to build a frame of reference within which similarities were easy to spot whilst differences became objects of study. Eventually converted into an essence, universalism – its key category and main theoretical tool – ended up in an uncomfortable synonymy with (the oppressive) eurocentrism.

Behind a steady deconstruction which claimed to be an attempt at reversing the standards in the field by emphasizing the openness of their object of study towards the global, contemporary comparatists have steadily camped in a sort of metaphorical neo-territoriality. I will list a few examples below, to illustrate this methodological turn, boosted by the so-called Bernheimer Report (1995) in the United States.

For Michael Riffaterre, the theoretical rehabilitation of...

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