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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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World Literature and Minor Literatures

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Micéala SYMINGTON

Université de La Rochelle

Much has been said about the centre and periphery, the “size” of literatures, the establishment of new networks within comparative and world literature paradigms. The question of how so-called “minor” literatures may find their place within the landscape of “world literature” is a complex one. Thinking about minor literatures also questions the internal limits of “World Literature,” the methodology of Comparative Literature and the place of literature and criticism in the world.

In Per Petterson’s novel I Kjølvannet, literally meaning “in the keel water” (In the Wake is the title of the 2007 English translation of the work by Anne Born), the narrator and protagonist Arvid remembers the moment he left home, taking with him a warm sleeping bag, a watertight notecase and three books to keep him linked to the world. The books he takes are Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time, about the Black Panthers; Svend Lindquist’s The Myth of Wu Tao-tzu, and Paal-Helge Haugen’s Leaves from an Eastern Garden: 100 Haiku. Leaving aside the question of whether Norwegian literature is a minor literature in Norwegian and a major literature in translation, the novel in itself raises many questions.

Arvid’s journey to England, for example, is not entirely the classic symbolic journey to leave childhood behind: the search for individual identity based on a necessary distancing from familiarity undertaken by Wilhelm Meister, Tom Jones, David Copperfield, Lazarillo de Tormes, or indeed...

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