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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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Caught in Complex Webs: World Literature – a South African Perspective


← 128 | 129 → Caught in Complex Webs

World Literature – a South African Perspective


North-West University, South Africa

In 2013 the world mourned with South Africa the passing away of Nelson Mandela. In all probability political events like the transition to democracy after Apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the extraordinary moral authority of Nelson Mandela have had a much stronger effect on the view of South Africa in the global imaginary than writers and literature. Though South Africa no longer can be regarded as a moral example, Mandela’s death is an opportunity to reflect on the state of the South African nation in its many facets – including the state of its literature and the implications its literature might have for world literature.

The Idea of World Literature

Today world literature can be fully understood as the system or literary field that encompasses literatures in all languages across the globe. This definition, of course, assumes the idea of such a field exists, and this is but one way of looking at world literature. At the same time it defines a vast and impossibly complex field of study and ignores the varieties and differences between the idea of “literature” in the multiple languages and literatures of the world. Different literary systems might represent totally incommensurable paradigms, untranslatable into each other (Apter). Conversely, the untranslatable might yield the best insights into the system.

To grasp such...

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