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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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Afterword II



Stanford University

It is an honour and pleasure, as co-editor with Jean Bessière, to join my fellow past Presidents of ICLA and a distinguished panel in assessing the phenomena which today are gathered under the very broad label World Literature.

The position papers offered by speakers in the Presidential panel at Paris and by past Presidents of ICLA exhibit a considerable range of focalization and thematics. Some venture to theorize on a grander scale about the global level of comparative studies; some explain the internal situation of a large region and/or juxtapose the development of critical awareness in it and about it vis-à-vis other areas of the world; some take account of longer-range temporal and geographical flows in the transmission of cultural influences; some analyse the presence of the larger world in particular literary moments or in the creations of single authors. Behind all the presentations, whether implicitly or overtly, has been the question of why the notion of World Literature (WL) came back onto centre stage very recently and how it relates to our multifaceted discipline, Comparative Literature (CL).

In observing the spread of comparative literary studies over the past five decades, I have noticed tendencies which are typical not just of growth pains in the adoption of difficult bodies of practice and theory when they cross cultural boundaries, but also of generational breaks in the self-definition of our international collaborative discipline when, as a...

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