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Politics of Cross-Cultural Reading

Tagore, Ben Jelloun and Fo in English

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Marion Dalvai

The last two decades have witnessed an upsurge in scholarship on world literature. In most of this work world literature is understood as a concept in intellectual history, as a cultural system or as a curriculum to be taught. Grounded in three empirical case studies, this book complements such approaches by asking what world literature in English is or has been and what role authoritative readers (translators, editors, publishers, academics and literary critics) play in constituting it as a field for others.
The ambivalent position of English as a roadblock to international visibility and as a necessary intermediary for other literary languages justifies a particular attention to what is presented as world literature in English. By emphasizing the constitutive function of cross-cultural reading, the book encourages reflection on the discrepancy between what is actually read as world literature and what might potentially be read in this way.
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Chapter 2: Rhetorical Power and Symbolic Capital: The Middle Zone of Literary Space

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CHAPTER 2

Rhetorical Power and Symbolic Capital: The Middle Zone of Literary Space

Book history, Leah Price writes, ‘is centrally about ourselves. It asks how past readers have made meaning (and therefore, by extension, how others have read differently from us); but it also asks where the conditions of possibility for our own reading came from’.1 In Chapter 1, I have defined the international literary arena as a heteronomous polysystem. Within this polysystem, a focus on works of literature in translation allows one to illustrate some of the reading strategies deployed by specific readers invested with discursive authority as representative of how particular reading communities at a given time in history engage with the ‘foreignness’ of a text. Reception studies is a broad field, interested in many issues central to other fields of investigation in literary criticism and cultural studies: authorship and authenticity, publishing (including translation, editing and modes of circulation), writing as performance, reading as (inter)action, and the question of the specificity of literary discourse. In its pragmatic orientation, reception studies focuses on the self-cultivating subject (who, against all odds, should ideally strive to become a cosmopolitan, generous reader at relative ease in the realm of cross-cultural reading) and his/her position within a larger community. In this chapter, I link reception history to politico-cultural agency and explain in more detail what I mean by cross-cultural discourse and rhetorical power. I also focus on each of the ← 63 | 64 → agents involved in the production of...

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