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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 3: At Home in World Literature? Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World

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CHAPTER 3

At Home in World Literature? Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World

Celebrated as a literary sensation as soon as he appeared on London’s cultural scene in 1912, the then fifty-one year old Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) published a collection of poems, Gitanjali [Song Offerings], to which W. B. Yeats provided an effusive introduction.1 The poems were widely praised by thinkers and writers with very different intellectual stances: Robert Bridges, Thomas Sturge Moore, Ezra Pound and Evelyn Underhill. Sturge Moore recommended Tagore for the Nobel Prize and in 1913, Tagore became the first Asian writer to receive the prize. The following years saw a rapid output of English translations of Tagore’s work, among them that of the novel Ghare Baire (1916), translated as The Home and the World and published by Macmillan in 1919. In the West, there were no further editions of the English translation until 1985 when Penguin UK decided to publish the novel again. This edition was so successful that it was reissued in 1990; and in 2005 The Home and the World was published in a new edition.

Despite the fact that Tagore scholars have long deplored deficiencies in the translation and other editing choices, Penguin UK opted not to commission a new translation for one very specific reason: although Surendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s nephew, is named as the translator, in a letter to Macmillan the author stated that he was involved in the translation himself. Tagore’s professed involvement...

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