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Politics of Cross-Cultural Reading

Tagore, Ben Jelloun and Fo in English


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 4: ‘I now lay before you the book, the inkwell, and the pens’: Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child in English-Language Criticism



‘I now lay before you the book, the inkwell, and the pens’: Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child in English-Language Criticism

Every critical affirmation contains, on the one hand, a recognition of the value of the work which occasions it […] and on the other hand an affirmation of its own legitimacy. All critics declare not only their judgment of the work but also their claim to the right to talk about it and judge it, in short, they take part in a struggle for the monopoly of legitimate discourse about the work of art, and consequently in the production of the value of the work of art.1

While I have given a general overview of agents and factors that shaped the reception of Tagore’s The Home and the World in Chapter 3, this chapter focuses on a single aspect of the reception process: academic criticism. Tahar Ben Jelloun’s 1985 novel L’enfant de sable, translated into English by Alan Sheridan in 1987 as The Sand Child, will serve as my case study.2 This chapter gives an overview of items of literary criticism about the novel written in English between 1987 and 2014. Leaving aside newspaper reviews and other forms of more ‘popular’ readers’ reactions, the aim is to foreground a specific category of gatekeepers, literary critics who publish academic – generally peer-reviewed – articles and books. The analysis is twofold: in concentrates on specific readings of Ben Jelloun’s novel as well as on the ← 165...

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