World Literature Today
World Literature is a field that can be situated nowadays somewhere between tautology and paradox since literature has always aspired to acquire a universal meaning which could be shared by any nation or individual, but at the same time, literature has always rejected uniformity and cannot be made subject to global, common standards.
It is clear that “world literature” has become a fashionable discipline over the last few decades. It tried, sometimes combatively, to disrupt the place of comparative literature within literary studies. On the other hand, it has taken over the Goethean concept of “Weltliteratur” to accommodate it to the (internationalist) Marxist theoretical heritage. The history of “World Literature” begins with Goethe, who coined the term Weltliteratur in 1827, but, as Erich Auerbach (Philologie der Weltliteratur, 1952) and other prominent scholars pointed out (Edward Said, who translated Auerbach into English in 1969 as Philology and Weltliteratur), there is a rather distant relationship between the Goethean humanistic idea of “Weltliteratur” and the idea of a globalized “world literature”: literature gets more and more “standardized”, the opposite of what Goethe intended when he introduced the notion of Weltliteratur – which should have preserved diversity, individualities, particular national traditions (Auerbach).
Among the most cited contemporary references are David Damrosch, Pascale Casanova, and Franco Moretti. Damrosch, who authored important studies on the topic, also founded an Institute for World Literature at Harvard University. He conceives world literature as a mode of writing and a mode of reading, relying on close reading, while he also pays attention to local and national frameworks, since World Literature is concerned with the tension between the original context of the work and the new context produced by translation. World Literature is not a predetermined corpus of canonical texts, it is rather fluid, depending upon the circulation of texts. For both Moretti and Damrosch “world literature” is related to circulation, but Moretti does not focus on literary works in themselves, but on larger forms or systems (like genres) they belong to, using quantitative methods and distant reading to accommodate secondary sources (like national literary histories). French theorist Pascale Casanova, paying tribute in many respects to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory advances the scenario of a “mondialité” made up of cultural capitals, centers, and peripheries, all driven by “combative” impulses to acquire and maintain a privileged (“universal”) status. At the same time, World Literature makes room today for non-elitist, pop culture perspectives on literature. If the original “Weltliteratur” emerged within the context of German historicism and national identities, including linguistic identities, World Literature is nowadays related to globalized society and culture, to cross-border spaces, prompting an a-historical perspective on literature and emerging within the critique of the capitalist world or broader post-colonial criticism of hegemonic relationships.
Even if World Literature is associated with important contemporary theorists and flagship studies, it hasn’t established yet a clear reference for its specific object of study. Jérôme David, in Spectres de Goethe: Les métamorphoses de la “littérature mondiale” (2011) followed the history of “world literature” over time and inquired if it is a field of research, a concept, a method, or a mere notion. G. Spivak, in Death of a Discipline (2003), apart from the jeremiad of Comparative Literature, proposed the idea that the study of literature in our globalized world should be the study of world’s literatures and preserve the diversity of languages and cultures, their otherness, which can not be imagined or taught using a European-US or “US-style world literature”. Other polemical positions towards World Literature as a discipline originate in translation studies which focus on the impossibilities of translation / translatability (Barbara Cassin, Emily Apter, Lawrence Venuti, and others).
So, what is World Literature and what is its aim? Is it a corpus of literary universal (canonical?) texts, or a theoretical method to approach literature? What is the relationship of World Literature to national literatures, and what are the dynamics in the relationship of centers to peripheries? When could literature afford to become “combative” (Casanova)? Which is the proper and authentic distance for reading and interpreting – what arguments for a distant or close reading? How do literary works circulate / migrate outside their original contexts of production?
We welcome articles to discuss these questions and any other related topics:
– History of the notion, metamorphosis of Goethe’s Weltliteratur
– World Literature / global literature/ “bibliothèque du monde” (William Marx) / world’s literatures, planetary literature (Spivak)
– Geopolitical and socio-cultural perspectives on World Literature
– World Literature and the concept of Literary Canon
– World Literature (world’s literature, littérature mondiale, major literature, the literature of the Center, etc.) vs. “peripheral”, marginal, minor literatures
– Local, global, and universal from a World Literature perspective. American/ European/ South-Eastern/ other views
– The relationship between World Literature / Littérature mondiale / Comparative Literature; the “death” and rebirth of a discipline (Spivak)
– Migrant literatures
– World literature and translation studies; the question of translatability, „les intraduisibles” (Apter, Cassin)
– Cultural transfers, the role of intermediaries (publishers and literary agents) in the circulation of literary texts; the sociology of translation and circulation (the role of literary prizes, cultural institutions, and literary festivals in the making of world authorship)
– World Literature and the rereading of national literatures
– How to teach world literature?
Please send a brief proposal (10-15 lines) together with your full name and institution until January 15, 2024 at:
Prospective authors will be notified about proposals until February 1st, 2024.
Submission deadline for full articles (max 28 000 characters, with spaces), edited according to the norms and with accurate translations for articles written in other languages than the native language of their authors: June 1st 2024.
Please see our guidelines at https://synthesis.ro/submit/