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Shaden M. Tageldin


This essay traces the problem of world literature in key writings by the Egyptian scientist and littérateur Aḥmad Zakī Abū Shādī. Abū Shādī’s early nod to world literature (1908–1909) intimates the challenge of making literary particularity heard in the homogenizing harmonies of a world dominated by English. That problem persists in his account of a 1926 meeting with the Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore and in an essay of 1928 inspired by that meeting: one of the first manifestos of al-adab al-ʿālamī (world literature) in Arabic, predating the 1936 appearance of al-adab al-muqāran (comparative literature). While Abū Shādī lauds Tagore’s refusal to compare literatures East and West and insistence on the spiritual unity of all literatures, his struggles to articulate a world in which harmony is not an alibi for hierarchy suggest that neither comparative literature nor its would-be leveler – world literature – can shed the haunting specter of inequality.

Blaž Zabel


This article discusses the work of the early Irish comparatists Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett, who in 1886 published the first monograph in English in comparative literature. By bringing into discussion Posnett’s lesser-known journalistic publications on politics, the essay argues that his comparative project was importantly determined by the contemporary challenges of British imperial politics and by his own position in the British Empire. The article investigates several aspects of Posnett’s work in the context of British colonialism: his understanding of literature and literary criticism, his perception of the English and French systems of national literature, and his understanding of world literature and classical literature. Recognising the imperial and colonial context of Comparative Literature additionally highlights the development of literary comparisons, which have marked subsequent discussions in the discipline.

Intersecting Imperialisms

The Rise and Fall of Empires in Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Ben Holgate


Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013), which features the Thai-Burma “Death Railway” in World War Two, depicts a complex web of imperial regimes that converge and clash in the mid-twentieth century. The protagonist is an Australian soldier effectively fighting for his country’s former colonizer, Britain, which is losing its empire to Japan. I build on Laura Doyle’s concept of “inter-imperiality” to explore how the novel illuminates the historical process of imperial factors intersecting at multiple levels, from the geopolitical and economic to the personal and cultural. The novel demonstrates how inter-imperial identities challenge simple binary models of imperialism, and how so-called national literatures are produced in a world context. This is evident in Flanagan’s intertextual homage to classical Japanese author Matsuo Bashō. The novel also highlights how world literature discourse ought to take into account temporal and ethicopolitical factors (Pheng Cheah), suggesting an overlap with postcolonial studies.

Multilingual Novel

Anticlimax and the Real of World Literature

Matylda Figlerowicz


This article proposes a model of world literature based on multilingualism, rather than translation or a series of monolingualisms. It analyzes three novels, positioned in uneven relationships to world literature: Ramon Saizarbitoria’s Hamaika pauso (Basque; Countless steps, 1995), Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (Spanish; 2004), and Sol Ceh Moo’s Sujuy k’iin (Mayan; Unspoiled day, 2011). They can all be read as multilingual, and despite the differences of their contexts and the particular ways in which different languages intertwine in them, anticlimactic forms are an aesthetic solution they share. The model of world literature informed by this anticlimactic multilingualism could be called the Real of world literature, since it points to the traumatic core of world literature that disrupts the possibility of systematizing its literatures in a holistic structure.

Eralda L. Lameborshi


The Ottoman Empire shaped much of the Mediterranean world and yet, postcolonial scholarship has developed very few tools that engage with it as a pre-modern and pre-capitalist empire. Given its influence, it is necessary to understand the Ottoman Empire as a colonial force, especially in literatures that represent its reign. Southeastern European literature is ripe for such analysis as it seeks to understand the Ottoman legacy in Southeastern Europe, and to account for the ways in which the Ottoman Empire’s imperial model created worlds within worlds, where regions not located in the imperial center were not peripheries but provincial centers. The works of Ivo Andrić, Ismail Kadare, and Meša Selimović fictionalize history in an attempt to show how history itself happens in these provincial centers. Audiences become aware of the Ottoman presence as a droning hum in the background with a lasting cultural, linguistic, and religious legacy.

Vedran Ćatović


This study situates the works of Ivo Andrić at the intersection of world literature and postcolonial studies. It argues that, rather than being opposed as two mutually exclusive critical paradigms, the two need to be tactfully combined in order to account for the artist’s treatment of the prolonged subjugation undergone by the former Ottoman province of Bosnia. Two contradictory trends are observed. Andrić represents Bosnian small towns as places of symbolic resistance and perseverance. His local themes and language undermine the hegemonic presence of the empire, and invite a reading through a postcolonial lens. At the same time, a strong cosmopolitan current runs through the same narratives, and shows a paradoxical urge of the artist to extend his local setting into the global and intercultural spheres. Andrić stages the world as a multifarious and enigmatic whole – a viewpoint that embraces world literature as its aesthetic and political shrine.

Pheng Cheah and David Damrosch


The following is an edited transcript of a presentation by Pheng Cheah on his book What Is a World? On Postcolonial Literature as World Literature, followed by a discussion with David Damrosch, with selections from the question and answer period. The event took place on the opening day of the July 2018 session of the Institute of World Literature, hosted by Professor Mitsuyoshi Numano and the Department of Contemporary Literary Studies at the University of Tokyo.

Bhavya Tiwari and David Damrosch

Whirls of Faith and Fancy

House Symbolism and Sufism in Elif Shafak’s The Flea Palace

Verena Laschinger


Elif Shafak’s The Flea Palace (2004) exposes secularized Istanbul as a grotesque world. By establishing the apartment building as a synecdoche for the city and negotiating the characters’ trajectories within the historical context of modernizing Istanbul, the novel presents their alienation as the sine qua non of the modern individual which is best confronted playfully or rather in the Sufi way. The argument is supported by the novel’s complex employment of circles and lines as thematic and formal patterns which refer to Islamic ritual practice of the Mevlevi Sufis in numerous ways.

African Cultural Festivals and World Literature

From the Map to the Territory

Claire Ducournau


In an era where cultural festivals multiply, so-called African festivals have spread in Africa, but also outside of the continent, in major cities as well as in little-known villages, for example in provincial France. What are some of their implications and effects in the case of francophone African literature? These events privilege a continental representation of literature, which often reveals itself as problematic when confronted with the complex geographies of the texts and authors represented at these festivals. Using cross-disciplinary methodology, this critical inquiry reads different reallocations of this persistent African matrix through a typology and contemporary examples (Kossi Efoui’s writings, the “Étonnants Voyageurs” and “Plein sud” festivals). As an object of study, festivals bear witness to the necessity of expanding the toolbox of the (world) literary scholar by making use of documentary sources and adopting ethnographic approaches. It reveals a structural tension between an African map and various concrete territories, where local issues matter often more than this continental category, and can affect the form and content of literature itself.