Novelization, Locatedness and World Literature
The novels by North African novelists Waciny Laredj, Majid Toubia and Abdelrahim Lahbibi that refashioned the traditional Arabic genre of the taghrība inspired by the medieval epic of Taghrība of Banū Hilāl, still a living oral tradition in the region, offer an interesting case study of location in world literature. They circulate both within national (Algerian, Egyptian and Moroccan) literary systems and the pan-Arab literary field while maintaining a distinct aesthetic and political locality. In these novels, the literary life of the North African taghrība takes forms and meanings that are geographically and historically located, and that are shaped by the positionality of the authors. This paper intervenes in the discussion on location in world literature from the perspective of Arabic novelistic traditions by showing that the pan-Arabic literary field itself is far from homogenous but is marked by a diversity of narrative styles and techniques that can be both local/localised and transregional at the same time. Therefore, we need to shift our understanding of world literature beyond macro-models of “world-system” that assume a universally-shared set of literary values and tastes.
The Bardification of Hafiz
Discussions on world literature often imagine literary presence, movement, and exchange in terms of location and prioritize those literary traditions that can be easily mapped. In many regards, classical ghazal poetry resists such interpretation. Nonetheless, a number of nineteenth-century writers working in Urdu and English reframed classical ghazal poetry according to notions of locale that were particularly underpinned by ideas of natural essence, or genius. This article puts two such receptions of the classical ghazal in conversation with one another: the naičral shāʿirī (natural poetry) movement in North India, and the portrayal of classical Persian poet Hafiz as a figure of national genius in the scholarship of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both these examples highlight the role that discourses of nature and natural expression played in nineteenth-century literary criticism, particularly with regard to conceptions of national culture. They also demonstrate how Persianate literary material that had long circulated in cosmopolitan ways could be vernacularized by rereading conventionalized tropes of mystical longing in terms of more worldly belonging.
Edited by Arjan van Dijk
Käbbädä Mikael’s Geographies of Belonging
Through the literary and historiographical works written by Ethiopian intellectual Käbbädä Mikael in the 1940s and 1950s, this article problematizes the concept of the “world” in world literature. In some theories of world literature, the world is presented as a static a priori, a self-evident spatial referent, a background setting for literary activities. Contrary to this objectivist frame, I propose instead to look at the world as a performative category, and to conceive world literature as a study of worldmaking processes. Käbbädä Mikael’s worldmaking attempted to break into the Eurocentric exclusivity of hegemonic narratives of modernity, jostling for recognition within modernization theory but also, at the same time, activating polycentric connections along oblique South-South networks. For him, the world was not a cosmopolitan project, but a pool of symbolic resources from which to draw in building a better future for Ethiopia.
Francesca Orsini and Laetitia Zecchini
This essay explores two different ways by which ideas and “problems” of the “world,” “India,” “Indian literature,” and “world literature” were experienced, discussed, translated, imagined and remade in specific spaces like Bombay or journals such as The Indian PEN. I focus on one relatively formalized organization, the PEN All-India Centre, which was founded in Bombay in 1933 as the Indian branch of International PEN, and on a contemporary poet, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and the informal network of writers and artists close to him. Through the widely different agendas, practices, concerns, contexts and forms of writer collectivization which I outline in this essay, the PEN All-India Centre in the 1940s and 1950s, and the Bombay poets of the 1960s did try to eat the corners of the world and of world literature away. They aimed to break on the world stage, reclaimed an “India” that included what was non-Indian, and put forward, through translation and a cut-and-paste “collation” of the world and world literature, an idea of internationalism and interconnectedness where provincialism was the enemy. By discussing the situated, critical, and imaginative processes of reworlding that were at stake, and the struggles they gave rise to in the case of the PEN All-India Centre, I explore how these writers also put forward defiant practices of cosmopolitanism that reallocated the Eastern and the Western, the peripheral and the significant.
“For any given observer,” David Damrosch argued in What is World Literature?, “even a genuinely global perspective remains a perspective from somewhere, and global patterns of the circulation of world literature take shape in their local manifestations.” Within world-system approaches that fix centres, peripheries and semiperipheries, or with approaches that consider world literature only that which circulates transnationally or “globally,” the relativizing import of this important insight remains inert or gets forgotten. As Indian editors and writers in the early decades of the twentieth century undertook more translations of foreign works and discussed the relationship between India and the world, overlapping understandings of world literature emerged in the Indian literary field. This essay explores three different visions of world literature from the same region and period but in different languages – English, Hindi, and Urdu – highlighting their different impulses, contexts, approaches, and outcomes in order to refine our notion of location. And whereas much of the recent debate and activities around world literature has revolved around the curriculum or around publishers’ series and anthologies, in the Indian case exposure to and discussion of literature from other parts of the world took largely place in the pages of periodicals.