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Intellectual Captivity

Literary Theory, World Literature, and the Ethics of Interpretation

Chen Bar-Itzhak

Abstract

This essay concerns the unequal distribution of epistemic capital in the academic field of World Literature and calls for an epistemic shift: a broadening of our theoretical canon and the epistemologies through which we read and interpret world literature. First, this epistemic inequality is discussed through a sociological examination of the “world republic of literary theory,” addressing the limits of circulation of literary epistemologies. The current situation, it is argued, creates an “intellectual captivity,” the ethical and political implications of which are demonstrated through a close reading of the acts of reading world literature performed by scholars at the center of the field. A few possible solutions are then suggested, drawing on recent developments in anthropology, allowing for a redistribution of epistemic capital within the discipline of World Literature: awareness of positionality, reflexivity as method, promotion of marginal scholarship, and a focus on “points of interaction.”

Editor-in-Chief David Damrosch, Theo D'Haen, Ronit Ricci and Longxi Zhang

The Journal of World Literature (JWL) aspires to bring together scholars interested in developing the concept of World Literature, and to provide the most suitable environment for contributions from all the world’s literary traditions. It creates a forum for re-visiting global literary heritages, discovering valuable works that have been undeservedly ignored, and introducing aspects of the transnational global dissemination of literature, with translation as a focus. The journal welcomes submissions that can concurrently imagine any literary tradition, in any language, moving beyond national frames to simultaneously discuss and develop the cosmopolitan threads of a variety of literary traditions. It also welcomes contributions from scholars of different research backgrounds working collaboratively as well as from group research projects interested in showcasing their findings, in order to meet the challenge of a wider and deeper discussion of literature’s networks.

The editorial board of the JWL has begun accepting submissions for open-call issues.

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The introductions of the issues of the first two years are available Open Access to familiarize yourself with JWL and its applied scope.