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African Cultural Festivals and World Literature

From the Map to the Territory

Claire Ducournau

Abstract

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.

The Literary World of the North African Taghrība

Novelization, Locatedness and World Literature

Karima Laachir

Abstract

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.

Locating the World in Metaphysical Poetry

The Bardification of Hafiz

Fatima Burney

Abstract

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.

Francesca Orsini and Laetitia Zecchini

On Islands and Deserts

Algerian Worlds

Tristan Leperlier

Abstract

This article argues for the necessity for world literature and postcolonial studies to examine both global hierarchies of literary legitimacy and those local practices which might challenge them, and give perspectives for other significant geographies. To do so, it focuses on the bilingual and transnational Algerian literary field; this requires different levels of interconnected analysis, namely of the two linguistic subfields, the intermediary level of national literary field and the two Francophone and Arabophone transnational literary fields. Trajectories and literary works of three very different yet linked writers, Rachid Boudjedra, Tahar Djaout and Tahar Ouettar, are examined in turn. The article traces both the global and linguistic inequalities to which they were subjected as well as their practices in order to argue that they reveal unexpected vectors of circulation between spaces and languages. Finally, this piece explores how and why each writer reinvents a world within their desert novels, that is, by narrating wanderings in the desert that are also explorations of national identity.

Dale Tracy

Abstract

Cloud Atlas takes the form of what Lawrence Buell calls an observer-hero narrative, in which an observer has difficulty representing and interpreting a hero’s actions. While Cloud Atlas structurally magnifies this problem over its multiple stories, its subversion of genre and convention suggests a reading strategy through which one might believe in another’s effective action, despite the accepted knowledge and limiting rules of the systems in which action might occur. The novel’s principle of symmetry, that an observer’s belief in a hero’s action bolsters the action’s effects, suggests the significance of what I call proximate observation – observation founded in an appropriate degree of connection. Proximate observation allows for the belief in another’s story, belief that is necessary for change. The implications for a text, the world, or world literature are the same: proximate reading strategies foreground the need for belief in possibilities one does not already know.

World Literatures, Cosmopolitan Publics

Welcoming the PEN Club to Buenos Aires in 1936

Mónica Szurmuk and Fernando Degiovanni

Abstract

In this article we use the rich sources provided by the press coverage of the 1936 Congress of the PEN Club in Buenos Aires to examine international interactions around literature in times of violence and censorship. We contend that the Congress allows for a reading of the different worlds of literature beyond the traditional categories of text, reader, writer and critic. Our study moves away from canonical authors and literature as an institution to focus on World Literature as a form of experience. We focus on the producers and consumers of literature as embodied multilingual presences and thereby provide a more nuanced understanding of World Literature. Bruce Robbins’s notion of “cosmopolitanisms from below” allows us to rethink the notion of World Literature within the framework of a “lived” cosmopolitanism deployed at a time of political danger.

Worlds of Advice

Going Places with Nazir Ahmad

Soofia Siddique

Abstract

This article situates the nineteenth-century Urdu writer Nazir Ahmad’s Chand Pand as a piece of advice literature on an Arabic-Persian continuum, and equally a text of its time and place. Linguistic features of its discourse show that, as a self-conscious performance of the possibilities of Urdu, it imparts culturally resonant ways of inhabiting a multifarious world, and inscribes an expansive and inclusive view of culture. In particular, the narrative organization of the focal section “A Brief Account of the World” is strongly evocative of a conceptual organization of the world by concentric circles that is comparable to the view of human sociality invoked by the tenth-eleventh century Persian ethicist Miskawayh and illuminates the location of Nazir Ahmad’s text in the continuum of ethics (akhlaq) literature. At the same time, beside these signs of literary cosmopolitanism, I argue that Nazir Ahmad’s account of the world stakes a claim for the irreducible particularity of places and their associated textures of life, and offers a view of the world that supports “place-based thinking or imagination” (Dirlik) as opposed to the potentially obfuscating abstraction of globalized “space.”

Mélanie Bourlet

Abstract

This article explores the relationship between cosmopolitanism and nationalism through the example of a transnational literature written in an African language, Pulaar, considered from a multi-located perspective. It seeks to understand to what extent a linguistically based transnational literary nationalism may be considered a form of “bottom-up cosmopolitanism” (Appadurai) that carries social aspirations. In the context of globalization, movements of linguistic revitalisation continue to grow and language has become a veritable tool for social action. This essay argues that, from a methodological standpoint, a more focused attention to the local and to translocal ties allows us to bring to light the connectivity of literature and its tendency to challenge institutionalized global literary geographies.

Ethiopian Intellectual History and the Global

Käbbädä Mikael’s Geographies of Belonging

Sara Marzagora

Abstract

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.