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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.

Francesca Orsini and Laetitia Zecchini

Laetitia Zecchini

Abstract

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.

Peter D. McDonald

Abstract

Less concerned with the concept of World Literature than with the promise and perils of conceptualization, this essay considers what experiencing some forms of writing as world literature might involve. Using J.M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country (1977) as an illustrative example, it addresses questions of circulation, translation, writing systems, book history, and literary geography in the context of recent academic debates about world literary studies. It concludes by revisiting Rabindranath Tagore’s landmark 1907 essay “World Literature,” arguing that it remains an indispensable guide to experiential reading and anti-conceptual thinking.

Francesca Orsini

Abstract

“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.

Xavier Garnier

Abstract

Probably because of its relationship with a coastal culture, Swahili literature seems very aware of its position in the world. Through a reading of Swahili poems and novels across a range of genres, this paper explores the ways in which Swahili writers have engaged in a dialogue with the whole world, from the colonial period to the contemporary era. The evolution of well-identified literary forms such as epic poetry, ethnographic novel or crime novel will also pave the way for identifying the specificities of a Swahili cosmopolitanism anxious to cultivate an art of living in the age of a kind of globalization whose effects are often harshly felt at the local level. Because it has long developed an awareness of the world, Swahili literature has often pioneered the invention of literary forms that are able to translate locally the movements of the world.