When writing systems spread beyond their language of origin, they bring literacy to formerly oral cultures or intrude on or displace an existing system. The process of learning a new script often entails learning a good deal about the source culture and its literature, sometimes overwriting earlier local traditions, other times creatively stimulating them. This essay looks first at some of the literary consequences of the spread of cuneiform writing in relation to its hieroglyphic and alphabetic rivals in the ancient Near East, and then discusses the advance and later loss of Chinese script in Vietnam and Korea, in the examples of the foundational work of modern Vietnamese literature, Nguyen Du’s The Tale of Kieu, and poems by the modern Korean poet Pak Tujin.
Pascale Casanova’s seminal book has had an enormous and continuing impact around the world in a dozen languages, and as a result La République mondiale des lettres has itself become subject to the processes described within the book itself, as it enters world scholarly space. Casanova herself reflected directly on the somewhat unsettling results of this process, and her subsequent work was shaped in various ways by the international response to her pathbreaking book. This essay examines Casanova’s responses to the varied responses to her book, and suggests that her subsequent books should be understood as embodying a resulting mixture of resistance and rethinking of her earlier positions.