In 1929, the father of surrealism André Breton and his friends published a “world map in the time of the surrealists,” which placed the Pacific in the center with a disappearing Europe and a nonexistent USA, and showing oversized islands from New Guinea to Ireland. During the 1930s, surrealist ideas and practices were creatively transformed beyond recognition by marginal writers who had emigrated to and/or excommunicated surrealists living in Paris. Looking beyond Casanova’s and Moretti’s centers and (semi)peripheries that organize the world system, I argue that by thinking instead of cultural centers like Paris as inhabited simultaneously both by central but also by (semi)peripheral writers we may get new and more nuanced insights into the circulation and transformation of ideas beyond the traditional story of surrealism told by literary histories. Using the example of the French translation of Joyce’s “Anna Livia Plurabelle,” I uncover the hidden story of the transformation of Joyce’s text into a surrealist cognate from the peripheries of surrealism itself.
Confinement can present itself in terms of loss and deprivation, but it can also enable us to rediscover the moral value of solitude as a necessary condition for the birth of revolutionary ideas that can change the world. World literature plays an important part in this process, with its self-reflective power that allows for a “detached engagement” with the world at large, as David Damrosch has posited in What Is World Literature? This conception of solitude as a paradoxical condition for the birth of revolutionary ideas that can change the world goes back as far as the 12th Dynasty Egyptian text The Debate Between a Man and His Soul, long before there ever was a “Western tradition” that goes from Stoicism to Montaigne, Virginia Woolf and beyond. This essay will tell the secret story of one of the circulation routes of the value of solitude as key to participation and revolutionary intervention in a world in crisis.
The following is an edited transcript of the opening plenary session of the Institute for World Literature in July 2020 – held online as a result of Covid-19. In this conversation with IWL’s director and associate director, Orhan Pamuk discusses his understanding of world literature and his place in it, and his ongoing work on his novel Nights of Plague, then nearing completion.