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What Is World Literature? (Translation/Transnation) (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 10. März 2003

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World literature was long defined in North America as an established canon of European masterpieces, but an emerging global perspective has challenged both this European focus and the very category of "the masterpiece." The first book to look broadly at the contemporary scope and purposes of world literature, "What Is World Literature?" probes the uses and abuses of world literature in a rapidly changing world. In case studies ranging from the Sumerians to the Aztecs and from medieval mysticism to postmodern metafiction, David Damrosch looks at the ways works change as they move from national to global contexts. Presenting world literature not as a canon of texts but as a mode of circulation and of reading, Damrosch argues that world literature is work that gains in translation. When it is effectively presented, a work of world literature moves into an elliptical space created between the source and receiving cultures, shaped by both but circumscribed by neither alone.Established classics and new discoveries alike participate in this mode of circulation, but they can be seriously mishandled in the process.

From the rediscovered "Epic of Gilgamesh" in the nineteenth century to Rigoberta Menchu's writing today, foreign works have often been distorted by the immediate needs of their own editors and translators. Eloquently written, argued largely by example, and replete with insightful close readings, this book is both an essay in definition and a series of cautionary tales.

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David Damrosch is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and President of the American Comparative Literature Association for 2002/03. His books include "The Narrative Covenant, We Scholars", and "Meetings of the Mind" (Princeton). He is the editor of "The Longman Anthology of World Literature".

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question raised 4. Mai 2003
Von Alvaro Lewis - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch
The author of this essay, a series of chapters trying to define a literary category, is smart and writes engagingly in witty and clear prose for an academic. I recommend this book because it holds several strong chapters on translation and politics of publishing. But, despite best efforts, the titular question remains addressed in unsatisfying fashion. It seems there is so much to say about the politics of reception and lack of reception, about the politics of literary influence and trade, that the book contains less about literature than one might desire from such a well-read guide. Good sense needs no method, but here, in spite of some good sense the author has chosen curiously, eccentrically, the texts with which to make his discussion. The common qualities that bind the chapters pertain more to the context of readers, editors, and occasionally writers. Greaer balance must be achieved. There is too little discussion of the literature itself. Surely, it is too blandly limiting to consider world literature merely a mark of consumer culture and national expectations for others, the literature remaining nearly at all times secondary to the category. Only some scattered anecdotes will lead readers to understand the cause of the author's dedication to literature and comparatism.
The range of the author is admirably broad. It is possible readers of this book will come away with a burning desire to read a book or author mentioned by Damrosch. The bibliography given is remarkably trim for such an undertaking. It seems to me that this book adopts more of the literary discourse concerning the relation of power and knowledge in the formation of literature than the philological attention characteristic of an academic tradition that has been comparing languages and national literatures for centuries (granted, rarely having addressed the question Damrosch approaches). Though the author floats Auerbach's <Mimesis> in and out of his discussion as an exemplar of an earlier attempt to give definition to the idea of world literature (even if drastically limited that author's own expertise in the languages of Europe), a <Mimesis>, this book is not, and to be fair, did not intend to be.
The best discussions, I felt, concerned Gilgamesh, early Egyptian poems, and Rigoberta Mench/u. In the end, the definition made for world literature seems a general and useful point of departure for authors of better books to come on the topic.
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