My latest piece for the Sydney Review of Books examines Aamir Mufti’s Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literature and Rebecca Walkowitz’s Born Tranlated: The Contemporary Novel in the Age of World Literature. Both books look at world literature from different slants, Mufti via Edward Said’s Orientalism with particular attention to the literatures of the Indian subcontinent, while Walkowitz addresses the way translation affects literature and is represented within it.
The idea of world literature, taken as a whole rather than divided into many national or linguistically based literatures, is a paradoxical one. How can we speak of a ‘literature’ that encompasses far too many languages to master in a single lifetime? Does the term refer to the totality of all the literature in the world, or does it imply a project of canonisation—and if so, who gets to decide which works are included? For the purposes of the study of literature, what constitutes the ‘world’?