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What Is World Literature?

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what is a world literature

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 Menchú’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.

what is a world literature

" What Is World Literature? has become a touchstone of every debate on the subject." —Alexander Beecroft, Modern Philology

"A stunning achievement. Damrosch gives 'world literature' the largest possible scope—ranging from cuneiform to hieroglyphics, from low German to Nahuatl—a jaunt across several millennia and a dozen languages."—Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University

"Displaying great intelligence, immense literary and historical culture, and unassuming modesty, Damrosch intervenes in contemporary debates over 'world literature.' Readers will be dumbfounded by his range. He treats cuneiform-inscribed shards, Egyptian hieroglyphics, medieval German female mystics, Inca chronicles, Kafka translations and contemporary Native protest literature will equal philological attention, poise and erudition."—Wlad Godzich, University of California, Santa Cruz

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All You Need to Know About World Literature

Beyond the skills involved in intimating oneself with world literature, the beauty lies in the enlightening exposure and daunting experience.

According to Scott Fitzgerald— this is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

In this guide, you are going learn all you need to know about the best methodologies of writing world literature, Iliad literary analysis, Norton anthology of world literature, how to cite the Iliad, homer writing, anthology of literature and other necessary literary terms.

What is World Literature?

Originally, world literature is a term used for Magnus opus of western European literature but with the development/discovery of other literary works from other region, the meaning of world literature experienced a further diversification. Currently, world literature is regarded as a general term used to describe the entirety of global literature/the circulation of literary materials into all parts o the world, regardless of their origins.

The unlimited variety of poetic writing and tales accessible globally makes ones experience with world literature quite fascinating. However, we cannot deny the fact that working with literary pieces from various cultural backgrounds is quite challenging.

Other Necessary Literary Terms You Must Know

It is termed as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium in standard attic. Culturally attributed to homer, Iliad is a Greek grand poem, which is written in dactylic hexameter. This poem narrates the wars and occurrences that happened during the Trojan wars. Most times, when writers are doing research on the Trojan wars and Greek history, they cite the Iliad.

The Norton Anthology of World Literature

This is a globally accepted anthology of world literature that conserves and expatiate the Amos works from the previous edition, while adding the anthology o newer collections.

The Iliad Literary Analysis

This is the complete analysis of the poem written by the great poet, Homer, in which there were heroes like—Ajax, Achilles, Hector, Diomedes, and Glaucus.

A citation is a complete list of the sources you consulted during your research making. It gives your audience the opportunity of cross-checking your facts and it saves you from any plagiarism allegation.

Useful information: Lolita book summary and analysis.

How to Write World Literature  – Basic Tips Where to Start

Read also: Research paper on Their Eyes Were Watching God .

Below are the two types of comparison papers:

Search for the occurrences or reoccurrences of your concept with its history and social implications: this can be best done by researching the author’s name of your material and the periods, in which he consulted for instance; the intro of an anthology or the dictionary of biographical literature. When interpreting historical concepts, be careful not to view the past with the eyes of a modern man. Instead view the past with the eyes of the ancients, in order to get the full picture of what they experienced during their time. Also do not explain an American tradition with the perspective of a German because they are not the same. The reason we call it world literature is that it is vast, so also are its writer.

Know the genre of the work you’re writing: a genre is said to be a form of literary sonata/composition that has its very own qualities, themes and styles. However, genres differ across cultures.

Make enquiries, if the text you’re reading was translated: since some words are always lost during translations, you must have it in mind that an already translated text does not provide the full details into about a subject. You cannot be so sure of the original meaning or the accuracy of the text translated, unless you have access to the original text, in the original language.

Discover and ground your thesis: your thesis is your idea, in relation to the topic or your stance. Your thesis should be an argumentative conclusion not an observation or a mere description. Your interpretation must possess a tangible significance and provide the reader a better insight into the topic as a whole.

Read also: Literary analysis of Gone With The Wind .

Use correct citations:

In writing, quoting an incorrect source can disqualify your whole paper. Whenever you quote a source, make sure it is a correct and recommendable one. The recommended style for citing a source is the MLA style. Below is the structure of what MLA style should look like;

Last name First name

Title of Essay

Title of Collection

Ed. Editor’s Name(s)

City of Publication:

Page range of entry

Medium of Publication

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what is a world literature

What Is World Literature?

The term “Weltliteratur,” or world literature, was coined by German novelist and poet Johan Wolfgang von Goethe in 1827. He used it to describe what at that time appeared to be a rise in the availability of literature from other countries around the world. The access to such diverse works eventually gave rise to comparative literature departments in universities throughout the US and Europe. World literature includes works of literature from any country with a written language . It also includes publications of ancient texts from cultures as diverse as those of the Aztecs and Sumerians.

Comparative literature scholarship involves the study of the literature of at least two distinct linguistic cultural or national groups. Most comparative literature scholars, sometime called comparatists, are fluent in several languages. Generally, comparative literature departments require that students become fluent in at least two languages other than their own.

Initially, the study of comparative literature focused on US and western European works. It later expanded to include the Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic literature, as well as that of other world languages. World literature is now studied along with world film and compared with other genres such as music and painting. Comparatists still debate what the scope and direction of the study of comparative literature should be.

Many publishers now print and update anthologies of world literature. Folk epics from around the world, some previously thought lost, are now available for reading and study. Texts include Ramayana , a Sanskrit epic from India; Liyana , from Africa; and Epic of Gilgamesh , from Mesopotamia , which is the oldest known epic in the world.

World literature continues to arouse excitement in the academic world as well as among general reading population. Some scholars believe that the availability of properly presented global literature creates a new arena of insight, knowledge and learning. It has the possibility of engendering exciting ideas and knowledge between the creating and receiving cultures. It may also lead to innovative and cross-cultural literature with shared themes.

Some think that Goethe’s appraisal of the concept of world literature was partly right. It may have sprung from sudden availability of new books from other parts of the world. That the concept was sustained and continues to grow, however, is also attributed to the many universities and scholars around the world interested in the concept, as well as to the many lovers of literature.

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World Literature by Sowon Park , Jernej Habjan LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2019 LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0025

As a global academic branch of studies, world literature emerged around the turn of the millennium, though thinking about literature with reference to “world,” however defined, can be traced back to at least two hundred years earlier. The underlying factors for the emergence of world literature studies are many. The end of the Cold War and the rise of non-Western economies, the advent of a global literary marketplace, and the proliferation of digital platforms are seen as some of its preconditions. In general terms, the expansion of world literature can be seen to reflect the rapid integration of the world into a single market. As a field of inquiry, world literature continues to grow in response to the problems encountered by teachers, students, and readers in their daily contact with literature from around the world. Historically, a prevalent way of thinking about world literature in the Western literary tradition was as the selection of masterpieces from around the world. This serviceable notion was, however, shown to fall below its own theoretical requirement and to be clearly in need of revision, since the “world,” in practice, referred to the “First World,” and world literature had simply been another name for the classics from the five major European states—Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy—and from Russia and the United States. The urgent need to acknowledge and validate occluded regions of the non-Western world as unique literary and historical spaces that contribute to the whole has necessitated an altogether different framework for theorizing concepts such as language, nation, and masterpieces. In its current form, world literature studies aspires to overcome some of the problems that have arisen from the methods and procedures of traditional nation-based literary studies, as well as to address unresolved tensions within comparative literary studies, which have sometimes implicitly equated world literature with European literature. In this it overlaps with critiques of cultural imperialism and Eurocentrism raised by postcolonial studies. Where it differs markedly is in its thinking about the global system of literary production, dissemination, and evaluation beyond Europe and its former colonies, and in its focus on the methodological issues that emerge from the barely manageable inundation of literary texts now made available by digital multimedia platforms. In this effort, world literature studies is often joined by other recently established disciplines, especially globalization studies, translation studies, cosmopolitanism studies, and transnationalism studies.

Scholarly work on world literature often takes the form of either anthology or theoretical study. General overviews, which are limited to either cumulative sampling or theoretical reflection, are thus rare. The renewed interest in world literature around 2000, however, has resulted in monographs that can serve also or primarily as general overviews of world literature. This is the main aim of D’haen 2012 , a detailed history of the terminological, conceptual, pedagogical, and geopolitical aspects of world literature; Goethe’s definitions, Pascale Casanova’s and Franco Moretti’s theories, and European and US-American academe are given special attention. Similarly, Pizer 2006 focuses on the theoretical reception and pedagogical institutionalization of Goethe’s notion of world literature. The problem of teaching world literature is also a concern of Damrosch 2009 , where readers of world literature are offered ways of appreciating texts linguistically or culturally, or formally challenging them while learning to recognize their universal features. Gupta 2009 examines the roles of English studies, world literature studies, and translation policies in the collaboration between globalization scholars and literary scholars. Besides these monographic overviews, a six-volume history of the literatures of the world is attempted in Seigneurie 2020 .

Damrosch, David. How to Read World Literature . Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

A practical companion to Damrosch 2003 (cited under Turn of the Millennium ), where world literature is defined primarily as a mode of reading across national boundaries, this book suggests ways of reading literary works whose language, cultural context, or genre seems foreign to the contemporary English-language reader.

D’haen, Theo. The Routledge Concise History of World Literature . London: Routledge, 2012.

This compendious and accessible presentation of world literature traces the history of the notion, its recent theorizations, and its institutionalization in comparative literary studies, world literature courses, and translation studies. It also addresses the relationship between world literature and postcolonial and postmodern literatures.

Gupta, Suman. Globalization and Literature . Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009.

Gupta presents and intervenes in the recent debates in globalization studies and literary studies. Focusing on the relationship between the two disciplines, as well as between their respective objects of study, he addresses the lack of scholarly collaboration and sees in globalization both the prevalent condition for and a theme of contemporary literature.

Pizer, John. The Idea of World Literature: History and Pedagogical Practice . Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

Combining historical presentation with programmatic intervention, Pizer argues for and exemplifies the adoption of a Goethean dialectical approach to world literature in US academia. To this end, he offers concise accounts both of the academic reception of Goethe’s approach and of contemporary courses on world literature in English translation.

Seigneurie, Ken, ed. A Companion to World Literature . 6 vols. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2020.

This six-volume collection of essays attempts to present all the major periods and locations of literary production. Authors, texts, and forms are viewed in their intertextual relationships as well as in relation to extratextual conditions. Overviews and interpretations of individual phenomena are related to theoretical aspects of the study of world literature.

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What Is a World?

On postcolonial literature as world literature.

What Is a World?

Author: Pheng Cheah

Subjects Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory , Postcolonial and Colonial Studies , Theory and Philosophy > Postcolonial Theory

"Drawing from four critical philosophies–idealism, Marxist materialism, phenomenology, and deconstruction–theorist Pheng Cheah invites the reader to reconsider the presuppositions that underpin contemporary theories about world literature. Works from luminaries Amitav Ghosh, Michelle Cliff, and Timothy Mo, among others, providethe reader with concrete examples of Cheah’s theories in action." — World Literature Today

"[T]hrow[s] an intriguing new light on why and how 'world literature' succeeds in generating plurality and disruption rather than falling back into a flattening familiarity."   — Caroline Levine, Public Books

"Cheah strategically broadens the notion of world literature beyond its most common reference points, which too often constrain literatures and the worlds they offer to their spatial geographies and global circulations." — David W. Hart, Postcolonial Text

"Pheng Cheah has contribued an eloquent volume that stands out in the crowd and belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the field." — Thomas O. Beebee, Comparative Literature Studies

"As with Cheah’s earlier work, it is a magisterial study, written in his characteristically scrupulous and teacherly prose. There is much to learn from What Is a World? at the levels of its intervention into the field of world literature, its case for postcolonial literature as an exemplary modality of world literature, and Cheah’s own interpretive style as a reader and critic." — Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, Qui Parle

"Beautifully written and eloquently constructed, What Is a World? will transform the landscape of world literature studies in the coming years by posing new questions about how the world is and should be conceived." — César Domínguez, Recherche Littéraire

"Pheng Cheah’s What Is a World? On Postcolonial Literature as World Literature makes a powerful intervention in current debates on world literature, arguing for the literary text to be seen as an ethico-political force in the world rather than just a commodity whose global trajectory is best understood in terms of existing networks of influence and exchange." — Ira Raja and Roanna Gonsalves, New Literatures

"What is a W orld? challenges scholars of world literature and postcolonial literature to reconsider and possibly to expand the definition of their fields. It is a thoughtful, theoretical work that further challenges all of us to reconsider the role literature plays in the world(s) around us and to assess our inclusion of literature beyond the Western tradition. Undoubtedly, this book will play an important role in the ongoing dialogue over what world literature really is." — Gregory R. Jackson, Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature

"Cheah’s compelling and acute study ultimately proposes a radical and complex reassessment of the notion of world itself as temporal object, to better explore some of the long-ignored intersections—or what he calls “missed encounters”—between cosmopolitanism, world literature, and postcoloniality. In doing so, the book makes a significant intervention in the ongoing scholarly debates dedicated to these topics. . . . The book [also] constitutes a critical response to the pressing questions raised today by the uneven process of (capitalist) globalization." — Emmanuel Bruno Jean-François, Comparative Literature

"Cheah’s in-depth study of the philosophies of world, whose endpoint is always the role of literature in the worlding process, enables him to define a fresh take on world literature’s normative function, in terms of inclusion/exclusion." — Christine Lorre-Johnston, Commonwealth Essays and Studies

"In bridging the postcolonial and the world, Cheah offers a powerfully refreshing account of the category of the 'world,' which arbiters in the world-literary field tend to take for granted." — Kelly Yin Nga Tse, Interventions

"Pheng Cheah makes a compelling argument for literature’s worldly force, its ways of impacting the ethico-political problems of the world. This is exactly what the humanities need now." — Robert JC Young, Julius Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature, New York University

"Unafraid of controversy, Pheng Cheah prompts his readers to think and rethink their own critical, philosophical, and literary commitments. A remarkable book." — Peter Fenves, Joan and Sarepta Harrison Professor of Literature, Northwestern University

"Wide-ranging and complexly argued, What is a World? gives us a theory of world literature inspired by Heidegger, Arendt, and Derrida, locating the variety and volatility of the literary field in the finiteness of humans and the destabilizing infrastructure of time."  — Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University

"Setting out to provide a systematic and analytical account of the notion of the world—and worlding—Pheng Cheah rethinks world literature not as the inevitable outcome of globalization, or as a reaction to the world system, but as part of the capitalist conceptual reconfiguration of the world. Powerful and provocative, What is a World? makes a significant, timely, and radical intervention."  — Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English, Princeton University

Pheng Cheah is Professor of Rhetoric and Chair of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights and Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation .  

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Digital Version

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Since the dawn of language, humankind has exchanged stories, either though storytellers around a hearth or through scribes tirelessly copying various texts. This literature allows modern audience a window through which we can peer into the distant past. It provides vital clues for the interpretation of history, language, and culture. It is through literature that one may compare and gain a greater understanding of other civilizations.

This anthology comprises of three comprehensive collections that provide samples of literature from around the world and across the ages, ranging from some of oldest tales that have survived into modernity to works from the 1650s. These texts provide an opportunity for readers to engage in extensive analysis of the works themselves and the societies that influenced and were influenced by them.

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  1. What Is the Importance of World Literature?

    World literature is a way of communicating and preserving important details of culture, traditions and attitudes. Literature is comprised of language, and language is a form of communication.

  2. How Many Cultures Are There in the World?

    It is impossible to tell exactly how many cultures there are in the world, because it is not easy to measure cultural identities directly. However, some people use languages as a slight indicator, and there are 5,000 to 6,000.

  3. How Many Religions Are There in the World?

    There are an estimated 4,200 different religions in the world, and these can be categorized into several main religions. These include Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, although Roman Catholicism is oft...

  4. World literature

    World literature is used to refer to the total of the world's national literature and the circulation of works into the wider world beyond their country of

  5. World Literature Overview & Famous Works

    World literature can be defined as works of literature that have been created, distributed, and circulated beyond their country of origin. These

  6. What Is World Literature?

    When it is effectively presented, a work of world literature moves into an elliptical space created between the source and receiving cultures

  7. Basic Information about World Literature

    Currently, world literature is regarded as a general term used to describe the entirety of global literature/the circulation of literary materials into all

  8. What Is World Literature? (with pictures)

    World literature includes works of literature from any country with a written language. It also includes publications of ancient texts from

  9. What is 'world literature'?

    World literature refers to the sum total of literary works independent of their origin which are in circulation. It usually introduces us to works of authors of

  10. David Damrosch, What Is World Literature? Princeton & Oxford

    by Goethe: the problem of world literature. According to Damrosch, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the problem can be formulated in.

  11. World Literature

    As a global academic branch of studies, world literature emerged around the turn of the millennium, though thinking about literature with

  12. Introduction to World Literature

    World Literature Introduction - Literature, Importance, Literary Standards, Division of Literature. Your English Teacher.

  13. What Is a World?

    In What Is a World? Pheng Cheah, a leading theorist of cosmopolitanism, offers the first critical consideration of world literature's cosmopolitan vocation.

  14. World Literature I: Beginnings to 1650

    This literature allows modern audience a window through which we can peer into the distant past. It provides vital clues for the interpretation of history