World Literature: Where does Arabic Literature fit in?

Where Arabic Literature fits into World Literature, as a concept, a framework an idea or a “debate” is not always a straightforward question.

After reviewing the outline of the class and its expectations, we will use our class time on 5 January 2015, to start discussing  “World Literature”.

Some of the kinds of questions we will be thinking about include:

What are the origins of the concept in literary study? What has it come to signify? What  use/s may or may not it have for thinking about Arabic Literature? We will also discuss the category of Arabic Literature as a discrete unit of study.

There are a number of resources to use to start thinking about World Literature for the purposes of this class. We will read a number of articles and try to get a range of perspectives. You may want to browse through the collection edited by Christopher Prendergast Debating World Literature or the book by David Damrosch What is World Literature? My new book uses this concept as a framework for French language fiction by Lebanese women writers, Native Tongue, Stranger Talk. This will help you to start thinking about these questions.

On Monday, we will also think together about two famous 19C quotes about World Literature that often serve as a basis for using the concept as a critical framework today.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, on “weltliteratur” in Conversations with Eckermann (1827):

“I am more and more convinced that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere and at all times in hundreds and hundreds of men. . . . [W]e Germans are very likely to fall too easily into this pedantic conceit, when we do not look beyond the narrow circle that surrounds us. I therefore like to look about
me in foreign nations, and advise everyone to do the same. National literature is now a rather unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach. But, while we thus value what is
foreign, we must not bind ourselves to some particular thing, and regard it as a model. We must not give this value to the Chinese, or the Serbian, or Calderon, or the Nibelungen; but, if we really want a pattern, we must always return to the ancient Greeks, in whose works the beauty of mankind is constantly represented. All the rest we must look at only historically; appropriating to ourselves what is
good, so far as it goes”

[Johann Peter Eckermann. Conversations with Goethe (1835)]

(as cited in Damrosch, What is World Literature?: “I am more and more convinced,” Goethe remarked,”that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere and at all times in hundreds and hundreds of men . . . I therefore like to look about me in foreign nations, and advise everyone to do the same. National literature is now a rather unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach.”)

Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto (1848):

“The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

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