A Pact With Books: The Public Life of World Literature

April 22, 2018 – 11:57 am
Old books

A Pact With Books: The Public Life of World Literature

by

B. Venkat Mani

Who defines world literature? Is it the author of the text that leaves its point of origin to find space on a bookshelf—physical or digital—in a far away part of the world? Is it the translator, the initiator of textual migration? And how does the reader, who determines whether a text keeps the promise it makes—that is, giving a glimpse of the far away world of its origin—define world literature?

photo1Beyond the author and the translator, a very large number of actors determine a reader’s access to literary works. If the author and the reader were to be tentatively imagined in a producer-consumer relationship, one could see that there is an entire set of mediators, representing several institutions, who enable the distribution and circulation of a literary artifact for a worldwide readership: publisher, bookseller (or online vendor), librarian, magazine editor, literary critic, literary agent, book-festival organizer, the scriptwriter who translates a novel for theater or film, webmasters of “fan-websites” or Facebook pages of living or dead authors, selection committees for international literary awards, and TV personalities. And there is the current digital culture—reading media such as Kindle, Nook, Nexus; online collections such as Google Books and Hathi Project; and online libraries such as the European Library, the Universal Library, the American Digital Public Library—transforming readers’ access to world literature. In other words, world literature has a public life in which various individuals and collectives come together to institutionalize it. These individuals and collectives do not exist in a historical-political vacuum. In fact historical and political conditions create and exert ideological pressures within the political boundaries of a nation. Such ideological pressures shape not merely the course of a national public life of literature, but also a public life of world literature.

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Source: global-ejournal.org

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