Literature as a World
In Pascale Casanova’s “Literature as A World” her thesis is about the space world literature has. She asserts, “…‘the world literary space’…is no more than a tool that should be tested by concrete research, an instrument that might provide an account of the logic and history of literature, without falling into the trap of total autonomy” (Casanova 72). It’s being discussed that the term “world literary space” is being defined as a tool that uses research to see the history and function of this text without it being independent.
The motive of this theoretical text is to inform us how important world literature is by telling us about how this genre of literature came to be, examples of literature that are in the world literary space, the classification of these texts, how these texts shed a light on the inequalities happening, and the forms that dominant this space to list a few. This motive all stems from when we’re told how, “This conceptual tool is not ‘world literature’ itself- that is, a body of literature expanded to a world scale, whose documentation and, indeed, existence remains problematic- but a space” (Casanova 72). Casanova tells us that “world literature” isn’t one genre that’s alone. It encompasses various texts from different parts of the world that’s documented. However, keeping this space alive and flowing is an issue. It appears as if she is telling us that not all the texts in the world could be savaged or we don’t always have access to these texts, and it becomes a space. Then there is, “…literary globalization – better defined as a short-term boost to publishers’ profits in the most market-oriented and powerful centres” (Casanova 74). This point she discusses is interesting because it tells us how publishers want to make money, and will boost sales by trying to sell a text worldwide. These publishers explore what markets and places of focus these texts can be sold in.
One text that Casanova uses when discussing this “world literary space” in Gertrude Stein’s “The Making of Americans.” This text discussed how Americans were represented in literature. But, what made Stein stand out was, “The fact that she was a woman and lesbian in Paris in the 1910s is of course crucial to understanding…the nature of her whole aesthetic project” (Casanova 87). When reading Stein’s text Casanova tells us not only should we pay attention to what her text is discussing, but her background as well. If we as readers knew that she was lesbian woman who lived in Paris the way she wrote about Americans being represented in literature would cause us to understand the text differently compared to if we did not know this piece of information. In other words, knowing what the text is about is good, but knowing about the author as well is better!
On that note, a question that could be asked about this text is what is the importance of having literature from around the world? What text can be used to back up this claim? What does Pascale Casanova want us to as readers to walk away with after having read this text? These were questions that I had while reading the text. I started to think about what text can be paired with this theoretical piece when reading how, “The primary characteristics of this world literary space are hierarchy and inequality” (Casanova 82). Casanova is telling us that world literature is a space that is not equal, similar to Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence.” Pamuk’s text looks at the lives of Kemal and Fusun, two lovers, from different social classes. Not only can Pamuk’s text relate back to Casanova’s topic on world literature because Pamuk is a Turkish writer, but it examines the inequality of characters who live in a different country. We see that similarly to the “world literary space” Fusun is not always treated as equally as Kemal because she is of a lower status than him. This can relate back to texts around the world too where one text is more well-known than another text and more likely to be read and bought than other texts.
Writing for the literary journal, New Left Review, Pascale Casanova’s 2005 article, “Literature as a World,” delivers a fresh conceptual approach to understanding literature. By “shifting the ordinary vantage-point” on literature, Casanova argues that rather than looking specifically at the internal or external “divisions” (the criticism) that literature exhibits—be it politically or historically-based—we should consider the “mediating area” of texts, their “world literary space” (72-73). This space, according to Casanova, “might provide [readers] an account of the logic and history of literature, without falling into the trap of total autonomy” from either of those elements (72). Casanova argues that it is by recognizing the “interconnected positions” and the “relational terms” of a specific text and its content that we the readers find a new tool for reading, a tool that that might “restore[s] coherence of the global structure within which texts appear” (73).
Essential evidence/analytical points worth revisiting:
– Literary space as “the produce of a historical process” that “has been constituted more or less everywhere in the world” but in its unification or bend towards “literary pacification process” poses a host of problematic factors, the realities of ongoing decolonization or inherent structural inequalities just some of the few (73-74)
– How the Nobel Prize in literature (think of Morrison here!) stands as “a prime, objective indicator of the existence of a world literary space” and how readers/literary critics “gauge” texts as “modern” – this “search for a literary present” – by measuring them upon relational terms to other texts existing in this literary space (alongside what Casanova term’s the “Greenwich Meridian of Literature” (74-75). Here, we could consider for the exam how Casanova’s point here relates to our class’ focus on texts build upon/modify/reject conventions of those past, operating within this abstract conception of world literary space. (Also see pg. 85 for the example of ripple effects of such earning such title)
– The temporality of designating works as “modern” and/or categorizing them as “classics” – how this “aesthetic-temporal struggle” of assessing works by writers can determine their fates: doomed to obscurity to elevated international consecration (76-77)
– How national/linguistic borders – serving as a biographical and national ‘screen’ – and the strong adherence to their spheres, can in turn mask, distort, silence or ignore factual histories of inter/transnational relationships and power dynamics. Recognizing the “world structure” allows us to understand “the variables, conflicts or forms of soft violence” (79)
– Defining “world literary space” as “not a sphere that is set above all others,” but a shared, collectively-formed spaced by the inhabitants of what Casanova calls the “Republic of Letters” – remember, the “vast, invisible territory” that stands as the “global structure in which texts appear” (73, 81). Casanova’s point about this space existing twice over is also intriguing—presented “once in things and once in thought” (82)
– On the point about power: how the world of literature “provides a paradoxical sort of marketplace, constituted around non-economic economy” founded upon “its own set of values” (83). In turn, Casanova argues that through value designation to certain works/writer becomes a “national literary good” that can enforce/instill a hierarchy and inequality of distribution of such literary resources (83). This also connects later in the article where Casanova talks about “forms of domination.”
– Casanova’s understanding that literary worlds can and have been recognized as autonomous – literary forms producing “a specific history, which cannot be confused with that of the political world” [e.g. even capital cities as cultural hubs (“cultural citadels”) for literature, independent of political-economic flourishing elsewhere]. At the same time, Casanova notes that the literary world is at the same time independent and dependent upon the political economic universe because such relations determine its space (84-85)
– Finally, Casanova’s point about how literature itself “as a common value of the entire space [literature as a world] … can enable writers … to attain a type of freedom, recognition and existence within it,” even when faced with the counter forces of domination and inequality and unequal distribution of resources (90).
We might best place Casanova’s theory in conversation with Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture and John Milton’s Aeropagitica. There are clear echoes to Morrison when Casanova explores the forces of domination and the power literature holds to challenge such forces. One might connect Morrison’s point about the role of the writer, literary reception, and/or the expectations placed on writers who find global acclaim, to Casanova’s points about world literary space, signified by Nobel Prize in literature, and the soft forms of violence that can exist in this space. On a different note, thought it might be a stretch here, I think there is also room to apply Casanova’s points about texts and modernity – that eternal pursuit to classify and de-classify works as “former moderns or new classics” – pairs nicely with John Milton’s Aeropagitica. Milton’s commentary on Parliament’s process of licensing and censoring texts can be seen as Casanova’s modernity point in action: English Parliament in this instance “struggle[d] for monopoly control over [modernity’s] attribution,” in fact deeming its literary merit of these new texts for their growing literate citizenry. A more direct, explicit link to Milton of course is to Casanova’s points about “literary domination”—the “structural constraints that impinge on a writer’s production of works” for instance (86). Surely, Casanova’s theory is not limited to these two works on our exam list—his lens for assessing literature and the spaces it operates in (or doesn’t for that matter) is easily applicable to many texts.
Bourdieu proposes, “cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education” (1). The things we define as “taste” are things that are not inherent, but have been cultivated within us to produce the way we perceive things.
• Education, according to Bourdieu, is what causes these notions of “culture” and “taste.” He says, “Culture also has its titles of nobility – awarded by the educational system – and its pedigrees, measured by seniority in admission to the nobility” (2).
• To be “cultured” means you have good “taste.” You know how to look at art and literature in a way that other people with no educational experience can.
• However, what makes someone who thinks they are “cultured” more cultured than someone who doesn’t?
• Someone who actually views a work of art with no training is actually using their own perspective and their own view of taste. They have no internalized method for reasoning as those who perceive to be “cultured” so. Therefore, they are not bias in their thought, and express actual truth.
Bordieu says, “Thus the encounter with a work of art is not ‘love at first sight’ as is generally supposed, and the act of empathy, Einfühlung, which is the art-lover’s pleasure, presupposes an act of cognition, a decoding, operation, which implies the implementation of a cognitive acquirement, a cultural coding” (3).
• What he supposes is that you don’t like a work of art it because it catches your eye, you like it because you’ve been educated to look at it a certain way which you don’t realize. That is in turn an untruthful representation of your so-called “taste.”
• It is not your inherent, internalized perspectives, but those that have been fed to you by your experiences and education.
Bourdieu also states, “That is why art and culture consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (7).
• The concept of “culture” creates a distinction between individuals, which seems to be natural but is not. It is intended to keep that distinction firm, creating social barriers.
• This can be related to Auden’s,“In Praise of Limestone” because Auden sees the beauty in simplicity. Why does something have to be “cultured” to be beautiful, or worthy of praise?
• The Sellout can be seen as a refusal of being cultured as well. The protagonist does something that is definitely not in the definition of “taste” but that is nonetheless a truthful representation of cultured thought. The social differences that have been established cause the protagonist to re-establish segregation, but just because he’s done something “uncultured” is it wrong? I think that would make it more truthful because it has not been fed to him through his education. It is something he did on his own as a consequence of “culture” in the first place.
Published in 2005, Pascale Casanova’s “Literature as a World” is a versatile theory that is directly in line with the question of this seminar by exploring the role of literature in the “world literary space.” Casanova is a French linguist, which might give us some insight into what the intentions were behind this text. As a linguist, she clearly cares about the way language functions. Because literature is a historically prominent field where language is recorded and expressed, it makes sense that the good of literature would be something Casanova would find worth talking about. In a way, by thinking about her background and making connections between it and the text, I have already demonstrated something valuable about Casanova’s theory. Context matters whenever a reader is trying to interpret something. This reminds me of how completely contradictory this is to the New Critics’ way of analysis. Rather than taking literature as only what is on the page, Casanova encourages us to think about the ways literature interacts with the real world.
Casanova spends time talking about the classifications of literature and what that might say about how we think of them. Works of literature that were created in the western world, specifically those that were written in English, seem to be held to a different standard than other works that do not meet those qualifications. The trouble with this is that it limits our scope to literature that comes from the same places and it creates a misconception that everything different than that is not as good. This discussion of classification reminds me of the Bourdieu line about how a person’s taste classifies the classifier; this is a perfect example. Certain types of literature are viewed by others as objectively better than others on the basis that they were written by and for a western audience. Not only does the western literature get put on a pedestal but non-western literature is disregarded. Casanova writes, “Prestige is the quintessential form power takes in the literary universe: the intangible authority unquestioningly accorded to the oldest, noblest, most legitimate literatures” (83). Prestige is awarded when a text reaches a certain level of greatness, but the criteria by which that greatness is determined is founded on western-centrism and bias against more diverse pieces.
Another important point Casanova brings up is the idea of the periphery. Following the same separation between literature according to their form and origin, western literature is in the center of the literary world and everything else is on the outskirts. On the issue of which group draws inspiration from the other, Casanova says, “The problem at stake in the theorization of literary inequality, then, is not whether peripheral writers ‘borrow’ from the centre, or whether or not literary traffic flows from the centre to the periphery; it is the restitution, to the subordinated of the literary world, of forms, specifications and hardships of their struggles. Only thus can thou be given credit for the invention—often concealed—of their creative freedom” (89). Casanova tackles this topic by not holding literature from the periphery to western standards; rather, arguing that they should be thought about and read by an informed reader. Knowing the circumstances from which something was produced allows the reader to appreciate it in a more authentic way. Furthermore, our understanding of literature goes much deeper than just the words on a page. When someone takes themselves out of their norm in order to understand another person’s perspective, that makes for a better reader and a more sympathetic environment.
Pascale Casanova was a French literary critic whose work deals primarily with linguistic domination of English, and the implications this has on literature as a whole. In her essay “Literature as World”, she discusses the ways in which “the world literary space… is no more a tool that should be tested by concrete research, an instrument that might provide an account of the logic and history of literature, without falling into the trap of total autonomy.”
As Zabrina stated on the blog, the motive of this theoretical text is to inform us how important world literature is by telling us about how this genre of literature came to be, examples of literature that are in the world literary space, the classification of these texts, how these texts shed a light on the inequalities happening, and the forms that dominate this space. Additionally, Casanova suggests through her use of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans that while it is important to understand what the text is about, it is even more beneficial to know about the author as well, as this may provide you with further insight to their characters. (With this in mind, we may feel the need to think further about Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and the ways in which Woolf’s own struggles may have informed her characters’ stories.) Zabrina’s post also highlights Casanova’s concern about documenting every text that exists from all over the world; that “it appears [Casanova] is telling us that not all the texts in the world could be salvaged/ we don’t always have access to these texts, and it becomes a space” but the literary globalization that Casanova discusses is an interesting way for us to consider globalization in itself.
Emily’s blog post mentions Casanova’s argument that by recognizing “the interconnected positions” and the “relational terms” of a specific text and its content that we we the readers find a new tool for reading, a tool that might “restore coherence of the global structure within which texts appear.” I understand this to consider the ways that literature is able to provide a voice for the unspoken for, a safe space for the people that search for it through their literature, and a better understanding of the world. It’s often said that sometimes you need to go back and look at something with a fresh set of eyes, and what better than literature to provide us with a new way to view the world? Additionally, Emily’s post considers the ways in which labeling texts as “classics” or “modern” can determine their fates in terms of success, as well as how the world of literature “provides a paradoxical sort of marketplace, constituted around non-economic economy” and founded upon “its own set of values.” Emily’s post also considers the pairing of Casanova;s theory with Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture and Milton’s Areopagitica, and suggests that by assessing literature as well as the space it operates in, it can easily be used to approach many of the other texts we have come across this year.
If we think about literary globalization as the movement of literature across the global as a means of finding the ideal reader in the ideal moment, we should also be considering how the loss of potentially groundbreaking texts from under-recognized countries affects us all. On page 74, Casanova suggests that it is perhaps for the best that worldwide unification of literature is far from complete, but if it was, couldn’t it be said that we would be lacking in cultural experiences that are not necessarily considered? Would we be confronted with an influx of Western literature?
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