Tuesday, August 5, 2008

World Literature (1)

"National-Literatur will jetzt nicht viel sagen, die Epoche der Welt-Literatur ist an der Zeit, und jeder muß jetzt dazu wirken, diese Epoche zu beschleunigen" (Conversation with Eckermann, January 1827)

World literature is the subject of my current research. The (1) in the title above indicates that more on that subject will follow. Goethe began using the term "Weltliteratur" in the 1820s, but even before then he was impressed with the extent of "internationalization": by the early 19th century worldwide commerce and trade were beginning to introduce a certain uniformity in the lives of Europeans of the upper orders. More and more people traveled across the oceans, to earn profits, of course, but the contact with different peoples and the new goods that were brought back began to shrink the world in a  real sense. Goethe imagined that "intellectual commerce" -- in the form of books and translations and communications among writers -- would produce an international marketplace of ideas. "World literature" was the name of this marketplace, which would have the effect of making men (and women, too) more "worldly," in other words: less provincial, less national, less ethnocentric.

(Credit for image: Espéculo 34 (2006)

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