It may be that world lit is simply "untranslatable." Fritz Strich in the opening pages of Goethe und die Weltliteratur discusses the importance of translation in the world lit "enterprise" He also writes over and over again, with a certain sadness, that Goethe's vision has not been realized: "Trauer … wenn wir von Goethes hoffnungsreicher Verkündigung hören und immer daran denken müssen, wie ja doch niemals die Verwirklichung geschah" However, it seems to me that the case is the opposite. We have plenty of literary "Verkehr," at least in the "Greater Western" world. All of what Goethe envisioned has come to pass: foreign travels among intellectuals, journals, conferences, etc. As Strich writes: "Weltliteratur ist ja der geistige Raum, in welchem die Zeitgenossen, welcher Nationalität sie auch angehören, sich begegnen, zusammengehen u. gesellig wirken." Does that not sound like an MLA conference or a TED symposium?
The glories of ancient art, however, were unrepeatable. The past and the world view that was "complete" in itself were no more. The social and political configurations of the 19th century, however, were volatile, in flux, and literature of the future would necessarily reflect such movement. One might imagine that, had Goethe lived another decade, he would have arrived at a language in which to talk about world literature, as he had achieved a "classical" mode of expression after Rome. But perhaps it is simply the case that world literature, as he conceived it, a process of exchange and commerce, needed no further articulation. But what he has envisioned has certainly come to pass, and I share in the disappointment of those who react against the eroding effect of the process, what goes by the name of "globalization." But on that, too, I will write later.
Picture credits: The Great Immensity; Rutzen Verlag