... in a sick, sad world, it’s hard not to be suspicious of anything as wholesome as World Literature.1The wordliteratureitself has come to sound fake. Is there something the addition ofworldis making up for, a blemish it’s trying to conceal?
This much is clear: by the late ’90s, a new literary globalism had begun to flourish. In 1997, Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, soon selling 6 million copies; in 2001, Oprah had her book club read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, an excellent 19th-century novel, published in 1995, about Indira Gandhi’s Emergency; in 2003, reading the bestselling Kite Runner, by the Afghan-born Khaled Hosseini, made some Americans feel better, and others worse, about our war over there. Literary scholars have focused on World Literature especially since 1999, when the French literary critic Pascale Casanova published her pathbreaking World Republic of Letters. In the ’00s, Franco Moretti, from Italy but resident (with Google) in Silicon Valley, instigated data-based debates about the world-system of literature in the New Left Review.
Compare the late 1990's with the late 1890's- which featured best-selling books from India, Russia, Africa, smelly Continental dudes and America- what changed? The books n+1 mentions from the 1990's are shite. The books from the 1890's are classics- Kipling, Tolstoy, the smelly Continental dude wot rote Quo Vadis, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Olive Schneider etc. So n+1 is simply wrong about 'a new literary globalism' beginning to flourish. Illiteracy maybe, gobar gas definitely, but not literary globalism.
N+1 thinks that vernacular language writing like that of Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino (1966), is no longer possible. Thanks to the Lord's Resistance Army, perhaps this is true. But how is literary globalism at fault? The answer, of course, is that a secret cabal of top publishers and literary agents parachuted into Uganda and overthrew the military junta of Gen. Okello. Then they pretended to be Joseph Kony and recruited child soldiers to carry out massacres.
Why is N+1 making such a ludicrous assertion? The answer is they've been reading Benedict Anderson- not the porn star but the idiot brother of the moronic Perry- 'The spread of modern nation-states — carrying out central administration, within defined borders, of a population often linguistically defined — standardized national languages (sometimes slowly, as with Italian) and sometimes separated them (as with Swedish and Norwegian). Newspapers published in capital cities and written in the national language were decisive, as Benedict Anderson has argued, in establishing the “imagined community” of the nation-state; the same papers also published poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism. Literature’s audience came to be nationally constituted even where, as with the US and UK or most of Latin America, states shared a common language. Meanwhile the Bible, Koran, and Torah, no respecters of borders, dwindled in relative importance. '
India was an Empire ruled by British people. Yet, since Indian people formed real, not imagined linguistic communities, there was huge growth in vernacular language literature. Since Bengal, for example, was more stable and had a better economic base than Greece, Bengali literature developed farther and faster than demotic Greek and across an equally extensive diaspora. Yet Greece gained Independence 110 years before Bengal. Did the Bible dwindle in importance in Greece because 'it was no respecter of borders'? No. Greeks aren't stupid. Sorry, but there it is.
N+1 tells us that 'Work addressing a smaller-than-national linguistic community — in Catalan, Kannada, or Welsh —very rarely entered into World Literature. An exception was Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1913, who used, in Bengali, a “subnational” language spoken by tens of millions of people.'
This is nonsense. There could have been a Kannada Tagore- all you needed was a guy swanning around in robes making mystical noises and voila you have a Kannada Khalil Ghibran or Tagore or Keyserling or Hesse or whatever.
N+1 thinks that a writer has to tackle a 'global theme' to get a global audience. Fair enough. But writing that goes global and stays global is writing which has universal appeal. This has nothing to do with how many people speak your language- Laxness is universal; I learnt my suspicion of the Co-op movement from his Icelandic saga as a 14 year old sweltering in Delhi- or whether or not your language has a nation to correspond to- many smart people were convinced that Hebrew would never match Yiddish- what matters is the dialectical concatenation of the Revolutionary cathexis as mediated by the crepuscular prosopoi of the alimentation.
As n+1 very justly observes- 'Modern literature also emerged in an atmosphere of threatened revolution to radically reorder — or, among colonized peoples, simply establish — the nation-state. The specter of revolution haunts modern literature, from Romanticism to postcolonialism. In the later 19th century (a time of advancing mass literacy and mass agitation both), naturalism shuddered at images of rising social classes and ruined individuals. Zola in France led to Gissing in England; Dreiser, Norris, and Wharton in the US; Verga in Italy; Ibsen in Norway; and arguably to Mao Dun and Lu Xun in China. As apolitical a writer as Henry James wrote a superior novel about anarchists; and even the infamous arch-decadent slogan from Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Axël (1890) — “Living? Our servants will do that for us” — revealed the unstable class structure underneath l’art pour l’art.'
Revolutions happen- there were quite a few during the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century- however Modern Literature was haunted by the specter of Revolution coz that's how ghosts work, right? You're in the kitchen and I'm in the bedroom- so you come to haunt me. I walk into the kitchen so you have to stop haunting me till you quickly step into the garden and can resume the whole haunting shtick. No. It doesn't get real old, real fast. Not at all. Why would you suggest it? The truth is- 'An older global novel was animated by an attempt to win for fiction not only a new language and form but a role in securing an entire realm of freedom. But the political liberation failed, or was botched or betrayed; to write as if third-worldism were still a source of promise would be an especially tedious kind of cant. ' I remember that older global novel. It sat next to me on the School bus. One day it said it could get us a copy of Playboy if we all kicked in a couple of bucks. But it was lying. It didn't really have an elder brother who was prepared to sell his porn stash. Instead it was trying to raise sufficient funds to win for fiction not only a new language and form but a role in securing an entire realm of freedom. Unfortunately, even if you write a novel in a new language and form it still can't secure an entire realm of freedom because Magic don't work. Writing books does not bring about political liberation- nor does sticking pins into voodoo dolls. Either you are already liberated and haven't noticed or you get the fuck beaten out of you till you run far far away. Were there ever people stupid enough to believe that if the goat herders of north west Guatemala can throw off the shackles of the non goat herding majority, then the starving masses of Belgravia and Bel Air will at last breathe free? Did these very stupid people actually read novels about gay Guatemalan goat herders because they were waiting with bated breath for the denouement where Marta the lesbian goat is revealed to be an Angel of the Heavenly Anti Capitalist Revolution and her tears turn into a fountain of redemption spraying the reader with the Chrism of a muttony messiah? Of course. That sort of thing was pretty routine back in the early Eighties- a period so dull that if you can remember it you automatically qualify as a Chartered Accountant.
'Uncompromising work across the world suggests the outlines of a thorny internationalism opposed to the smoothly global. A list drawn up by a few Americans incapable, unlike the offspring imagined by Leopold in Ulysses, of “speaking five modern languages fluently” can only be drastically incomplete and tentative. Still it’s worth naming a few names: in France, the polarizing works of Marie NDiaye, with her long sentences dividing into different strains of thought; in southern Italy, the feminist novels of the reclusive Elena Ferrante, the terrifyingDays of Abandonment(2002) and the quieter trilogy beginning withMy Brilliant Friend(2009). In Mexico, Juan Villoro and Álvaro Enrigue place themselves at a sharp angle to the history of Latin American literature; in Argentina, Pola Oloixarac’sSavage Theories (2008) is an extremely smart novel of the Theory Generation. In Russia, the poet Kirill Medvedev’s rejection of copyright, made in response to the depredations of the Russian publishing system in the 1990s, has turned into a gesture of international significance. In China, Yan Lianke, unlike the Nobel-winning Mo Yan, has moved underground and gained in creative power. In India, a host of English-language writers from Samanth Subramanian and Tabish Khair to Roy herself and, in the vernaculars, Girish Karnad and Mahasweta Devi, have been lending their efforts to a more combative public sphere.' Dunno about the other dudes mentioned but Girish Karnad and Mahasweta Devi are very very very old. Roy is bonkers. Tabish Khair does not exist. Samanth writes Guha stripe shite. Fuck do this bunch of cunts amount to 'thorny internationalism'? 'A developed internationalist literature would superficially resemble the globalized World Lit of today in being read by and written for people in different countries, and in its emphasis on translation (and, better yet, on reading foreign languages). But there would be a few crucial differences. The internationalist answer to the riddle of World Lit — of its unsatisfactoriness — lies in words never associated with it. These includeproject,opposition, and, most embarrassingly,truth. Global Lit tends to accept as given the tastes of an international middlebrow audience; internationalism, by contrast, seeks to create the taste by which it is to be enjoyed. The difference, crudely, is between a product and aproject. An internationalist literary project, whether mainly aesthetic (as for modernism) or mainly political (as for the left) or both aesthetic and political, isn’t likely to be very clearly defined, but the presence or absence of such a project will be felt in what we read, write, translate, and publish. The project can only be one ofoppositionto prevailing tastes, ways of writing, and politics. Global Lit, defined more by a set of institutions than a convergence of projects, treats literature as a self-evident autonomous good, as if some standard of literary excellence could be isolated from what writers have to say and how they say it. In its toothless ecumenicalism, Global Lit necessarily lacks any oppositional project of form (as, again, international modernism did) or of content (as international socialism did); the globally literary content themselves with the notion that merely to write or read “literary” books is to enlist, aesthetically and politically, on the side of the angels. Literary excellence aside, Global Lit makes no judgments. The work it favors is in consequence often a failure on its own narrow terms, good writing being, in a word, the creation of people trying to tell the truth, however slant, rather than to produce “literature.” Writers more interested in literature than the truth ensure that they never come out with either thing — one reason that the wordliteraturetoday sounds so fake, as if you were to insist on sayingcuisineevery time you meant food. Food, as in sustenance, is more like what we have in mind. To summarize, existing writing is shite- no argument- so you demand a new type of writing which is also shite but makes you want to eat it. Why? Will you really get your Revolution if you eat enough shit? No. But your Career will be made. And that's what you really care about- shit eating cunt.