Texts are translated every day from source languages and cultures to target languages and cultures. However, translated texts are only the tip of the iceberg since many more are produced and never translated. There is a small but growing body of
David Damrosch’s writings on world literature envision readers “making themselves at home abroad.” This essay argues against
his Thoreauvian optimism, given a world that is too large to grasp or to become a home. World literature cannot be naturalized.
Drawing on examples from Leibniz, Achebe, Walcott, and Petrarch, the essay proposes that world literature is best identified
in terms not of the value of authors and works, nor of the situations portrayed through the characters and plots, but of the
nature of the readerly experience. It examines the style of representation in world literature, which Brian Lennon’s book
In Babel’s Shadow productively characterizes as a kind of kitsch reflecting a struggle to communicate. World literature is not, as Damrosch
says, “writing that gains in translation,” but writing that retains its alienness even in the original.