World Literature’s time has come again in the current development of a new discipline of World Literature suitable for a time
of globalization. The new disciple faces some challenges: the challenge of translation, the challenge of what literary works
to choose as representative, the challenge of making a universal definition of “literature.” The thought experiment of imagining
what commentary you would need to put with a translation into Chinese of W. B. Yeats’s lyric, “The Cold Heaven,” exemplifies
these problems. Explaining the reasons for Friedrich Nietzsche’s rejection of Goethe’s Weltliteratur, in The Birth of Tragedy, is, when that rejection is put into the context of The Birth of Tragedy as a whole and of other writing by Nietzsche, a good example of the theoretical problems that the renewed discipline of World
Literature may need to take into account.
The concept of “world literature” subordinates literature to space. Both a critique of the spatial presuppositions involved
in accounts of the “world” offered by world-literature studies and an endorsement of the resistance to spatial determination
common to much imaginative literature suggest that this subordination should be controversial.
World literature is often defined in terms of the circulation of works out into languages and cultures beyond their original
homeland. But it is also possible to consider an opposite mode of literary worldliness, which occurs when writers draw on
foreign literatures in order to intervene within their own culture. This article takes the example of the biblical Book of
Job, based on a Babylonian model which it neither imitates nor parodies (the more usual modes of relation of biblical writers
to the literary productions of the larger imperial cultures around them). Instead, the poet of the Book of Job selectively
draws on Babylonian tradition in order to open up a new mode of understanding of the divine amid the crisis of the Babylonian
exile, neither rejecting the surrounding culture nor assimilating to it, portraying a just but unknowable God who has characteristics
of a benevolent Mesopotamian tyrant.
Based on the author’s work as general editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, the essay develops an approach to world literature centered on world creation. The creation of literary worlds can be understood
within the framework of possible worlds theory as developed by Thomas Pavel, Lubomir Dolezel and others. Taking its point
of departure from possible worlds theory, the essay then focuses on specific genres that foreground the capacity of literature
to create whole worlds, including world creation myths and science fiction. Three terms are used to analyze this body of literature:
reference; scale; and model. While the category of reference accounts for the status of the worlds to be found within literary
works, scale and model capture the particular challenges world creation literature faces.
A more globalized concept of culture and the tsunami of information made available by the digital revolution call for new
reading practices. The emerging discipline of World Literature is an attempt to create such practice, but one that would seem
to have very little place in it for the highly specialized skills that define philology, the closest of all close reading
strategies. It is this tension that has sparked several calls for a “return to philology.” A historical overview of the Golden
Age of classical philology in Germany (1777–1872) suggests that the skills that have defined the profession all over the globe
from earliest times are still valuable, but in future can best be employed only in cooperation with scholars having other
In the era of globalization, world literature today does not refer to a fixed canon that is usually male-authored and West-centered.
More and more excellent literary works written by extraordinary female writers and non-Western writers have been included
in the anthologies of world literature, thus reforming the framework of world literature in a new sense. This essay attempts
to reflect upon the developing situation of world literature in relation to women’s writing. It first focuses on the issues
of exclusion and inclusion of women writers in the canon formation and reformation of West-centric sense, showing that the
changing process is a symptom of changes in the social relations between men and women. By enumerating how an authoritative
Chinese journal World Literature absorbs more and more women writers’ works in different cultural spaces, the author then talks about the national version
of world literature to dismiss the past prevalent understanding that world literature is a fixed canon that circulates beyond
national boundaries. Finally, by commenting on the international circulation of J. K. Rowling’s works, the essay tries to
prove how powerful nations may have better chance to distribute their cultural products.
Since world literature is represented in different languages, translation has played an important role in reconstructing such
world literatures in different languages and cultural backgrounds. In the past decades, the postcolonial literary attempts
have also proved that even in the same language, for instance, English, literary writing is still more and more diversifying,
hence the birth of international English literature studies. Thus the concept “world literature” is no longer determinate,
for it has evolved in the historical development of literature of all countries. Today’s literary historiography is thereby
pluralistically oriented: not only by means of nation-state, for instance, British literature and American literature, but
also by means of language, such as (international) English literature(s), and (international) Chinese literature(s). Walter
Benjamin, in dealing with the task of the (literary) translator, pertinently points out that translation endows a literary
work with “continued life” or “afterlife”, without which many literary works of world significance will remain dead or marginalized.
Inspired by Benjamin’s thinking of translation and Damrosch’s emphasis on the role played by translation in constructing world
literature, the author lays particular emphasis on the translation of literary works which may well help form such a world
literature. The reason why Chinese literature is little known to the world is largely for lack of excellent translation. The
author thereby calls for translating Chinese literature into some of the major world languages.
Each country, each nation has its own map of world literature in any given historical period. The construction of the map
largely depends on translators and their literary translations. No doubt, academic works on the history of world literature
written or translated by scholars from target countries have made equally remarkable contributions. But in most cases the
weight of those contributions is particularly felt by readers who take up foreign literary studies as profession, especially
in China. To general readers, it is through the strenuous efforts the translators have made that they have acquired that very
map they desired for. This essay aims to reveal the different maps in the eye of the Chinese readers in different historical
periods and their constructions through our endeavor to sort out and describe relevant facts gleaned from a hundred-odd period
since the end of the Qing Dynasty to the beginning of the People’s Republic of China. Meanwhile, the essay also attempts to
show the functions and influence the translators and their activities perform and exert through relatively meticulous analyses
of the relevant facts.
“Modern Chinese Literature” has many similar descriptions such as “Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature”, “Chinese Literature
in the 20th Century”, and “New Chinese Literature”. The concept of “New Literature in Chinese Language” is a best choice to
define it, especially in the visual field of world literature. “New Literature in Chinese” contains modern and contemporary
literature, together with “literatures in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and overseas Chinese literature”, or “international Chinese
literature”. “New Literature in Chinese” enjoys the advantage of furthest surpassing and even overcoming the regulations and
restrictions of national plates and political regions, hence the New Literature studies can get rid of the politicized academic
prediction and construct new paths in exploring the laws of Chinese aesthetic expressions. Just as the concept “English literature”
should be understood as “literature in English” rather than “British literature”, the concept of “New Literature in Chinese
Language” is acceptable.
What happens when we consider “poetics,” a term and concept well-known from Aristotle’s philosophical treatment of Greek epic
and tragic drama, in the larger context of world literature as we understand it today? What would be the essential elements
in the definition of poetics? What sort of critical issues it can address, and what resources it may draw on in the world’s
various literary traditions? In the ancient world, East Asia and South Asia all have distinct traditions of literary expression
with emphasis and critical conceptualizations rather different from those of the Greek-Roman tradition. What would the consideration
of poetics in a broad cross-cultural perspective lead us to? In this presentation, these are the theoretical issues to be
explored to arrive at a better understanding of poetics not only in the Western tradition, but truly of the world, with the
richness of content and critical functions considered with relation to a global concept of world literature.