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Why (Not) World Literature

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Challenges and Opportunities for the Twenty-First Century

image of Journal of World Literature

Increasing attention to the enduring processes of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and transnationalism, together with growing frustration with the geographic, linguistic, and conceptual limitations of many fields of literature, has led in the past two decades to burgeoning interest in the discipline of world literature. Institutes, conferences, articles, volumes, and journals on various aspects of world literature are proliferating around the world as never before. But the challenges facing world literature remain significant. One of the largest is the field’s continuing biases, and in particular its tendency—despite its name—to privilege literature that not only has been embraced by Western readers but also conforms to the expectations of Western scholars. Just as important is the failure of world literature to integrate the study of literature more comprehensively with urgent matters of global significance. The pages below elaborate on the first challenge and address the second, identifying several opportunities going forward.

Affiliations: 1: Harvard University


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