What is World Literature? Is it the master-catalogue of all works of all literary traditions from around the world? Or does the term refer to a select list of “Great Works”? If yes, what are the criteria for designation of these works as “Great Works”? What is the relationship between “national” and “World” literatures? What role do translations play in the conceptualization of World Literature? How do migration, economic globalization, and digital media such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader enhance our understanding of World Literature?
These are just a few questions central to the course, “Introduction to World Literatures.” The purpose of the course is to develop an understanding of World Literatures—in the plural—within the dynamics of global literary production, circulation, and reception. Through readings and discussions of a wide range of texts, the course aims to promote comparative evaluations of literature on a global scale. The course starts with foundational ideas of World Literature articulated in the German-speaking World [J.W. von Goethe (1827); Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848); Hermann Hesse (1929)], and moves to readings and discussions of literary works from around the world.
The texts are arranged in four thematic clusters: 1) Imagination of human Origins, Existence, and Death; 2) Creation of Kinship, Society, and State; 3) Perceptions of Self, Otherness, and Difference; and 4) Performance of Hegemony, Conflict, and Oppression. The texts selected for the course include, for example, The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 1200 BCE) and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (1915); Vyasa’s Mahabharata (circa 400 BCE and 200 CE) and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1603); Confucius’ Analects (551-479 BCE) and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929); Georg Büchner’s Danton’s Death (1835) and Orhan Pamuk’s Snow (2004). Authors from the 20th and 21st centuries discussed in the course include Roberto Bolaño (Spanish), Tsitsi Dangarembga (English), Isak Dinesen (Danish/English), Langston Hughes (English), Thomas Mann (German), Naiyer Masud (Urdu), U.R. Anantha Murthy (Kannada), Haruki Murakami (Japanese), Emine Sevgi Özdamar (German), Per Petterson (Norwegian), Tayeb Salih (Arabic), August Strindberg (Swedish), Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali), Nirmal Verma (Hindi). While the texts included in the course span from the First Millennium B.C.E to the first decade of the 21st century, the course is NOT meant to be a chronological, ‘evolutionary’ survey of World Literature.
The course is offered English, but students are strongly encouraged to use their training and competence in other languages to read texts in the originals and compare translations.