In: KulturPoetik 2014, Heft 1


Gerald Gillespie / Dorothy Figueira


Das scheinbar ›neue‹ Weltliteraturkonzept im Dienste restaurativer Beschränkung kultureller Kompetenz




1. Teil: After its restart in the mid-20th century, Comparative Literature (CL) has gone through major growth phases and today is vitally active on all continents. CL has always coexisted with local practices of teaching works adopted into the local language from ›foreign‹ sources and ancient traditions. Often paired with CL in program names, the term General Literature (GL) was frequently used to cover attention to works in translation, cultural theory, sharing of canonical works across frontiers and historical eras, and more. In response to the subsidence of academic standards in America from the 1970s onward, some scholars have relabeled as World Literature (WL) subject matters once labeled GL. The spread of English as a global lingua franca has made the ›selling‹ of American-construed anthologies and topics temptingly easier. But the newfangled WL fad endangers the enormous progress made under ICLA leadership to promote serious intercultural research and inhibits the internal strengthening of CL according to a higher standard in non-Eurocentric territories today.

2.Teil: World Literature is not, as some of its proponents claim, a new concept, but rather a reworking of Area Studies, a long since discredited Pentagon construction. I trace how World Literature (WL) has developed out of various recent pedagogies of alterity (multiculturalism, postcolonialism) which purport to bring literatures from the margins to the center when in fact all they do is allow critics from the center to coopt marginalized populations. The commodity populations are then packaged and marketed by American universities and publishing houses. The pretense is to offer a radical response to socio-economic reality when in fact this process deflects attention away from discrimination, unequal access, and hierarchies of ethnic privilege that still dominate US academe. I see such pedagogies as a general strategy of an academic elite to displace and diffuse racial contradictions.