Reading World Literature

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Reading World Literature

Theory, History, Practice

Edited by Sarah Lawall

A cumulative study of the concept and evolving practices of "world literature."



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6 x 9 | 380 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-71764-0

As teachers and readers expand the canon of world literature to include writers whose voices traditionally have been silenced by the dominant culture, fundamental questions arise. What do we mean by "world"? What constitutes "literature"? Who should decide?

Reading World Literature is a cumulative study of the concept and evolving practices of "world literature." Sarah Lawall opens the book with a substantial introduction to the overall topic. Twelve original essays by distinguished specialists run the gamut from close readings of specific texts to problems of translation theory and reader response. The sequence of essays develops from re-examinations of traditional canonical pieces through explorations of less familiar works to discussions of reading itself as a "literacy" dependent on worldview.

Reading World Literature will open challenging new vistas for a wide audience in the humanities, from traditionalists to avant-garde specialists in literary theory, cultural studies, and area studies.

Introduction: Reading World Literature (Sarah Lawall)

Part 1. Initial Perspectives: Teaching the Unfamiliar; Locating Canonical Values
Introduction (Sarah Lawall)
1. Misunderstanding Poetry: Teaching outside the Western Canon (Thomas M. Greene)
2. Classical Criticism and the Canon, or, Why Read the Ancient Critics? (Charles Segal)

Part 2. Canonical Variations: Working with Texts and Their Countertexts
Introduction (Sarah Lawall)
3. Men Working: Community under Construction(Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz)
4. Playing Caliban: Césaire’s Tempest(joan Dayan)
5. Celtic Literature and the European Canon (Maria Tymoczko)
6. Love and Country: Allegorical Romance in Latin America (Doris Sommer)
7. Reading Genres across Cultures: The Example of Autobiography (Janet A. Walker)

Part 3. Languages of Community: Reading the Language(s) of the Text)
Introduction (Sarah Lawall)
8. The Many “Worlds” in World Literature: Pound and Waley as Translators of Chinese (Eugene Chen Eoyang)
9. Under the Palimpsest and Beyond: The World, the Reader, and the Text in the Nigerian Novel in English (Chantal Zabus)

Part 4. Literacies: Patterns of Understanding
Introduction (Sarah Lawall)
10. The Phonograph behind the Door: Some Thoughts on Musical Literacy (Peter J. Rabinowitz and jay Reise)
11. Informing Adult Readers: Symbolic Experience in Children’s Literature (William Moebius)
12. In the Canon’s Mouth: Being Lucid about the Local (Margaret Spencer)


Sarah Lawall is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

". . . provocative and useful. . . . Virtually all of the essayists remind the reader in different ways of the socio-political factors that influence what we teach and how we teach it; each author seems to be in full command of the material that he or she presents or interprets, and the essays are for the most part persuasive and clearly presented."
—Nancy A. Walker, professor of English, Vanderbilt University