Goethe

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Weltliteratur
1. “National Literature is now a rather unmeaning term; the epoch of World literature is at hand and everybody must strive to hasten its approach.” * Goethe, 1827

2. However, there were a few concerns that the term World literature, as coined by Goethe, failed to address: * When one says World literature, whose world? What sorts of literature is worth being labelled as World literature? * Although Goethe claimed that the local/national Literatures were going to be obsolete, they were still thriving. * Who had the power to decide what is worth being called World literature? Would the West still hold power in terms of that? * Would nascent mass culture get just as equal an opportunity as the elite productions to represent the genre?

3. Goethe might have had his conversations with Eckermann in the early 19th century, but the complexities, tensions and opportunities that he mentions are still applicable in today’s rapidly expanding world and its literatures.

4. “The daemons, to tease and make sport of men, have placed among them single figures (such as Mozart, Shakespeare, Napoleon) so alluring that everybody strives after them, and yet so great that nobody reaches them.”

5. The same was felt but Eckermann. He thought that the daemons had placed before him Goethe. He was too alluring to not strive after and was too great to ever be like him.

6. Marx and Engels in their famous book, Communist Manifesto, adopted Goethe’s term and said, “National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature.”

7. Once again, questioning the definition of the term World literature, Guillen asks, “What can one make of such an idea? The sum total of all national literatures? A wild idea, unattainable in practice…” However, the author, while accepting the fact that the argument was plausible, goes on to say that while no single person in the world can be bitten by the billions of insects that inhabit the planet, we can still vouch for the viability of the term ‘insect’ to represent the entire community of insects. 8. The author then gives his definition of the term world literature. According to him, any work of literature that circulates beyond its place of origin can be considered to be World literature. However, the presence of readership is essential. “A work only has effective life as world literature whenever, and wherever, it is actively present within a literary system beyond that of its original culture.”

9. Despite delimiting, there is a huge amount of work that would still be called world literature.

10. However, one major problem with world literature is that these works of literature come, not only from different geographical backgrounds, but also from different cultural, historical and aesthetic contexts. Therefore for someone who has been studying the history and culture of that foreign land from where the work of art emerged will be able to develop familiarity and understanding of the work. But, in most cases, when the work of art travels abroad, the foreign reader is most likely to assert his domestic literary values. Even scholarly attempts to read the foreign works using local theories can be problematic. (Note from Sreelatha ma’am- for example, take Indian literature and apply foreign critical theories to it. It may not suit well. Therefore, you need indigenous theories that are specific to the place of origin of the work of art.)

11. The major arguments of the author in the essay:
* If properly understood, world literature is not fated to disintegrate in the complexities of multiplicities of national traditions. * World literature is not an infinite collection of works, but is a mode of circulation, of reading. * The works that are circulated and read can be both classical canons as well as...
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