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What Is World Literature? by David Damrosch Review by: Bruce Krajewski College Literature, Vol. 32, No.

4 (Fall, 2005), pp. 234-236 Published by: College Literature Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/11/2013 15:48
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32.4 [Fall 2005] CollegeLiterature audiences, finding ways to speak to the world to the village. sacrificing in Motives is Overall, Light among the books that mark a turning-point the reception in which, of German cinema abroad, a reception somewhat filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, paradoxically, highly idiosyncratic between several simultaneous relevance



were of and Werner often taken as representative Wenders, Herzog corrects and McCarthy's German cinema. Halle's Motives this imbal Light ance. It provides critical discussion of an aspect of German culture that used to a small community of experts on German culture, and as a it expands this community it invites broader audience interested in popu lar film to join the discussion. to be of interest

Damrosch, David. 2003. What IsWorld Literature? Princeton: Princeton University Press. $65.00 he. $22.95 sc. xiii + 324 pp.
Bruce Texas Woman Krajewski s University


What IsWorld large umbrella category in the title of David Damrosch's one mental jet? after the other as its author to complete Literature? permits if it were all part of the same dance, ? la Gene Kelly's famous rain routine.

is choppy, chronologically and otherwise; howev book's choreography that literary folks have only begun to think through, er, its topic is something is able to dance the program and hardly anyone through gracefully. some to is ask Damrosch Nonetheless, questions about the dance that willing moves continually from the sidewalk into the street and back again. The can be found in its insistence on strong point of this book an no one a to that is in position provide incompleteness, acknowledgment a full context for a text, especially ones from other cultures, from other lan at least since Walter guages. As we have known Benjamin, history, which Another includes world influence most often by those whose interests literature, is mediated, is an insufficient condition for understanding the reports. Reading

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BookReviews 235

we can hope for are readers who history and acting upon it. Perhaps the best not that this is the best for know that they are partisan and non-omniscient, to "detached is which Damrosch hopes. His allegiance engagement." wants to have his culture and oppose it too?at least by ges Damrosch as oppositional. He begins that might be interpreted turing in a direction an epigraph from The Communist Manifesto, What IsWorld Literature? with and its critique of capital cgusing at least one reader to think the Manifesto comes from ism must have special significance for the author (the quotation volume Western World of the The but Communist Manifesto never liography), that's detached book. Now engagement. 50 of Great Books The randomness to Damrosch's bib according comes up again in Damrosch's

inno of topics and texts in Damrosch's philosophically as its cent book of world illustrates the amorphousness literature, as well as a We semi-inde for multiculturalism. have vehicle promoting strength pendent Goethe von on Johann Wolfgang von Magdeburg, chapters on Mechthild on on Franz and Johann Peter Eckermann, Kafka, Rigoberta definition of and on Milorad Pavi?, among others. Damrosch's does literature

Menchu, world literature take world

to something not delimit functional: "I the category to encompass that circulate beyond all literary works their culture of origin, either in translation or in their original language" (4). His statement requires that he define literature, and he does not tackle that
vexed issue. Damrosch's aims are mostly not about the "what," but about the

"how"; he is concerned mainly with method. He wants in which works of literature can best be read" (5).
Damrosch, at times, endorses canons but is not prepared

to clarify "the ways

to spell out what

literature. literature from great literature great world distinguishes a to readers witness Damrosch's One place where allegiance highbrow/low iswhen he tells us, "Perhaps we need to think of this poem brow dichotomy Heine and less in a context of Heinrich [a love lyric from ancient Egypt] William and Linda Nelson and more in a context of Willie Shakespeare to talk about iswilling Ronstadt" (156). Also, Damrosch literary hierarchies, about some Aztec poetry. "Not all of these for instance, in his comments poems are likely ever to register as true literature ..." (86-87). Subsequently, closer to taking the reader toward an answer: "Great works of lit he moves erature do have a transcendent quality that enables them to reach across time is this "transcendent and space and speak directly to us today" (135). What are we in other written often about works Since works, talking quality"? can sense in what they speak "directly"? They speak directly when languages, as same the text mirrors the reader's con the the sound reader, when they cerns, the reader's politics, the reader's Weltanschauung. Call this a version of "identity politics," or what Emmanuel Levinas would call the world reduced

or from

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32.4 [Fall 2005] CollegeLiterature to speak to be reading texts that do not want interesting and important (about) us? Yet, those might be some of the most texts (politically), the ones that are esoteric, unsettling, not meant for us, hid or for insiders, like Friedrich Nietzsche's Nachlass, den, meant cryptograms, to the Same. Why would classified Make Damrosch mode documents. government no mistake about Damrosch's on this point. inconsistency is not a set canon of texts but a we

also writes that "world literature of reading: a form of detached engagement with worlds beyond our own place and time" (281). In another place, Damrosch will claim that we a single sense of employing (in the ought not to read texts monologically of rationality). His emphasis on detached engagement belies his insistence model that no single path to proper reading exists. are some works does translated, and others not? Surely, Damrosch Why or an answer rests solely in the realm of aesthetics not believe epistemology, elsewhere
with some works more "transcendent" than others or some more

"true"?the fully onto

ue at

that comes kind of reading for "pleasure" and "enlightenment" courses contin Literature World the stage late in the book (303).
universities mostly without question, for the courses'


mall-like thrives World

qualities fit nicely in a not-so-detached Literature

culture where Damrosch the capitalistic an with that supports economy relationship as another strategy toward globalization. courses, mostly into

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