The World Republic of Letters

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Overview

The "world of letters" has always seemed a matter more of metaphor than of global reality. In this book, Pascale Casanova shows us the state of world literature behind the stylistic refinements--a world of letters relatively independent from economic and political realms, and in which language systems, aesthetic orders, and genres struggle for dominance. Rejecting facile talk of globalization, with its suggestion of a happy literary "melting pot," Casanova exposes an emerging regime of inequality in the world of letters, where minor languages and literatures are subject to the invisible but implacable violence of their dominant counterparts.

Inspired by the writings of Fernand Braudel and Pierre Bourdieu, this ambitious book develops the first systematic model for understanding the production, circulation, and valuing of literature worldwide. Casanova proposes a baseline from which we might measure the newness and modernity of the world of letters--the literary equivalent of the meridian at Greenwich. She argues for the importance of literary capital and its role in giving value and legitimacy to nations in their incessant struggle for international power. Within her overarching theory, Casanova locates three main periods in the genesis of world literature--Latin, French, and German--and closely examines three towering figures in the world republic of letters--Kafka, Joyce, and Faulkner. Her work provides a rich and surprising view of the political struggles of our modern world--one framed by sites of publication, circulation, translation, and efforts at literary annexation.

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Editorial Reviews

Declan Kiberd
This is a marvelous study of the international networks and ethnic forcefields out of which a modern world literature has emerged. In drawing a map of the literary globe, Pascale Casanova shows just how different it is from any political map ever framed. Unlike many previous comparativists, she shows just how many of the texts of literary modernism have been contributed by peoples without financial or political power. This is a brave, audacious and luminous analysis, and a bracing challenge to those who still believe in the nation as an explanatory category. This book will provoke debate for years to come.
Pierre Bourdieu
As a researcher, Pascale Casanova specializes in the exception. Along with a literary knowledge that is exceptional in its breadth and depth, she possesses a theoretical knowledge that is truly vast and wielded with great authority. In pursuing this immense topic - the universe of relations that constitute the "World Republic of Letters" - she has set herself a daunting challenge: that of constructing, and empirically verifying, a theoretical model for the "fabric of the universal."
Hidehiro Tachibana
The book is remarkable for its multidisciplinary and transnational approach, and for the response it has excited in Japan as well as many other countries, where it will surely continue to inspire lively debate.
Gilles Lapouge
Casanova's book is a major contribution to modern literary theory. It effectively shatters national boundaries.
Patricia De Souza
Corpus literarium universalis… What is interesting is that Casanova reads a series of concrete events in the history of the "republic," showing the need… for constant interpellation of aesthetic and linguistic notions.
London Review of Books - Perry Anderson
The great majority of writers in a language outside the Atlantic core who have gained an international reputation have done so by introductory passage through the medium of French, not English: from Borges, Mishima and Gombrowicz, to Carpentier, Mahfouz, Krleza or Cortazar, up to Gao Xinjiang, the recent Chinese Nobel Prize-winner. The system of relations that has produced this pattern of Parisian consecration is the object of Pascale Casanova's [The World Republic of Letters], [an] outstanding example of an imaginative synthesis with strong critical intent...Here the national bounds of Bourdieu's work have been decisively broken, in a project that uses his concepts of symbolic capital and the cultural field to construct a model of the global inequalities of power between different national literatures, and the gamut of strategies that writers in languages at the periphery of the system of legitimation have used to try to win a place at the centre. Nothing like this has been attempted before. The geographical range of Casanova's materials, from Madagascar to Romania, Brazil to Switzerland, Croatia to Algeria; the clarity and trenchancy of the map of unequal relations she offers; and, not least, the generosity with which the dilemmas and ruses of the disadvantaged are explored, make her book kindred to the French élan behind the World Social Forum. It might be called a literary Porto Alegre. That implies a beginning, with much fierce argument and discussion to come. But whatever the outcome of ensuing criticisms or objections, The World Republic of Letters--empire more than a republic, as Casanova shows--is likely to have the same sort of liberating impact at large as Said's Orientalism, with which it stands comparison.
The Nation - William Deresiewicz
[A] brilliant, groundbreaking book...Casanova's work amounts to a radical remapping of global literary space...Casanova parts company with the historicism that has swept literary studies over the past two decades. Rather than tying literary phenomena to underlying social and political developments, she charts an autonomous history for literature itself. The world republic of letters is governed by its own rules, keeps time by its own historical clock, partitions the world according to its own map and features its own economics, its own inequalities and its own forms of violence...Casanova devotes the second half of her book to exploring the means by which writers from the literary periphery have sought to break into the center--a myriad of struggles whose existence has heretofore been concealed by 'the fable of an enchanted world...where universality reigns through liberty and equality.' The breadth of her scholarship here is staggering: from South America to North Africa, Eastern Europe to East Asia; from the emergent Modernism of Ibsen and Yeats to the most recent postcolonial hybridities; from 'assimilationists' like Naipul and Cioran to 'rebels' like Neruda and Achebe...She has created a map of global literary power relations where none had existed, and she has raised a host of further questions.
New Statesman - Terry Eagleton
There is a great deal more to this path-breaking study, not least a superb sketch of Franz Kafka, who is depicted caught between Yiddish, Czech and German, high modernism and popular nationalism. There are portraits of exiles or 'translated men' such as Joyce and Samuel Beckett who are adrift between cultures, adept at being homeless in a whole number of languages. And there are snapshots of 'assimilations' such as V S Naipaul, who eagerly identify with the imperial heritage that uprooted their own people. Casanova's range of literary allusions, from Berlin to Havana, Norway to Somalia, is astonishing...This book, which unlike many other works of literary theory is written (or at any rate translated) with exemplary lucidity, represents a milestone in the history of modern literary thought.
The Independent - Boyd Tonkin
A heroically ambitious new book...aims to put this quest for literary hegemony into a deep historical context. The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova travels far and wide, from French Renaissance disputes over the language of literature to the recent fashion for post-colonial fiction--from Ronsard to Rushdie...Casanova (well-known in France as a critic and broadcaster) follows the battle waged by writers on the margins of the system to carve out a space in which a truly autonomous 'republic of letters' can flourish...Casanova's book is a demanding, rewarding read...She draws a remarkably rich and persuasive map of global writing and publishing not as 'an enchanted world that exists outside time,' but as a battlefield on which dominant languages and cultures have always wielded the heavy weapons.
Choice - K. Tölölyan
Learned and important...It denies the existence of a so-called 'world republic of letters' that is open to all talents and that judges according to universal aesthetic standards...Casanova remaps the fantasy of a homogenized global space into regions of centers and peripheries, rigidly divided into a 'tacit and implacable hierarchy.' Between these regions she identifies only a few gates, guarded by powerful gatekeepers with murky agendas...[She] argues that as concentrations of literary 'capital' are uneven, so are judgments of literary value...The book offers several excellent analyses of 'small national literatures'...This is an original book.
Artforum - Eric Banks
Arguing for how the world marketplace of literary value functions--that is, what rules govern the 'game' of style--Casanova offers a start to thinking about how Faulkner got to be 'Faulkner,' Joyce, 'Joyce,' and Naipaul, 'Naipaul' (while any number of dominated worthies struggle angrily on the periphery). Her careful but revealing prose is a model of critical language, and in M. B. DeBevoise's translation from French it attains a martinet's clarity. If you take little from the book--such as an understanding of the freighted relation between intellectual and political power, or the obstinate resiliency of cultural capital--it's still as refreshing a read as a gulp of ice water. Powerfully researched, beautifully learned, and elegantly argued, The World Republic of Letters should be at the top of any syllabus of 'Art, Politics, and Globalism.' Its deep reading of the deep structures of intellectual life is as disconcerting, and productively counterintuitive, as it is smart.
New Yorker - Louis Menand
[A] rather brilliant book...Literature departments are almost always organized by language and country, but Casanova's book gives us many reasons to doubt whether this captures the way literature really works. She has an excellent account, for example, of the international influence of Faulkner--once his novels had been translated into French.
Comparative Critical Studies - Peter France
First published in 1909, Pascale Casanova's La République mondiale des lettres now appears in English in an intelligent and reliable translation, which carries also a brief but illuminating "Preface to the English-Language Edition" and a much better index than that in the original publication.
South Atlantic Review - Thomas Austenfeld
This book is certain to provoke lively discussion, as any good critical study should. The wide-ranging view Casanova brings to her subject puts her in the companionship of very few literary critics capable of competing with her.
The Times Literary Supplement - Tim Parks
[An] excellent book...Today's international space, as Casanova sees it, is created on the one hand through a rivalry between the growing number of nations eager to establish a literary prestige, promoting their poets and novelists internationally with the help of government institutions: literature here is understood as expressing the genius of a people--one thinks of the magical realist novels from South America, or indeed a book such as Midnight's Children--but its productions are only properly consecrated when translated worldwide, or, paradoxically in the case of Rushdie, when written in English. This literature is not, that is, addressed to the people whose genius it supposedly expresses and celebrates.
London Review of Books
The great majority of writers in a language outside the Atlantic core who have gained an international reputation have done so by introductory passage through the medium of French, not English: from Borges, Mishima and Gombrowicz, to Carpentier, Mahfouz, Krleza or Cortazar, up to Gao Xinjiang, the recent Chinese Nobel Prize-winner. The system of relations that has produced this pattern of Parisian consecration is the object of Pascale Casanova's [The World Republic of Letters], [an] outstanding example of an imaginative synthesis with strong critical intent...Here the national bounds of Bourdieu's work have been decisively broken, in a project that uses his concepts of symbolic capital and the cultural field to construct a model of the global inequalities of power between different national literatures, and the gamut of strategies that writers in languages at the periphery of the system of legitimation have used to try to win a place at the centre. Nothing like this has been attempted before. The geographical range of Casanova's materials, from Madagascar to Romania, Brazil to Switzerland, Croatia to Algeria; the clarity and trenchancy of the map of unequal relations she offers; and, not least, the generosity with which the dilemmas and ruses of the disadvantaged are explored, make her book kindred to the French élan behind the World Social Forum. It might be called a literary Porto Alegre. That implies a beginning, with much fierce argument and discussion to come. But whatever the outcome of ensuing criticisms or objections, The World Republic of Letters--empire more than a republic, as Casanova shows--is likely to have the same sort of liberating impact at large as Said's Orientalism, with which it stands comparison.
— Perry Anderson
The Nation
[A] brilliant, groundbreaking book...Casanova's work amounts to a radical remapping of global literary space...Casanova parts company with the historicism that has swept literary studies over the past two decades. Rather than tying literary phenomena to underlying social and political developments, she charts an autonomous history for literature itself. The world republic of letters is governed by its own rules, keeps time by its own historical clock, partitions the world according to its own map and features its own economics, its own inequalities and its own forms of violence...Casanova devotes the second half of her book to exploring the means by which writers from the literary periphery have sought to break into the center--a myriad of struggles whose existence has heretofore been concealed by 'the fable of an enchanted world...where universality reigns through liberty and equality.' The breadth of her scholarship here is staggering: from South America to North Africa, Eastern Europe to East Asia; from the emergent Modernism of Ibsen and Yeats to the most recent postcolonial hybridities; from 'assimilationists' like Naipul and Cioran to 'rebels' like Neruda and Achebe...She has created a map of global literary power relations where none had existed, and she has raised a host of further questions.
— William Deresiewicz
New Statesman
There is a great deal more to this path-breaking study, not least a superb sketch of Franz Kafka, who is depicted caught between Yiddish, Czech and German, high modernism and popular nationalism. There are portraits of exiles or 'translated men' such as Joyce and Samuel Beckett who are adrift between cultures, adept at being homeless in a whole number of languages. And there are snapshots of 'assimilations' such as V S Naipaul, who eagerly identify with the imperial heritage that uprooted their own people. Casanova's range of literary allusions, from Berlin to Havana, Norway to Somalia, is astonishing...This book, which unlike many other works of literary theory is written (or at any rate translated) with exemplary lucidity, represents a milestone in the history of modern literary thought.
— Terry Eagleton
The Independent
A heroically ambitious new book...aims to put this quest for literary hegemony into a deep historical context. The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova travels far and wide, from French Renaissance disputes over the language of literature to the recent fashion for post-colonial fiction--from Ronsard to Rushdie...Casanova (well-known in France as a critic and broadcaster) follows the battle waged by writers on the margins of the system to carve out a space in which a truly autonomous 'republic of letters' can flourish...Casanova's book is a demanding, rewarding read...She draws a remarkably rich and persuasive map of global writing and publishing not as 'an enchanted world that exists outside time,' but as a battlefield on which dominant languages and cultures have always wielded the heavy weapons.
— Boyd Tonkin
Choice
Learned and important...It denies the existence of a so-called 'world republic of letters' that is open to all talents and that judges according to universal aesthetic standards...Casanova remaps the fantasy of a homogenized global space into regions of centers and peripheries, rigidly divided into a 'tacit and implacable hierarchy.' Between these regions she identifies only a few gates, guarded by powerful gatekeepers with murky agendas...[She] argues that as concentrations of literary 'capital' are uneven, so are judgments of literary value...The book offers several excellent analyses of 'small national literatures'...This is an original book.
— K. Tölölyan
Artforum
Arguing for how the world marketplace of literary value functions--that is, what rules govern the 'game' of style--Casanova offers a start to thinking about how Faulkner got to be 'Faulkner,' Joyce, 'Joyce,' and Naipaul, 'Naipaul' (while any number of dominated worthies struggle angrily on the periphery). Her careful but revealing prose is a model of critical language, and in M. B. DeBevoise's translation from French it attains a martinet's clarity. If you take little from the book--such as an understanding of the freighted relation between intellectual and political power, or the obstinate resiliency of cultural capital--it's still as refreshing a read as a gulp of ice water. Powerfully researched, beautifully learned, and elegantly argued, The World Republic of Letters should be at the top of any syllabus of 'Art, Politics, and Globalism.' Its deep reading of the deep structures of intellectual life is as disconcerting, and productively counterintuitive, as it is smart.
— Eric Banks
New Yorker
[A] rather brilliant book...Literature departments are almost always organized by language and country, but Casanova's book gives us many reasons to doubt whether this captures the way literature really works. She has an excellent account, for example, of the international influence of Faulkner--once his novels had been translated into French.
— Louis Menand
Comparative Critical Studies
First published in 1909, Pascale Casanova's La République mondiale des lettres now appears in English in an intelligent and reliable translation, which carries also a brief but illuminating "Preface to the English-Language Edition" and a much better index than that in the original publication.
— Peter France
South Atlantic Review
This book is certain to provoke lively discussion, as any good critical study should. The wide-ranging view Casanova brings to her subject puts her in the companionship of very few literary critics capable of competing with her.
— Thomas Austenfeld
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674010215
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2007
  • Series: Convergences: Inventories of the Present Series , #1
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 440
  • Sales rank: 852,745
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Pascale Casanova is an associated researcher at the Center for Research in Arts and Language and a literary critic in Paris. She is the author of Beckett the Abstractor (Paris, 1997), winner of the Grand Prix de l’Essai de la Société des Gens de Lettres.
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Table of Contents

Introduction : the figure in the carpet 1
1 Principles of a world history of literature 9
2 The invention of literature 45
3 World literary space 82
4 The fabric of the universal 126
5 From internationalism to globalization 164
6 The small literatures 175
7 The assimilated 205
8 The rebels 220
9 The tragedy of translated men 254
10 The Irish paradigm 303
11 The revolutionaries 324
Conclusion : the world and the literary trousers 348
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