The Multilingual Local in World Literature

Francesca Orsini
2015 Comparative Literature  
This essay questions the geographical categories used to underpin current theoretical and methodological approaches to "world literature," which end up making nine tenths of the world, and of literature produced in the world, drop off the world map or appear "peripheral." Focusing on the multilingual north Indian region of Awadh in the early modern period, it argue that an approach to literature and space that takes multilingualism within society and literary culture as a structuring and
more » ... ive principle and holds both local and cosmopolitan perspectives in view is more productive for world literature than approaches based only on cosmopolitan perspectives of circulation and recognition. Keywords world literature, mapping, multilingual, multilingual literary culture, north India, Hindi, Indo---Persian. Speaking of 'local' cultures does not exclude the existence of large regional systems (Indo---European, East Asian, Mediterranean, Meso---American, Scandinavian...), which may even overlap with each other, like the eight thirteen---century circuits of Janet Abu---Lughod's Before European Hegemony. But these geographical units are not yet stably subordinated to single center like the one that emerged in eighteenth---century France and Britain. (Moretti 2006, 120) The crucial phrase in his formulation is "not yet," which read in conjunction with the "stunning amount of sameness" implies not just chronology but creeping teleology. To paraphrase, "local" or "regional" literary cultures existed before the eighteenth---century and the most extensive reach of European colonialism but since then European economic and political economic domination has entailed the cultural hegemony and "stable subordination" in literary terms of the rest of the world. Since then, "local" or "regional" literary cultures can be understood in terms of variations on the same pattern. But which sameness? And who is producing it here? Have at least three decades of rethinking the nature of modernity and its relation to globalization, of "provincializing Europe" and its narrative of modernity really left no trace?
doi:10.1215/00104124-3327481 fatcat:gwkqydkphrdzposibfummax4ay