A Pact With Books: The Public Life of World Literature

Unlike in the mid-twentieth century, when circulation of literature in the world was primarily considered to be a prerogative of readers in affluent parts of the world, today the circulation is multi-directional, multi-dimensional, and multi-lingual. Ours is an exciting time for “world literature”!

global-e: a global studies journal

B. Venkat Mani

Old books

Who defines world literature? Is it the author of the text that leaves its point of origin to find space on a bookshelf—physical or digital—in a far away part of the world? Is it the translator, the initiator of textual migration? And how does the reader, who determines whether a text keeps the promise it makes—that is, giving a glimpse of the far away world of its origin—define world literature?

Beyond the author and the translator, a very large number of actors determine a reader’s access to literary works. If the author and the reader were to be tentatively imagined in a producer-consumer relationship, one could see that there is an entire set of mediators, representing several institutions, who enable the distribution and circulation of a literary artifact for a worldwide readership: publisher, bookseller (or online vendor), librarian, magazine editor, literary critic, literary agent, book-festival organizer, the…

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