The geopolitics of literature

Terry Eagleton looks at The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova, in The New Statesman:

We think of literature as a set of uniquely individual works, as randomly distributed as the stars. From time to time, however, a critical study comes along that steps back from Dante and Goethe, Balzac and Woolf, and views them, in a powerfully distancing move, as part of a meaningful con- stellation. Such is the virtuoso achievement of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, Georg Lukacs’s The Historical Novel and Northop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Although Pascale Casanova’s new study is not exactly in this league, it is certainly in this dis- tinguished lineage.

The World Republic of Letters is concerned with what one might call the geopolitics of literature. Literary works, so it claims, are never fully intelligible in themselves; instead, you have to see them as belonging to a global literary space, which has a basis in the world’s political landscape, but which also cuts across its regions and borders to form a distinctive republic of its own. Like geopolitical space, this literary republic has its frontiers, provinces, exiles, legislators, migrations, subordinate territories and an unequal distribution of resources. It is a form of intellectual commerce in which literary value is banked and circulated, or transferred from one national currency to another in the act of translation.

More here.