More On World Lit: N+1 Responds to Critics

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The editors, over at n+1:

Rajaram and Griffith also level the more serious charge that the Intellectual Situation authors would consign third-world writers to a kind of political ghetto. “Why are these anaerobic literary litmus tests (Marxist or otherwise) mysteriously over-applied to third world writers? And why refuse aesthetic considerations to these writers? . . . Michael Ondaatje crafts beautiful prose, not political pamphlets. Is Ondaatje (or any of the other writers the editors attack) required to do something that other writers are not? Must artists from outside the US and UK be doggedly political while Brooklynites enjoy the free-for-all of conceptual play? Is Brooklyn social and aesthetic and the rest of the world only political?”

These are good questions. For the record, they impute a position to us that is the exact opposite of our position.

The subject of the essay was World Literature, both an object of academic study and a particular prestige category as imagined by New York publishing houses and critics, and whose apotheosis is the annual PEN World Voices Festival, also in New York. As we said in the first paragraph, we were not talking about all the literature published in the world. That would have been a different sort of essay (even longer, for one). So the fact that Shobhaa Dé and Anuja Chauhan are “flourishing bestsellers in India” but not known in the sphere of World Literature conjured by the West means that they aren’t at all what we mean to talk about. “The editors simply do not account for work that hasn’t been translated, that speaks to local contexts (anti-caste literature, for example) or is out of tune with the tectonics of the global market.” That’s (almost) exactly right, because that’s not what “World Lit” is.