On Teaching World Literature and its Discontents: An Interview with Arabic Literature (in English)

Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation: ‘World Literature and its Discontents’

ArabLit’s ongoing series on Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation continues with a discussion with Gretchen Head, Assistant Professor of Literature at Yale-NUS College, Yale University’s Singapore campus, and co-editor of The City in Arabic Literature: Classical and Modern Perspectives. Here, Head discusses her “World Literature and its Discontents.” An abridged syllabus is available at the end:

Relating Arabic literature to “world” literature (both from when it was at the center of its world to now, when Arabic literature often perceives itself at a margins) is certainly a rich vein for interrogation. How did this course come about?  

Gretchen Head: I first taught a version of this course in 2012 when I was a postdoctoral fellow in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Even then, the idea of World Literature wasn’t exactly new. When I say this, I’m not referring to Goethe’s famous 19th century proclamation, but rather to the fact that people like Itamar Even-Zohor, Franco Moretti, and David Damrosch had been writing about the themes that preoccupy discussions of World Literature for some time. Even-Zohor’s “The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem” goes back to 1978, Moretti’s “Conjectures on World Literature” to 2000, and even Damrosch’s What is World Literature had come out nearly 10 years earlier in 2003. Nevertheless, World Literature as a way to frame comparative literary conversations seemed to be gaining more traction. This could be, in part, because The Institute for World Literature had just held its inaugural session in 2011. I know many of us have always appreciated the theoretical focus and rigor of Comparative Literature as a discipline while simultaneously often feeling disillusioned by its eurocentrism. Though I think this is improving – the ACLA, for example, makes a conscious effort to push back against the discipline’s tendency to exclude “peripheral” literatures – if we were to do a quick survey of Comparative Literature departments in North America, we would still find a dearth of specialists in Arabic among the faculty. In contrast, World Literature’s focus on the global and its destabilization of how we think about literary canons seemed to offer a potentially more inclusive space for inquiry and I wanted to explore this in a class.

Follow link for full interview: https://arablit.org/2018/04/30/teaching-with-arabic-literature-in-translation-world-literature-and-its-discontents/