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The Return of World Literature: Placing Latin America, Debating Universalism

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Spanish 261

The Return of World Literature: Placing Latin America, Debating Universalism
Fall 2010

Tuesdays 12.30-3

2 Arrow St. Room 417
Prof. Mariano Siskind (siskind@fas.harvard.edu)

Office: 427 Boylston, (617) 495-9371

Office hours: M 1-2.45, or by appointment
Course description
World literature has been one of the keywords of the last decade. Some of the most influential literary scholars in academia have been discussing world literature as the necessary new object and disciplinary paradigm of literary studies in the age of globalization. But What is world literature? Is it a matter of reading particular texts from a universal perspective (in other words, is it an opportunity for us to become universal subjects)? Or is it a matter of constructing critically a corpus of universal texts from any given particular reading position? And finally, is there a place of Latin America, and in general terms, of the margins of globalization, in the new world literature, beyond exoticism and undervelopment? And how do Latin American critics and writers imagine their intervention in the world literary field? How does Latin American culture imagine itself as part of the world—and in whose terms (theirs, ours, new undetermined worldly terms) they aspire to universality?
In order to address these questions and reconstruct the intellectual genealogy of the concept and practice of world literature, we will begin by unpacking the universal, the concept where world literature, the discourse of cosmopolitanism and the historical process of globalization intersect (Kant, Hegel, Marx, Laclau). Universality was the central pillar of the project of modernity, but in today’s post-postmodern times (post-tudo, as in Augusto de Campos’s famous poem), the universal has made a comeback under a new guise, and the most important theorists have been debating for the past decade about ways of redefining this new less-than-universal universality as the necessary horizon of emancipatory political agency, and the interpretative frame to read literature in the context of globalization.
We will then work on the main theoretical texts around which the debate on the scope and practice of world literature has been structured (Moretti, Casanova, Damrosch, Wai Chee Dimock). Finally, we will discuss the possible inscriptions of Latin American culture in the discourse of world literature through critical, poetic and narrative interventions (Darío, Reyes, Borges, Victoria Ocampo, Wilcock, Copi, Bolaño, Bellatín, Volpi).
This course intends to introduce students to one of the most relevant theoretical and critical issues in the humanities today (in March 2009, one third of the panels in the American Comparative Literature Association dealt with questions of world literature and the globalization of literary studies, and these are the themes of the conference that will meet in March 2011 in Vancouver), and encourage them to think about different ways in which their research projects can be articulated with the debates that structure our field.

A research paper of approximately 15 pages will be due at the end of term (date TBA). Those students who do not want to write a final paper will work on a 15 page-long take home exam to be turned in at the end of the semester. Students will do two 15-minute critical introductions to the readings of a given week. These presentations should be open to class discourse, so preparation of point-by-point outlines of your critical argument and class-handouts are strongly recommended. You should avoid, however, the overly tight, argumentative essay or merely reading aloud. Rather, posit your claims following a train of thought and be prepared to work through your personal insights with the rest of the class. As it is imperative that we allow ample time for class discussion, presenters are kindly asked not to exceed fifteen minutes. On each of the weeks in which a student is presenting, he/she will turn in a written response, summarizing the main points of the readings and stating a hypothesis, an idea of her/his own, relevant to the topic of the course; copies will be distributed for the rest of the class (no more than 3 pages). Please email your top three choices of weeks to present on to siskind@fas.harvard.edu by the second meeting. Presentations will begin on 9/28.
Rubén Darío. Prosas profanas [there are online versions]

Jorge Luis Borges. Historia Universal de la Infamia.

J.R. Wilcock. La sinagoga de los iconoclastas.

Copi. La guerra de las mariconas.

Joao Gilberto Noll. Lorde.

Mario Bellatín. Shiki Nagaoka, una nariz de ficción.

Roberto Bolaño. Putas asesinas.

Jorge Volpi. El jardín devastado.

Ignacio Sánchez Prado (Ed.). América Latina en ‘la literatura mundial’.
*All books are available at Schoenhof’s or at Amazon.com and/or libraries. All other readings will be available in electronic format on the course’s webpage.
* Literary, critical and theoretical texts can be read in their original Spanish, Portuguese versions or, when available, in one of their multiple translations.
Week 1 (Tue 9/7 * Follows a Monday Schedule) - Organizational meeting. A review of the semester to come. Readings. Requirements. Universalism and the Return of World Literature A theoretical history of Universalism: From Christian universal redemption to Kantian and Liberal forms of emancipation. Non-required readings: Jacques Derrida. “Signature, Event, Context”. Wai Chee Dimock: “Planetary Time and Global Translation:‘Context’ in Literary Studies”, Stephen Owen. “Stepping Forwardand Back: Issues and Possibilities for ‘World’ Poetry”.
Interrogating the Universal
Week 2 (9/14) – Kant, Hegel, The Universal and The Particular. Readings: Immanuel Kant. Second section from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) (19-36 Hackett edition). G.W.F. Hegel Philosophy of Right (1820) (trans. J. Sibree, Edited by Allen Wood, Cambridge Univ. Press), selections from the “Preface” and the “Introduction”. Karl Löwith, “The Origin of the Spiritual Development of the Age in Hegel’s Philosophy of the History of the Spirit” (1964) (pp. 31-51).
Week 3 (9/21) – Universality as the horizon of radical social change. Readings: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: “The Communist Manifesto” (1847). Ernesto Laclau: “Universality, Particularity and the Question of Identity” (pp. 20-34) (1991).
World Literature, Old and New
Week 4 (9/28) – The Romantic Rise of World Literature: Readings: Johann W. Goethe: Selections from Conversations with Eckermann (1823-1832). John Pizer: “The Emergence of Weltliteratur: Goethe and the Romantic School” (2006) (18-45).
Week 5 (10/5) – Wolrd Literature, Humanism, Cosmopolitanism: Erich Auerbach, “Philology and Weltliteratur” (1952). René Wellek, “The Crisis of Comparative Literature” (1958). Alfonso Reyes: “Notas sobre la inteligencia Americana”(1936); Borges, “Anotación al 23 de Agosto de 1944” (1944) and “Deutsches Requiem” (1946). Victoria Ocampo et al. “Moral y Literatura” (Sur 126, 1945). Alfonso Reyes. “Desde América”. In Rumbo a Goethe (pp.227-249).
Week 5 (10/12) – Producing and Reading World Literatura in the 21st Century. Franco Moretti “Conjectures on World Literature” (54-68) (2000); David Damrosch. “Introduction: Goethe coins a phrase” (1-36) What is World Literature? (2003). Pascale Casanova, Selections from The World Republic of Letters (1999) (pp.9-43, 82-125, 164-172);
Week 6 (10/19) – Latin American Responses to World Literature (and a Korean Addendum), plus Dario’s modernist worldly intervention. Readings: Abril Trigo, “Algunas reflexiones acerca de la literatura mundial” (pp.89-100) (2006); Efraín Kristal, “Considerando en frío... Una respuesta a Franco Moretti” (pp.101-116) (2006); Hugo Achugar, “Apuntes sobre la literatura mundial, o acerca de la imposible universalidad de la literature universal” (pp.197-212). All in Sánchez Prado (Ed.), América Latina en la ‘literatura mundial’ (2006). Students are encouraged to bring up other essays from the book. Paik Nak-Chung “Nations and Literatures in the Age of Globalization” (pp.218-229) (1998). Also required: Rubén Darío, Prosas profanas (1896 and 1901).
The place(s) of Latin America in World Literature
Week 7 (10/26) Towards the Universality of Latin American and marginal literatures. T.S. Eliot: “Tradition and the individual talent” (pp.27-33) (1919); Chinua Achebe: “The African Writer and the English Language” (pp.55-62) (1975); J.L. Borges, "El escritor argentino y la tradición” (1951) (pp.128-137); Saer: “La espesa selva de lo real” (pp.267-271) (1979); Jorge Volpi. “El fin de la narrativa latinoamericana” (2004).
Week 8 (11/2) Borges and Universality. J.L. Borges: Historia universal de la infamia (1935); “El milagro secreto” (1944); “El Aleph” (1945).
Week 9 (11/9) – The dislocated languages of Latin American World Literature. J.R. Wilcock. La sinagoga de los iconoclastas. Copi. La guerra de las mariconas.
Week 10 (11/16) – Losing oneself in the world. Joao Gilberto Noll. Lorde. Roberto Bolaño, Putas asesinas.

Week 11 (11/23) – Impostures: leaving Latin America behind, becoming an Other. Mario Bellatín. Shiri Nagaoke, una nariz de ficción. Jorge Volpi. El jardín devastado.
Week 12 (11/30) – Double Session 1) Latin America and the question of World Cinema. Readings: Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim, “Situating World Cinema as a Theoretical Problem” (pp.1-17) (2006); Films: “La hora de los hornos” (1968), “Buena Vista Social Club” (1998), and “Temporada de patos” (2004) [and/or other novels and films proposed by students]. 2) Students present abstracts of their final papers. Details TBD.

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