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If world literature is conceived as a network of transregional, multi-local and transnational nodes stretching back to antiquity, oceanic worlds can be seen to offer a generative frame for literary history. The world’s oceans gird the shores of cities, nations, islands and continents. They generate contact zones that are multilingual, demographically mixed, economically varied and culturally hybrid. Further, much like world literature, the historicity of the oceans can scarcely be contained within the temporality of transatlantic capitalism from the eighteenth century to the present. This chapter explores literary works across several oceanic zones and offers oceanic comparativism as a rich cartographic frame for world literature.
World literature dwells in our time and in times past. As a treasured heritage of artistic expression in oral, visual, and written forms, it is an indelible part of the story of evolution of human civilization. As a scholarly field, however, world literature has had a rather sporadic presence in the disciplinary landscape of modern universities, surging and receding in accordance with political and sociocultural transformations. The contemporary era is witnessing one such resurgence. The term world appears to have made a spectacular reentry as a literary critical rubric in the twenty-first century. One hears of the “world” all too frequently in academic circles, and in ways that mark our current global conjuncture as, perhaps, the most apposite moment for its articulation. One is reminded of Walter Benjamin’s phrase “the now of knowability” when certain historical periods offer just the right temporal traction for an idea to gain rhetorical currency.
World Literature is a vital part of twentieth-first century critical and comparative literary studies. As a field that engages seriously with function of literary studies in our global era, the study of World literature requires new approaches. The Cambridge History of World Literature is founded on the assumption that World Literature is not all literatures of the world nor a canonical set of globally successful literary works. It highlights scholarship on literary works that focus on the logics of circulation drawn from multiple literary cultures and technologies of the textual. While not rejecting the nation as a site of analysis, these volumes will offer insights into new cartographies – the hemispheric, the oceanic, the transregional, the archipelagic, the multilingual local – that better reflect the multi-scalar and spatially dispersed nature of literary production. It will interrogate existing historical, methodological and cartographic boundaries, and showcase humanistic and literary endeavors in the face of world scale environmental and humanitarian catastrophes.