Introducing Spiritus Mundi, a Novel by Robert Sheppard
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To Read the Blog of Robert Sartorius from Spiritus Mundi: http://sartoriusblogfromspiritusmundi.wordpress.com/
SPIRITUS MUNDI ON WORLD LITERATURE:
(The following are excerpts from the novel Spiritus Mundi, by author Robert Sheppard containing in-depth discussions on various aspects of World Literature, including, inter alia, Chinese Literature, Western Literature, Indian Literature, Latin American and African Literature.)
Günter Gross drew off a thimble-glass of Chartreuse and broke in on the line of conversation………”Robert and I have discussed all of this many times and we are now thinking of collaborating on a book—–I go back to the Gespräche of Goethe and Eckermann not far from us in Weimar—-and I think in this era of economic and cultural globalization and the advent of the shrinking technological world of Global Village of satellite television, jet travel and the Internet, Goethe’s concept of ‘Weltlitteratur’ or World Literature as you say in English—-grows more and more valid as it grows more and more necessary and unavoidable as the peoples of the world strive by inextricable necessity to build a common culture and a quantum of mutual comprehension, tolerance and understanding as a sustainable means of living and co-existing together on this fragile planet without annihilating ourselves in ecocide, environmental meltdown or irrational nuclear catastrophe…….
“You know Eckermann in his Gespräche was our Germany’s equivalent of Boswell in his Life of Samuel Johnson and he as Goethe’s personal secretary and out of a great love and reverence for Goethe recorded many of his conversations—-one of the most notable apropos of our conversation concerned his reflections while reading a Chinese novel at Weimar—-Goethe concluded: “I am more and more convinced,” he continued, “that poetry is the universal possession of mankind . . . the epoch of World Literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach.” And in this he was seconded in his opinion by Marx and Engels in their Communist Manifesto in 1847 when they from their scientific socialist perspective also maintained: ‘National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature.’ For Marx and Engels, as for Goethe, World Literature is the quintessential literature of modern times, and for us in the age of the Internet it has become a palpable if unformulated reality.”
“Precisely….Yes……Absolutely!” interjected Sartorius “……….and Günter, as you go back to Goethe, Marx and Engels, so I am drawn back to the touchstones of my own intellectual development from the English-speaking tradition—-I am reminded of my graduate school reading of Matthew Arnold’s Function of Criticism at the Present Time and T.S. Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent……Matthew Arnold maintained that the function and highest ideal of criticism and literature was ‘to make known and accessible the best that is thought and felt in the world’ and that necessarily requires an openness and attention to the best masterpieces of any and all nations and languages of the world as well as the classics of their literary and cultural traditions, past and present. T.S. Eliot similarly saw the reading of any modern work taking its place in the corpus of “the Tradition” encompassing the community of consciousness of past ages reflected in its literature as well as his drawing on the diverse traditions of the world such as the Fire Sermon of Buddha and the Bhagavad Gita in the Waste Land….today the ‘best that has been thought and felt’ and ‘the Tradition’ is more and more globalized, and the fruition of the great conversation of our civilizations depends on our common sharing of these global touchstones, yet our institutions and our awareness of this lag far behind the new reality……”
“And if I may be allowed to second the opinion of my brother Laureate, V.S. Naipaul, in his Wriston Lecture, our common heritage and our common work in literature is to serve the construction and preservation of ‘Our Universal Civilization,’ a framework and foundational common culture of mutual comprehension, tolerance and conversation enabling the aspiration, nurture and self-realization of individuals within the diverse but common heritage of mankind.” injected Günter.
“Well Robert…..” said Pari Kasiwar drawing the smoke down a long Benson & Hedges cigarette and exhaling it slowly as he rose to the vertical in his soft chair, speaking over his glass of rumcoco on ice, “…..it sounds very noble and humanistic and all, but if I might with due respect be allowed to play the part of the Devil’s Advocate, isn’t this all a bit too romantic and overambitious, like building the Tower of Babel, and isn’t it similarly likely to dissolve into a ‘global babble’ of incomprehensible tongues in a dialogue of the culturally deaf?—–and after all who could possibly read all the literature of the entire world or have a shred of hope to comprehend it out of its cultural context?——aren’t we in danger of entering a kind of paper-thin poseur world of Literary Jet Setting and airport bookstore marketing?——-and aren’t we as likely to experience a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ as any harmonious or universal civilization?”
“Well those are very real dangers, certainly,” responded Sartorius. “……..which is exactly why our work is more vital and more important—–if we don’t build and maintain this common culture—a World Literature as well as world art, world music, world cinema, world media etc. providing the global common touchstones to build a common language and common consciousness then the world is heading for a certain crack-up. All the institutions in the world such as our UNPA will be meaningless and dysfunctional without a common language and new global consciousness to support and a common culture to serve as foundations……….that is why Günter and I are researching and co-writing our joint book on World Literature together…… and we are interviewing and collecting the multiple perspectives of anyone and everyone we run into in the process to sharpen our focus………………”
“Hear, Hear!” seconded Günter.
“But I do think your point about modern post-modern novelists being shallow and commercial is a significant danger. Many of the young post-modernists are part of what I term “Rafflesia Literature.”
“What?” asked Jennie.
“It’s a term I picked up on a trip to Singapore and then down to Sarawak in neighboring Borneo. You see the Rafflesia flower is the largest flower in the world, with a single blossom exceeding a meter or yard across, so it is a rather dramatic flowering that attracts a lot of attendion. But if you go to look at a Rafflesia flower you must go quickly, because the Rafflesia flower, big and dramatic as it may be only lasts a day or two and then begins to rot and decay away. You see the Rafflesia plant is a rootless, stemless, leafless parasite which consists almost entirely of the flower. It survives by attaching itself to the Tetrastigma plant, which is a vine related to the grape family, from which the Rafflesia sucks out prodigious quantities of nutrients. The Rafflesia will rot away to death in a few days! This is a kind of metaphor for many of our recent popular post-modern writers. Their work is also rootless, stemless, leafless and parasitical. A real writer must be at least doubly rooted—rooted in his own deeper personal experience, observation of the world and consciousness, and rooted in his literary tradition as well. Many young writers are neither, and they reproduce what the marketplace demands, a kind of “McLit” as you say of cheap cultural relativism and deconstruction of tradition spiced with a yuppiesh Jet Set international or cross-cultural lifestyle that exhibits neither deep personal experience or rootedness in either of their cultures. The idea that a text is only a text and writing only about writing not about life and the world—there is no reality and no truth, a storytelling entertainment rather than a serious engagement and criticism of life, legitimatizes this superficiality. But ultimately these authors are a mere flash in the pan, like the Rafflesia flower and begin to rot! They deconstruct themselves and soon there is nothing left of permanent value” he explained.
“Writers!—–I believe the more people write the less they think, much less feel, until they fall into babbling cant and self-indulgence!…………” said Pari, slumping to the left of his high soft armchair while crossing his legs and exhaling smoke across the cluttered table, “Anyway, Robert, you know a good part of me wants to be convinced, I’m a frustrated writer myself so I have an egotistical interest in deluded hopes of becoming the new messiah as well as a soft heart for the Respublica Literaria so go on, please go on—tell me about your idea of World Literature…I am interested…..what would it look like and what do you mean by it exactly?”
“Ok, Pari………..….how would I put it….…..let me see……………….…..allright …………I would take world literature to encompass all literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in their original language. In its most expansive sense, world literature could include any work that has ever reached beyond its home base……………a focus on actual readers makes good sense: a work only has an effective life as world literature whenever, and wherever, it is actively present within a literary system beyond that of its original culture. Perhaps you are right in saying that the ambition to read everything ever published in the world would be a superhuman and impossible feat, but you could say the same thing of any national literature—–nobody could ever read all of it or all of its books, authors, periods or movements—-the key is like Arnold emphasizes, to make out the common touchstones, the island peaks prominent above the shifting horizon of the seas of space, time and culture, with a special but non-exclusive emphasis on the cultural classics and masterpieces of each major culture, made mutually accessible so as to develop common reference points for development of a common language and to enable a common conversation of ideas, values, sensibilities…between cultures and civilizations as well as of individuals as to the values, beliefs and assumptions discovered and shared which may make possible their sustained and sustainable living, working and aspiring together in our inescapably common world.”
To my mind Pari, any idea of World Literature I would be interested in could be been seen in one or more of at least three basic ways: as an established body of world classics, as an evolving canon of masterpieces, or as a shifting selection of multiple windows on the world and we can and should approach or teach, read or write about each of these validly in each way relative to our particular situation, goals and needs……
“…..So what do I mean by this?……..The ‘Classic’ is often what is taught in a conservative or culture-building context like public schools—-it can be seen as a work of transcendent, even foundational value, often identified in the West particularly with Greek and Roman literature—-still taught today in our departments of Classics—–and often closely associated with the totemic values of each civilization. Here we have two modern difficulties;—the first being what we just talked about—-the needed effort to broaden the Classics to include the international foundational classics of other civilizations alongside the established classics of the West. Yes every educated person anywhere in the world should have some familiarity with Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Vergil, Dante, the Bible, Don Quixote, Voltaire, Faust, Flaubert and Shakespeare but they should also have some minimal familiarity with Confucius, Lao Zi, Li Bai, Du Fu, the Arabian Nights, Kalidasa, the Mahabarata of Vayasa, Popul Vuh, the Koran and Hadith, Tale of Genji, Gilgamesh and the Bagavad Gita. The classics inform us about works so deeply embedded in great civilizational cultures that familiarity becomes necessary to understanding not only their literatures but also their peoples, cultures and cultural perspective as a whole. Yet the true classic also bears the value of a degree of universal validity, as a classic is a book that tells not merely the story of what happened at a certain time or place amoung men and women of a certain society, but rather it shows us what happens whenever there are humans. All educated persons, as “citizens of the world” should have a superficial acquaintance with them and specialists and professionals can take and develop such knowledge broader and deeper as needed.
The second major problem with regard to the classics is the prejudice against them in modern popular culture and the need to broaden horizons not only between cultural heritages but also between periods of history. Part of the modernist legacy of breaking with the past is an unhealthy tendency to overvalue and privilege ourselves and the present time over the peoples, cultures and insights of past times, often conveyed through the classics. I call this “presentism” which is a prejudice and parti pris of our age. A healthy world literature is rooted in the classics and past masterpieces of all world cultures and grows, as Eliot observes, out of the long tradition out of which it flowers and evolves.
“The ‘masterpiece,’ on the other hand, can be an ancient or a modern work and need not have had any foundational cultural force but is celebrated for its artistic excellence and the delight and meaningful experience it gives. Goethe clearly considered his own best works, and those of his friends, to be modern masterpieces and we could say the idea of “the masterpiece,” indeed, came into prominence in the nineteenth century as literary studies began to deemphasize the dominant Greco-Roman classics, elevating the modern masterpiece to a level of near equality with the long-established classics and following up on the Renaissance development of refocusing literature on the vernacular and the people as a whole rather than the classical literature of the educated elite. You might say the shift to the masterpiece paralleled the shift from an aristocratic to a more democratic, middle class order and assumed masterworks could engage in a “great conversation” on an equal footing with their aristocratic forebears ‘the classics,’ a conversation in which their culture and class of origin mattered less than the great ideas and sensibilities they expressed anew, especially in the new genres of the broader middle-class populace such as the novel, the essay, and the modern theatre and opera as epitomized by such greats as Cervantes, Goethe, Montaigne, Rousseau, Flaubert, Dickens, Mann, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Lawrence, Joyce and Hemingway.” continued Sartorius.
“And the Masterpiece can be either long or short……” introjected Günter, “Robert here is addicted to the massive tomes such as Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, Magic Mountain, Joseph and his Brothers and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He has two unpublished novels that rival War and Peace in shear heft and so frightens away any publisher. But I have become more of a minimalist in my old age, attracted to the short and powerful works such as Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or the Greek tragic plays.”
“Yes, I have a weakness for what you might call “The Total Novel,” or “Total Fiction,” a species of the “Gesamtkunstwerk” like Wagner’s orgies of form, which combines realism and fantasy, myth and psychological verisimilitude, and which unfolds all the potential manifestations of reality and history…like Vargas Llosa’s La Casa Verde…and the Latin American savage baroque” rejoined Sartorius,
“……..Or what he really means, Ha. Ha! is that he has a weakness for Absolute Fiction…..” Günter cut back in, “………..where the fictions defeat all attempts to comment upon or clarify them!….Ha, ha, ha!……………..”
“…………or perhaps I have overlearned the lessons of your German model……alles gründlich machen, while you have ironically overlearned American economy in words……….but that is a matter of individual taste……some like the geometrical simplicity of Bach’s counterpoint in the Little Fugue, while others like the comprehensive development of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony……..both long or short are undoubtedly Masterpieces……….” said Sartorius.
“Finally,…..” continued Sartorius, “……. Goethe’s disquisitions on Chinese novels and Islamic literature such as Firdausi and Hafiz, interest in works that would serve as windows into foreign worlds, whether or not these works could be construed as masterpieces and regardless of whether these differing worlds had any visible links to each other at all leads to the third major branch of our world literature—works of art as ‘windows on the world.’ Our modern potpourri of third-world novels is often of this nature, often perhaps not being of the highest artistic caliber but giving us a new perspective and window on the world that had not been brought to our attention before or people or peoples whose stories had not yet been told to the wider world. You might poo-pooh it as literary jet setting, but that is not so bad after all is it?—- especially as more and more people have opportunity and it may be a crude but useful first step in a further and deeper process of understanding. And encountering the new, strange and novel may be a great stimulus to our growth of comprehension as we find experiences that are vitally the same but not the same as our own……
………Of course as you know, these three conceptions and categories are not mutually exclusive, so there is really no good reason why we shouldn’t allow all three categories their ongoing value and include them all in various mixes, particularly as a single work may effectively be classified as a classic, a masterpiece and a ‘unique window on the world.’ I mean you can take Virgil’s Aeneid is the very type of a timeless classic, but it is also a masterpiece of its genre, the epic……..one stage of development in the long series of works from Gilgamesh and the Iliad up to Joyce’s Ulysses and Walcott’s Omeros. Equally, the Aeneid is a window on the world of imperial Rome—-even though it is set before Rome’s founding—in its underworld scenes of katabasis and epic similes it opens out with unconcealed directness toward Virgil’s contemporary world…….
“……….If you ask me the simplest question, ‘What is Literature” a propos of Einstein who maintained the simplest question of the child is most difficult and most theoretically complex to answer, I would fall back on his concept of relativity and say I have relatively little interest in attempting any firm definition of literature as such, since this is a question that really only has meaning within a given literary system. Any global perspective on literature must acknowledge the tremendous variability in what has counted as literature from one place to another and from one era and stage of cultural development to another; in this sense, literature can best be defined pragmatically as whatever texts a given community of readers takes as literature—meaning how and where diverse communities and their cultures habitually look in the course of their lives for spoken or written forms of meaning and understanding of their human condition and in their personal and social lives in a comprehensive way…………”
“But you know one thing that worries me is the rootlessness and superficiality of these ideas of a global culture and literature…..” chirped in Jennie Zheng, overcoming her initial accustomed posture of a tentative respectful deference to the elders around her and throwing back her long black trail of hair behind her head to break in in a wave of rising self-confidence, “…Look……..From New York to Beijing, via Moscow and Vladivostok, and on to Jakarta and Mumbai you can eat the same junk food, watch the same junk on television, and, hear the same junk pop and rap music, and increasingly, read the same junk novels . . . Instead of ‘socialist realism’ we have ‘market realism’ and the books in the airport bookstores seem to be dumbed down and culturally and commercially correct so as to be saleable to to prejudices of the newer Net and Jet Set…It’s often based on marketable formulas involving disembodied people whose lives and stories change as little from country to country as the décor changes from the Jakarta Hilton to the Istanbul Hilton—a kind of Disneyfication of the literary marketplace…….it seems like so much global local-colour pablum and not really worth the effort of reading it—-a kind of McLit!”
“Ha!—that’s the modern international market aesthetic for you……..L’Art pour le Buck” quipped Pari.
“Who is there to tell the truth anymore?” asked Jennie
“Truth!……Try to get a living from truth and you’ll end up standing in the soup lines!……….” Pari retorted, “……….and the writer who aims for intellectual prestige, formal originality or artistic merit is likely to have a day job!”
“Well, I do think it is a hard dilemma to resolve for a young international writer ” inflected Wolfgang drawing down on a Cuban cigarillo and adjusting his overtight tie and collar, “—-of course there are those who are only after commercial success and see a market niche of writing ‘ready-mades’ as pablum in a Post-Colonial voice cum Third-World pet for the Western market—giving them what they expect to hear—-But if you are a writer from a small country or a Third-world developing country with some imagination and integrity what are your options?—- The writer from a marginal culture is in a double bind. With little to go on at home, a young writer can only achieve greatness by emulating desirable foreign models—possibly only by studying and writing in an international language such as English instead of his own vernacular—–‘the need for an intercourse with great predecessors is the sure sign of a higher talent,’ Goethe said, and advised ‘Study Molière, study Shakespeare’ –yet these models can have a crushing weight even for the natives of their own country with a rich in-depth tradition, let alone for someone coming from a land and vernacular with a thin development of modern literature——–so lets say he does study and benefits from the best quality models he can find in his own provincial country and from the world at large at a metropolitan center—and struggles to develop his own voice, perhaps succeeding after some time——then all of the sudden he is damned from all sides——his countrymen damn him for selling-out and being co-opted by the metropolitan center and its material and non-material rewards—-and his contemporaries in the international center condemn him for being derivative of their own culture, lacking the authenticity of his own culture and re-serving up a weak second-hand hash of his own Western education with an oversprinkling of cosmetic local colour!—-He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t! If he is a man or woman of wide sympathies and international civilization or develops universal themes he’s accused of being a sell-out for having the courage to develop beyond the provincial prejudices of his culture of origin—I think we have to cut young writers some slack and give them the freedom to be both citizens of their own home culture and with equal validity and acceptance, citizens of the world and of the Republic of Letters at large……
“…….In my own field of Sinology we have an example in Bei Dao. He is a Chinese poet who attained prominence in the West after moving to exile abroad following the Tian An Men incident in Beijing in 1989. Now I would call him a respectable if not great writer and poet, but we have some people like Stephen Owen writing in the New Republic saying that Bei Dao is mere fluff and rehashed Anglo-American sophomoric Modernism re-packaged in Chinese as a niche-market literary boutique product for a progressive Western market looking to invent a martyr to blacken their preconceived idée fixe of a totalitarian China, and of course he is politically under the thumb in China, so where does it leave him as an artist and author? —-it leaves him with no growing room to develop his talents in either direction, and I don’t agree that he is a mere derivative nullity and so I think is a damn shame!”
“Yes, I see what you mean and it’s a difficult yet universal problem” drawled out Günter Gross downing a Brandy Alexander and scarfing up on the corn chips and salmon-cream dip, “…..Contemporary poets who write in the “wrong language,” even like Chinese with hundreds of millions of speakers but without international currency abroad or acceptance at home, not only must imagine themselves being translated in order to reach an audience of an adequate magnitude, they must also engage in the extraordinary act of imagining a world poetry and placing themselves within it. And, although it is supposedly free of all prejudicial local history, this “world poetry” turns out, unsurprisingly, to be a version of Anglo-American modernism or French modernism, depending on which wave of colonial culture first washed over the intellectuals of the country in question. This situation is often perceived as the quintessence of cultural hegemony, when an essentially local tradition (Anglo-European) is widely taken for granted as universal, perhaps by accident of the legacy of the distribution of power over past two centuries of history; but we can’t forget that it is a universal problem even in present-day metropolitan centers. No country is intrinsically and irrevocably the center of the world and cannot remain the center of the small part of the world it has become accustomed to be forever—- and metropolitan status can be gained and lost—-Perhaps China had metropolitan status during the Tang Dynasty when scholars from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the environs traveled to Chang-an and wrote poetry in their home countries not in their native language but in classical Mandarin Chinese—-and lost it thereafter—and we can think of the Alexandria of the Greek Empire and the Baghdad of the Abyssid Caliphate. We think of London, Paris, and Berlin as metropolitan centers, but prior to the Renaissance who ever wrote or read a book in English, French or German outside their home countries—themselves very small with only a handful of millions in population?——–perhaps it is only after the Renaissance and Reformation that writers and scholars stopped writing in Latin and began to predominantly write in English, French, German and other vernacular European languages. Latin was the lingua franca and the ‘international language’ or ‘Putonghua—common language” of its time and London, Paris and Berlin were mere provincial outposts where a vernacular book could only reach a few hundred thousand literate and interested persons at best compared to the whole of Europe for Latin, including the educated of one’s own country as well, all arguing for utilizing Latin and the benefit of two thousand years of cultural, linguistic and literary history and models. As you said of Goethe Wolfgang, the Chinese were writing world literature in the Tang dynasty when Germans were living in skins in the forests—I recall Conrad in the Heart of Darkness observing that England for Caesar was a kind of primeval jungle like Kurz’s Congo —should we not equally say English, French, Spanish and German are all ‘Post-Colonial’ subaltern languages to Latin and Latin to Greek ad infinitum?—-and if everyone is a subaltern in the wider scope of things then the category loses its validity— what is the point of being ever a victim if everyone is a victim and no one, or at least no one still alive can be said to be responsible except the human condition ? Its simply a generalized universal problem—–if you wanted to speak to your civilization up to the 17th Century —the whole of Western Europe—you wrote in Latin—as did Sir Thomas More, Erasmus, Copernicus, even Milton and others and Latin contained the accumulated intellectual capital of the cumulative evolution of international civilization up to and including its time. Even Dante was somewhat revolutionary in choosing to write in his native Tuscan Italian—choosing to reach a much smaller audience geographically, but to reach all classes of his own native countrymen. ————-Vernacular nationalism changed the writer’s audience by focusing his energies on mobilizing the consciousness of all classes of his own national people and relying on translation for addressing his wider civilization. In short, even if we put aside or solved the questions of political, military and cultural hegemony, most writers of most countries will still have to choose whether to write in the lingua franca—-the international language of their day or in their own limited national vernacular—Joseph Conrad chose English to reach the wider world—yet with the extraordinary facility of translation in modern times, even a writer from a small nation can be translated into twenty or thirty languages if he is prominent—-but probably has a serious marketing problem in trying to attain such stature outside his own small linguistic domain—in contrast to Conrad, Czeslaw Milosz attained world-class status in his own Polish, but it took the Nobel Prize to solve his marketing problem.
But fundamentally there can only be a limited number of international languages and metropolitan centers due to the limited linguistic capacities of human beings—-each person can only master a handful of languages at best, yet in a globalized world of hundreds of languages we all need to agree on one or a small number of languages as a common medium of communication accessible to all directly or indirectly, ——and the wider world by right of necessity and convenience has the privilege to adapt itself to the richest and most convenient metropolitan language and culture to serve as lingua franca—a shared international intellectual currency and shared banking channel of the shared intellectual capital of its era, though we know the choice is often forced by the inescapable legacy of past history. Greek and Latin served these purposes in the ancient world long after the political power or imperial domination of those empires was reduced to dust and nullity, and the same could be said for Arabic and Persian at many points of history—–Undoubtedly much of our so-called Renaissance derived part of its intellectual capital from recovery of lost Greek and Latin classics retranslated from Arabic sources via Ibn Sina and Ibn Sind—Avicenna and Averroes——so I think the rhetoric of ‘Neo-colonialism’ is exaggerated—as are occasional calls to cease writing in English or French from writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o————If America and Britain disappeared from the map in a geological cataclysm English would continue to be the lingua franca and international language of the rest of the world for three generations at the least simply because it is really the only language they all have in common—-every people and every writer must simply adapt to the fundamental reality that they exist in a much wider and older world than that of their contemporary home milieu—and every speaker and writer must simply grow up and adjust to the reality that they are but a small part of the multi-linguistic community to which they address themselves, now and for the future—-and they must adjust accordingly.”
“Well I can only speak as an Indian” lilted Pari in his Sub-continental high-tones,—— From my perspective any possible solution needs to recognize that we don’t face an either/or choice for world literature and the use of English itself is constituted very differently in different cultures. A culture’s norms and needs profoundly shape the selection of works that enter into it as world literature, influencing the ways they are translated, marketed, and read, and as a by-product creating a great variety and flexibility in the ways this emerging World Literature will be manifested in various nations and national contexts—-which I think is a potential strength not necessarily a weakness—— In India, for example, world literature takes on a very particular valence in the dual contexts of the multiplicity of India’s disparate languages and the ongoing presence of English in post-Raj India.——to my way of thinking English can be seen in comparative terms as three distinct entities in India: as the language of the British Literature that featured so prominently in colonial Indian education; as the worldwide phenomenon of contemporary Global English; and as Indo-English, with its ambiguous status somewhere between a foreign and a native language. But fundamentally I think the whole world, and particularly the home metropolitan centers of American and Britain have to wake up to the fact that English is the common heritage of mankind and doesn’t exclusively belong to England or America as its proprietary chattel. We could say that English has passed the critical quantum threshold and we have entered the Age of Global English as a language and international lingua franca, and to a much lesser extent English Literature by extension at least partially has become a sub species of World Literature rather than a national literature of Britain or of America—-lets call it World Literature in English—-take Salman Rushdie as an example. ———–The reality is that you have perhaps three to four hundred million people speaking English as their native language in their home countries—mostly in America and Britain—but you now have well over a billion and a half people speaking English as a second language and still rising rapidly as international education penetrates more deeply to lower social classes and more widely geographically, particularly in the former Communist bloc and China—non-native users of English already outnumber native speakers two or three to one, not to mention the pre-existing reality that American, Canadian, Australian, Scots, Irish and other native speakers have already outnumbered the English themselves for more than a century. What is the net result?—-English—both as a language and partially as constituted in its Literature—has become both an international language, a multi-national language and an extra-national language—-perhaps similar to the examples of Greek and Latin and perhaps Arabic we were just talking about where many more persons outside the home country spoke the language than within the country, which became but a province of the internationalized linguistic and cultural community. I think we have to re-conceive our notions of what a Global English language and a quasi-internationalized English Literature has become as well as make way for the new and emerging category of World Literature in all languages.—-But I think this is unsettling to the dons in Britain and America because though they are naturally proud and flattered at the global importance of their language and literature they have not psychologically adjusted to the fact that they are not the sole proprietor of their language or its associated culture anymore as they may at one time have imagined.—-To use the modern corporate and political analogy we could say the English and English Literature, not to speak of World Literature in English now has as many ‘stakeholders’ as it has shareholders. I think the dons in America will wake up one day and find that the best American writers have turned from the great quest of the last hunded years to write the “Great American Novel” to the new quest of the next one-hundred years to write the “Great Global Novel!”—————-But if we think of how India would relate to this emerging World Literature you are conceiving, lets remember India’s twenty-two principal literary languages themselves form a plenum comparable to that of all European literature, and the different Indian literatures are always strongly colored by the other languages in use around them.—– As a result, no Indian literature is ever itself alone: Bengali will be Bengali , Panjabi Panjabi , and Tamil Tamil —Hindi Hindi, Urdu Urdu——–. In a multilingual situation there cannot be a true appreciation of a single literature in absolute isolation——We might say the very structure of ‘Indian’ literature is comparative, and its internal comparative literature merges into its external comparative literature, at the same time that its Indo-English Literature merges into this idea of an emerging World Literature or you may say World and Comparative Literature if you like.”
“But doesn’t anyone you think it would better for a writer or artist or reader to belong to some particular culture or tradition of his or her own rather than trying to become a ‘world writer’ and to belong everywhere and nowhere at once?” —-retorted Jennie with a rhetorically plaintive smile moving around the small circle of intent friends—–seemingly grateful for the physical relief of the surrounding masculine attention focusing on her ample if intelligent eyes and slightly poutish lips.
Sartorius responded to her, saying “Yes, Jennie, I think the question of rootedness and rootlessness is one of the key questions of our time, and our rootlessness, from broken families to nomadic lifestyles is one of the great causes of personal and social suffering and of mental dissociation and disease. Somehow we seem to have lost our souls and need to reroot and refind them. Perhaps we are reliving the alchemist’s delusions, projecting our lost soul onto the material world and seeking hopelessly to regain it in the accumulation of consumer goods, possessions, powers, pleasures and ownership in our materialistic culture. Perhaps we can seek reintegration and wholeness following the path of Jung’s archetypes and re-integration of a broken consciousness and becoming re-rooted within our own deeper psyches and unconscious life………..I don’t know………..Yet there is no way to turn back the clock to a simpler imagined arcadia even if we wanted to. And despite all our literary theory and theorizing we know the great lessons given by the great novels of all literatures is that the human person is precious and unique; but we seem unable to set it forth except in terms of ideologies and abstractions, and so the great novels will always emerge idiosyncratically rather than by following any theoretical program………..As far as languages, literatures and nations are concerned there is no way to unglobalize the world………….and there is no way to unglobalize literature even if we had the desire—-as far as I can see as in much of life it is a question of striking a healthy balance or equilibrium between competing valid values– For any given observer, or creative writer even a genuinely global perspective remains a perspective from somewhere—no one can observe the world from nowhere or everywhere and remain human, and global patterns of the circulation of world literature take shape necessarily in their local manifestations ——I am attracted to the expression of Leopold Senghor, the Senegalese leader and poet who was associated with Aime Caesaire in his youth in the negritude or black consciousness movement in France———-yet in later life he tried to strike a balance between both cosmopolitan and African life—-between rootedness and openness————he advised the writer and culture to be rooted in its own soil, people, family, history, even race———–but, be equally open to the whole world and enthusiastically welcoming of the best of that wider world——to live and grow best the plant should be rooted in its own soil but should send out branches, vines and crawlers far and wide in every direction to catch the most nourishing sunlight, not only at home but abroad in the wider and cosmopolitan world———the ideal being to be both individual and universal——–rooted and yet open to the entire world——–rooted in one’s own identity and one’s home and what one belongs to as well as rooted in one’s own personal consciousness and unconsciousness————-as well as the collective consciousness of one’s community and the universal collective conscious and collective unconscious life of humanity and the human spirit——I would hope such an ideal would prove possible——-I am still pursuing it but without much apparent success.”
With that the small circle of friends overheard the proprietor at the bar shouting out over the murmur of the thinning evening crown in high tones “Feierabend”………..”Wir machen Feierabend……….Bitte, Meine Damen und Herren wir machen Feierabend” and the friends realized that they had been talking for several hours without realizing how late it had become. They lingered and continued on with some late small talk and well wishes while every ten minutes the manager intoned above their heads “Feierabend…………………..Feierabend!” and Sartorius had involuntarily called to his mind the echo of the words from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land “Hurry up please…..its time!……..Hurry up please………….its ti-ime!” as the friends wound up their pleasant symposium in Greek fashion by finishing all the bottles of wine and liquor they had liberally ordered. And then, being the last party to exit the restaurant and exchanging hugs and farewells, each returned to their particular lives in their particular direction, traveling apart together in ones or twos and ones again through the fog and darkness of the Berlin evening.
Sartorius raised a small thimble glass of the potent Maotai and offered a toast, first of all to warm friendship, and secondly to Professor Zhou for his kindness in guiding the group through the centuries of Chinese history at the Forbidden City. Yoriko Oe seconded the toast, especially thanking Professor Zhou for his elucidation of the artworks depicting the famous Qing dynasty novel by Cao Xue Qin, the Hong Lou Meng, or the Dream of the Red Chamber.
“I have always loved that novel……” volunteered Yoriko, “…………..Growing up in Japan it is a classic alongside our own great Japanese traditional novels such as the Tale of Genji by Madame Murasaki Shikibu, and as a young girl I was influenced by the love stories of the novel such as the ill fated love of Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu, a fated pair in the tradition of Liang Sanbo and Zhu Yingtai and of Romeo and Juliet in the West.” confided Yoriko further to Professor Zhou.
“Thank you, my dear…..and I have been touched by many of the tragic love stories of Japanese literature, such as the story of Jihei and his Courtesan in the Love Suicides of Chikamatsu Mon’zaemon, probably written around the same time as Cao Xueqin’s great novel, but in that case interestingly enough for the Puppet Theatre in Japan. Pari……I am afraid I am not too knowledgeable about Indian literature, though I should be…seeing what a great influence Indian Buddhist religion and culture have had on China—what are the great love stories of Indian classical literature?” asked Professor Zhou, trying to act the good host by hospitably generating a topic of conversation, literature, that would draw all of the guests into the conversation and make them feel included and appreciated for their contributions.
“Innumerable!…….yes, in Indian literature the love stories are innumerable and of all varieties, as you might well guess from the home of the Kama Sutra! In terms of the Sanskrit classics, there is the Sakuntala of Kalidasa, which begins with the love of the king Dushyanta for the pure and spiritual Sakuntala….. of course the great Ramayana of Valmiki, and every schoolgirl in India grows up with this story as much as she might grow up with Romeo and Juliet in the West, showing the enduring love of Rama for Sita and his rescue of her from the clutches of the villain Ravana. Every good girl in India grows up chanting ‘Always like Sita, never like Ravana!’”
“Yes…..I’m surprised Teddy” interjected Sartorius, using the English first name for Professor Zhou Tieya he had become accustomed to when they worked together as younger men at the United Nations in New York, “……..Teddy I’m surprised you haven’t heard of the Ramayana of Valmiki, as it is the origin of one of the most beloved figures in all Chinese culture, namely Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King in the great fantasy classic of Wu Cheng’en, The Xi You Ji, or The Journey to the West. You may be interested to know that the Monkey King-scout-magician Hanuman in the Ramayana is enlisted to use his magical powers at the service of Lord Rama to defeat the villain Ravana and save Rama’s beloved Sita from abduction and imprisonment on the isle of Ceylon. The figure Hanuman, an embodiment of the heritage of the trickster archetype, was then subsequently reincarnated as the Chinese Monkey King Sun Wukong in the oral storytelling tradition of China concerning the travels of the Chinese monk Xuan Zang with his legendary companions Zhu Bajie the pig, Sha Wujing or Sha Hesheng and Sun Wu Kong journeying to India, along with Bai Ma, their White Horse, to secure and translate Buddhist classical books to return to enlighten Tang Dynasty China, all of which Wu Cheng’en later transformed and used as material for his later book.”
“Well, one is never too old to learn, Robert!….and remember I have been shut up for thirty years in the rather stultifying world of Chinese Foreign Ministry bureaucracy and haven’t had the luxury you have had of a literary career……well, we don’t hear anything of that here, unless you are an expert specialist perhaps……. probably it has been conveniently forgotten by those who would rather believe the Xi You Ji all comes exclusively from our own native national genius……Its like the English who conveniently forget that half of Shakespeare’s stories are gleaned from Plutarch, or reworked Plautus and Aristophanes, and from popular tales from the continent such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet……..similarly Goethe picks up a German folk story…that of Faust…….and refines it into a classic even after it had circulated orally for hundreds of years and been treated by the likes of Marlowe in Elizabethan England…….and you Mohammad, what famous love stories do you have in the Arabic and Islamic tradition of literature?”
“Well, like Pari says of Indian literature, the number of love stories in Arabic, Persian, and other Islamic literatures is beyond counting. But some of the famous and influential ones would include the tale of Layla and Majnoun, also known as Layla and the Madman, attributed to Qays ibn al-Mulawwah in Arabic and reworked in Persian by Nezami Ganjavi. It is a tale of frustrated love where Majnoun, a young poet falls in love with his idol, Layla, who is however promised by her family to marry another richer man. He gives up the vanities of this world yet remains spiritually devoted to Layla. Some people say Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet owed its origin to a Latin translation of Layla and Majnoun circulated in Renaissance Europe…..I don’t know if it is true or not, but it is possible. Of course many in the Islamic world believe that Islamic tradition had more than a little to do with the rise of the Renaissance in Europe, as many of the lost Roman and Greek works of Aristotle, Plato, and many others were recovered after being re-translated from Arabic—-and such philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas openly declared their debt to Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina—called Averroes and Avicenna in the West—and not a little of the Troubadours and Minnisinger traditions might well be traced to the secular and divine love poetry of Al Andalus. But the celebrated Arabic and Islamic poets and writers associated with love in its endless variations would beggar enumeration, including the greats such as Abu-Nawas—associated with the adventures and dissipations of the legendary Caliph of Baghdad Harun al-Rashid, Ibn Zaydun of Al Andalus and his love of Wallada, Ibn-al Rumi……we have the great love poets writing the ghazal…a beautiful form of lyric poetry carried over into Persian lyric by later writers such a Hafiz……….of course you have the poet associated with ‘wine, women and song’ in the West, Omar Kayyam and the Rubiyaat…..and if you want something to compare with Pari’s Kama Sutra, or the Chinese bawdy Jin Ping Mei, you can always refer to the Perfumed Garden, of Sheik Nefzaoui as translated by Sir Richard Burton, and the immortal love stories that are embedded in such works as the Thousand and One Nights, so I hardly know where to begin and where to stop!”
“Yes, it is eternal and endless in all literatures” followed Sartorius, “ …..in the West we have the loves of the mortals and Gods in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Art of Love, Sappho, Capellanus, Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan, Abelard and Heloise, Dante’s Beatrix and the Vita Nuova, Petrarch’s Laura, Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, Horace’s Pyrra, Byron’s tales of Don Juan, Lady Chatterly and Her Lover from D.H. Lawrence, and it goes on endlessly……”
“Yes, Robert and Günter Gross and I had a good long discussion in Berlin a few months ago on their concept of World Literature——Robert and Günter are working up a joint book on it—–and we started out from the vastness and richness of the world’s literary traditions that make up the common heritage of mankind——they are trying to develop a world canon to fulfill Goethe’s dream of a Weltliteratur, or Matthew Arnold’s vision of literature and criticism making accessible to the peoples of the world ‘the best that has been thought and felt in all the world’—-joining it up with an internationalization of T.S. Eliot’s Tradition, Marx and Engel’s vision of a World Literature in the Communist Manifesto and other approaches by sharing the national traditions through shared touchstone classics, masterpieces and ‘window on the world’ books globally.”
“Oh, really?” interjected Yoriko, “I find that really interesting as I always feel my own education has been really bad for understanding the cultures, history and literatures of other peoples, especially as I’ve gotten involved in the Parliamentary Assembly work and am thrown into contact with so many people from so many different lands I don’t know much about…….I am always trying to dig myself out of a hole of ignorance…….but there is so much!………anyway Robert I would like to hear about your ideas of what should be included in World Literature and how to put together the traditions from many different civilizations——if you were to outline what the minimum an educated person should try to read as a foundation to be a literate citizen of the modern world what would it be?—I mean we hear about the clash of civilizations—what should we read to understand the major civilizations of the modern world and their literatures to make our civilizations more likely to ‘clasp’ than to ‘clash’?”
“Well that’s a big order Yoriko—-I think we all need a basic minimum acquaintance with the major cultural traditions of the world and that includes the best touchstones of the major literatures and literary traditions of the world——-perhaps a few scholars can become truly expert and writers and cultural workers can attain an intermediate familiarity with the canon, but every educated person needs a minimum familiarity-we need that just to function in the modern world and we need to rebuild our schools’ and universities’ curricula to make them truly international and global in perspective—as V.S. Naipaul puts it—part of our ‘Universal Civilization’——-our work in the Committee is an extreme case in point but most people work in multi-national companies or their work touches people from hundreds of countries and several civilizations—and they need to be able to understand multiple civilizations and their manifold and various ways of looking at the world as well as, ——as Matthew Arnold says, to have access to ‘the best that has been thought and felt in the world’ to best realize their personal development.
“So you ask—–what should be included as World Literature——what should we put in the global canon?—or really what should we identify as being part of the canon that already exists embedded and interwoven in the cultures, consciousness and archetypal unconscious of the cultures and peoples of humanity—we don’t and can’t put it there by fiat by putting it in an anthology if its not there inchoately already—-I think we have to move beyond a few token contemporary writers from a few continents for international marketing spice and seriously seek to become familiar with the classics and masterpieces that have shaped the cultural heritages of the major civilizations for centuries down to their outlooks at the present time—–and the important thing is to see them in global perspective at the various stages of their common development not just in cultural isolation or as superficial literary boutique consumer niche products in a contemporary global marketplace——I mean here in China naturally everybody has some familiarity with Lao Zi and Confucius, but few understand them in comparison to Aristotle and Plato, the Buddha and others worldwide of the same era or cultural and literary development ………………
“So I would say we need to look at the ancient and classical literature across the board as well as the modern—–in the West for most ordinary people the foundational text is the Bible, and for the more educated this is supplemented by the Hellenic and Roman classics, The Iliad and Odyssey, the Aeneid and other accounts of the origin and creation of the human race, and of one’s own people. And I mean we need to comprehend them regardless of religious belief, since even if one is an atheist or agnostic these works still remain the foundational texts of our cultures. Some cultures have a sacred book and some an epic narrative. When we read Genesis in the Bible, we should also read The Sacrifice of Primal Man from the Rig Veda, which is also the origin of Chinese legends such as Pan Gu, and other myths of origin such as the Babylonian and Memphite Theogonies, the Egyptian Pyramid Texts of Unas and the Book of the Dead—and add in the accounts of the Popul Vuh of the Mayas. We need to widen this vision of the ancient and classical common heritage of mankind to include classics such as the Theogony of Hesiod, Hymns of the Rig Veda, the Enuma Elish, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. From India we need to include the Ramayana of Valmiki, a bit of the Mahabarata of Vyasa and the Bhagavad Gita, a bit of the Upanishads and Ashvaghosha, and some familiarity with the Sanskrit classics such as Kalidasa’s Sakuntala…and some of the Tamil tradition such as Hala and Amaru….From the Chinese tradition every educated person in the world should be familiar with and have the possibility of saying something intelligent about the major classics—the Shi Jing—Book of Songs—similar to our own Song of Songs from the Bible—the Analects of Confucius, Dao De Jing of Lao Zi, –Zhuangzi—-and historians such as Sima Qian, the Shi Ji, Records of the Historian—similar to our Herodtodus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Tacitus and Seutonius—not to mention some of the later novels recreating the historical past, such as the San Guo Yan Yi, Romance of the Three Kingdoms—From the Arabic and Islamic tradition of course everyone should read the Koran—it’s really not very long after all—and seventy percent of its content is shared with or a recapitualation of the Old and New Testaments—–but most outside people are ignorant of it—–and we and those in Islam should read the pre-Islamic literature of Babylon, of Zoroaster in Persia and of Egypt. For poetry Archilikos, Sappho, Pindar, Chu Yuan, Horace, Catullus, Ovid, the great playwrights—Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comic Aristophanes. For the sacred we need Augustine’s Confessions and for Pari to keep him awake we have Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra! What do you think Teddy, anything else we should have from China or elsewhere?”
“Well if we are talking about the Chinese ancient classics we could put in the I Jing, Book of Changes——we have other creation myths besides Pan Gu, such as Hou Yi and Nu Wa, but I am not sure if they belong just in our own national literature or in World Literature. It seems to me we can’t put in everything from every nation, and who could ever read it all except a professional scholar? I think we need to limit it to those things which are absolutely foundational to their own civilization’s culture such that those inside or outside those cultures cannot understand them without them or things which are unique enough to be of interest and give new ideas or perspectives to the peoples of the world as a whole.—-I think scholars and the most accomplished writers or literati, wen ren as we say here in China, citizens of the Republic of Letters, can have a go at reading them or about them in the course of a lifetime, and ordinary educated people should at least have a passing familiarity with their existence and possible meaning, even if they haven’t read them. “ reflected Professor Zhou Tie Ya.
“Ok, that might do for the ancient world from a global perspective,” continued Sartorius, “……..Next when we get to the Medieval Era I think we begin to see the dominance of the Arabic and Islamic worlds, along with that of Tang Dynasty China, and the beginnings of great contributions from Japan, Yoriko, and the West needs to surrender pride of place and open its field of vision, —–kai yan jie, as we say here in China and include more from them in the global World Literature canon. It may well be that in the Western Dark Ages the cultural centers of the world were more in Baghdad and Changan or perhaps Kyoto than in Rome or Paris. In terms of lyric poetry every citizen of the world should have at least a passing familiarity with the great Tang Dynasty poets, Li Bai (Li Bo), Du Fu, Wang Wei and Bai Juyi—-uniting and emphasizing in varying individual degrees the three major cultural traditions of medieval China—Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism—and such later scholars as Zhu Xi, who like St. Thomas Aquinas sought to integrate a Neo-classical perspective including and integrating both the two religious and the secular-cultural traditions. For specialists maybe Tao Qian and Cao Pi….What do you think Teddy?….anything else from medieval China?”
“Well, maybe Li Yu and Li Qingzhao for song lyric, Lu Ji and Liu Xie for discussions of the nature of literature, or What is Literature?—–writers that focus on the experience of women of the era—-Liu Xiang, Ban Zhao, Yuan Cai and others—-it all depends on where and how you want to draw the line.” said Professor Zhou, hospitably refilling everyone’s glass with Mao Tai or fruit juice.
“Ok. —Now here is where I will need some of your help, Mohammad, Mustafa and Yoriko…..I think here is where there is a great contribution by Islamic and Japanese literature, and maybe you can supplement my knowledge in these areas…….lets make this a collective effort to pool our minds here—-I’ll make some notes and it can be our collective project for the afternoon……….Ok. I would say from the ‘Medieval period’, if we can meaningfully translate that term originally of Western periodization into a more or less useful global marker—-and I still feel it makes useful sense at the global level, though imperfect, given the global similarities of historical and literary development, I would say at a minimum, as I said before, every really educated person anywhere in the world ought to read the Koran just as they ought to read the Bible—minimally Genesis and the Pentateuch, Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, at least one of the four Gospels and Revelations, and the famous Sutras of the Buddhist tradition such as the Fire Sermon. In addition a bit of the Hadith, or stories of Mohammad’s life is necessary—–on the poetic side I think we need to include some familiarity with Abu-Nawas, Al Buhturi, Ibn al-Rumi, and with Goethe I would enthusiastically include in our East-West Divan the name and poetry of Hafiz, and most mandatory on the prose side is at least partial familiarity with the Alf Layla wa Layla, Thousand and One Nights. I would also include the Parliament of Fowls, by Farid al-din al-Attar, and from Persian at a minimum the Shahnama, Book of Kings by Firdawsi. Ok. Mohammad, Mustafa, what is important that I have left out?”
Mohammad looked at Mustafa and tried to think for a few moments, collecting his thoughts. Then he started in “I would say from the point of view of understanding Islamic traditions of Sufism, Asceticism and Wisdom we could put in Al Hallaj and Ibn Arabi. Other important Muslim writers of the time would include Jalal Al-din Rumi in poetry and in prose Al-Jahiz—his works such as the Book of Misers, Book of the Singing Girls, and Man is a Microcosm-–these would be important. And you could include an early Arabic woman poetess Al-Khansa—If you go to al-Andalus—that is the Medieval culture of what is now modern Spain, Portugul and Iberia—then you have a special case where you have a meeting of three worlds—Muslim, Christian and Jewish—and you have such writers as Maimonides, with his Guide for the Perplexed, the Mozarabic Kharjas, a Romance vernacular, Ibn Rushd, Yehuda Ha-Levi, Dom Dinis, King of Portugul and Solomon Ibn Gabriol—and I think we can’t ignore Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa which might or might not be included under Islamic literature—but there maybe we need to take in oral traditions where there was no written language, and I don’t know how to do that, but from the Islamic sub-Saharan Africa point of view we should include the Epic of Son Jara, from the Malinke Empire of the Mali around the 1300’s—–but I am not sure how we decide what is of historical and local interest and what would be of global interest—-I’m just beginning to think of these matters, though I have been interested in literature for a long time——– Mustafa—what do you think?”
“Well literature is not my strongest point. I don’t know if you would count it as literature or philosophy, but in my mind the great Islamic writers of the era would include Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn al-Arabi—I think in the West you refer to them as Averroes and Avicenna—-“ said Mustafa, a bit embarrassed by his lack of poetic background.
“All right now its your turn Yoriko, since you started us on all this you will have to help us on the classical side of Japanese literature in the later Medieval Era, a period when Japan is coming of age on the world stage.” intoned Sartorius with a smile and appreciation for sharing in her feminine warmth as relief after so much intellectualism.
“Cherchez la femme…..” joked Yoriko. “Ok. You begin and I will try to think of anything else.”
“Well from the world perspective I would say there should be general interest in of course The Tale of Genji, by Madame Murasaki Shikibu, arguably the first novel in world literature some six hundred years before Don Quixote, and not to mention both a wonderful contribution to understanding the world of women in the medieval court and a very early precursor contribution, like that of Dante to Italian vernacular literature, to the rise of the Vernacular Revolution which will impact the West after the Renaissance and Reformation, —and impact China after the May 4 Movement after WWI led by Hu Shi and Lu Xun. Another remarkable woman writer would include Sei Shonagon and The Pillowbook. To that I would add the works of Zeami, the father of the Noh Drama, and the Tales of the Heike, historical and personal narrative. Now Yoriko, what would you add from Japan in the medieval era”
“Well Robert, I think you got the big ones,” she offered smilingly “….lets see….if you want to add to the myths of origin to read alongside Genesis, Pan Gu and the Rig Veda’s Primal Man you could include the Kojiki, Record of Ancient Matters, and you have the Man’Yoshu, Collection of Myriad Leaves, written by many Emperors and others educated in the Classical Chinese tradition. There are accounts of Buddhist experience and enlightenment, such as The Account of the Ten-Foot-Square Hut by Kamo No Chomei, and The Lady Who Preferred Insects and other lovely stories…….I really can’t remember all of them, its been a long time since I was in school!”
“Alright, if you don’t mind I will pick your brains a bit and write down a few notes for me to follow up on later”—Sartorius added, “…..now let me see, from the Western perspective I can speak for our canon and say we need to include of course Dante, and the Divina Commedia—Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso for the classical Christian worldview of the Middle Ages, Abelard and Heloise, then the Troubadors and Trobairitz and Minnisingers—-Walther von der Vogelweide, Bertran de Born, Marie de France, and the English Romance classics—Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—-then we need the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, Mystery, Miracle and Morality Plays such as Everyman and The Play of Adam, Mystical writing such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard von Bingen and Mechthild von Magdeburg, then perhaps François Villon to balance it off on the worldly side.
“All right I have written some notes on the Medieval Era, which then takes us on to the time of the Western Renaissance, or sometimes generalized to the Early Modern Period. So here we have of course the classics of the Renaissance, Shakespeare, John Donne, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia in England, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, arguably the first Western novel, and Lope de Vega in Spain, Erasmus in the Netherlands, Camoes and the Lusiads in Portugul, Montaigne, the father of the essay, and Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel in France, then of course the origins of the Renaissance in Italy with Petrarch and the sonnet, Canzoniere, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Macchiavelli’s The Prince, perhaps some religious writers such as Martin Luthur, St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, —–and I think here we need to include the Vernacular Revolution—the switch from Latin to national languages in Europe—Luthur, the King James Bible, Montaigne…we could include Milton—Paradise Lost and other sonnets as very late Renaissance or perhaps the following era…..all right that would do it for the West……..well I think if Baghdad and Changan were the dominant cultural centers in the Medieval Era then with the Renaissance and Reformation pride of place comes back to the West…….every dog has his day as we say!……So Pari, what would you say for India during the Renaissance Age in the West?”
“Well Robert, you mentioned the Vernacular Revolution in the West and the shift to use of the national vernacular in place of the classical languages of Latin and Greek. Of course this didn’t only happen in the West, and in some places, such as Japan’s Tale of Genji, it happened a good deal earlier, maybe a half a millennium, though perhaps more in the womanly world excluded from classical Chinese written culture and relegated to the use of the more ‘lowly’ Japanese vernacular. But in India we also had some of the same phenomenon—-vernacular writing in the Indian Subcontinent would include Basavanna, Mahadeviyakka and the great poet of tolerance, Kabir. I think Kabir would be a good candidate for his reasoned tolerance in relations between Islam and Hindu traditions in India, as would reference to Akbar the Great, the enlightened Muslim Mogul sultan.
“Ok—-now here in China and reflecting the vernacular storytelling tradition we would necessarily include the Xi You Ji, by Wu Cheng En, the creator of the beloved Sun Wu Kong Monkey King and his companions Xuan Zang, Zhu Ba Jie, Tang Zeng and the White Horse seen every day in cartoons and films here……
“Though we don’t have a Latin American representative here—–we’ll have to talk to Anna Maria next time we see her—–we should include something of the traditions prior to Columbus, such as the Popul Vuh, The Mayan Council Book, which includes some myths of origin like our Genesis like the tales of Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and the Songs of the Aztec nobility preserved from Nahuatl—-and some accounts of the discovery and conquest—Columbus, Bartholome de las Casas, Bernal Diaz—-and the remarkable woman Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz……..
“All right……now the plot thickens as we get closer to the modern era and we get a lot more activity on all sides….so if we look at the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries from a global perspective we need to appreciate the resurgence of the Islamic world in the great Ottoman and Mughal Empires as well as the Enlightenment in Europe. So I would include Mughal writers such as rulers Akbar, Babur and Jahangir, and writers such as Mirza Muhammad Rafi ‘Sauda’ and his wonderful prose Satires—-like our Juvenal or Samuel Johnson in spirit, and Mir Muhammad Taqi, and add Banarasidas…..then we need the Ottoman greats, Mihri Khatun, one of the great Ottoman woman poetesses, Fuzuli, and Nedim, poet laureate to the Ottoman Sultan as well as the honourable mention of Lady Mary Wortly Montagu, wife of the British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte and noted writer……..and here we probably need to include the genre of travel writing or memoirs of exploration and include Evliya Celebi, sometimes called the Turkish Marco Polo.”
“Well, wouldn’t you also need to include the real Marco Polo then?” queried Andreas, who was just then pouring out an additional thimble glass of Mao Tai for himself and Yoriko, offering up a private toast between the two.
“Yes, I suppose we would, I guess I had forgotten that…..assuming Marco Polo really existed, which a recent book disputes, but I would agree that he really did exist and that he should be included as having brought about a major shift of global consciousness that would make him of enduring interest as well as ushering in an exploration of intercultural consciousness relevant to our own times.” conceded Sartorius.
Here Mustafa sat bolt upright and for the first time made a heated contribution to the discussion——“You Westerners talk about your Marco Polo but you have left out an even greater traveler—-the great Muslim explorer, Islamic judge and adventurer Ibn Battuta. Marco Polo went from Venice to China and back——allright, but Ibn Battuta around the same era traveled from Tangiers in the west of Africa to Mecca, then to the Sultanate of Delhi in Mughal India, where he served as an Islamic judge and scholar, and then to Indonesia and China, rivaling Marco Polo there, then back to his home in Tangiers and southward into Africa. In all he traveled far more extensively than Marco Polo and his writings were more extensive. I think your list is a little bit culturally biased in favour of the West, and maybe in favour of all the big countries and empires.”
“Well Mustafa, I will have to concede your point on Ibn Battuta—-he certainly belongs in the canon if Marco Polo does, though both would come in earlier than Celebi of the Ottomans—-in the Medieval period. As to bias……it is probably partially true…..but once again we are the prisoners of history……there may have been many great poems and writings which did not survive or become known because their languages had no writing or their peoples were conquered, in part our goal is to record which writings were influential enough to shape historical and modern consciousness through their shaping of enduring local traditions and which had and still have impacts of global importance—-that inevitably reflects the sometimes sad reality that, as often has been observed that history is written by the victors, and literature and its masterpieces and classics are often preserved and disseminated by the victors or shapers of the modern world, which then become the common touchstones of global culture and consciousness. Marx would talk in terms of the intellectual superstructure reflecting the inescapable material, economic and historical circumstances of its material foundation and substrate including its inequities as well as its glories. I don’t think we can undo history, though we have some obligation to look for works of true excellence that may have been bypassed and raise them for consideration. Literature like politics has to deal with the world as it is as well as the world as it ideally ought to be, and we need to pay appropriate attention to both, including both writings that have shaped history and and the historical formation of consciousness, such as Voltaire and Rousseau’s works leading to the French Revolution as well as Sir Thomas More’s Utopia or Plato’s Republic, which have never been realized, or works of spiritual aspiration and solace. But I think we need to include those works which have really had a real and deep long-term global impact on society, history, and consciousness, and which have actually circulated between civilizations to become the common touchstones and points of reference in a globalized world, regardless of whether they overrepresent dominant nations, segments of society, genders, or the larger nations as opposed to the smaller. And we ultimately have the microcosmic economic problem of the limited time of individual life for reading and the limited capacity for attention and absorption—-ultimately limiting the practical size of the canon to that which is humanly readable and digestable. I would think the criteria would be how the writings have shaped the world and its consciousness in reality, and also the canon would include works of unique excellence or uniqueness of imaginative vision, or perhaps those which embody Archetypes recurring universally, that could also shape the future as well as represent the past. All of this is highly arguable and there may be different possible standards and approaches. I think we ought to include Classics or works that are culturally foundational, Masterpieces or works of unique literary excellence that open new powers of mind and imagination, and also “Windows on the World” books and writings that give us unique and unanticipated perspectives on our collective and individual experience, which supplementally can sometimes include underrepresented or previously ignored social segments where they have true literary quality and merit. I think we also want to avoid “presentism” or an over-emphasis on the contemporary at the expense of past ages so that we can learn from their varied perspectives—-though ultimately the criteria should be pragmatic and flexible—–Literature should be a resource that in fact enables us to derive power and advantages of understanding and insight that will enhance our total ability to live deeply, richly and meaningfully—-the ultimate criterion is ‘does it strengthen our capacity for life or not?’—–and at the level of World Literature that translates into does it strengthen the global capacity for enhanced life at the level of the individual reader, the national and the international global human community?——but I think there is no way to avoid controversy on all of these matters.”
“And if we were making a collection of great travels and explorations in the tradition of Columbus, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and Celebi, as a Chinese I would also root for the inclusion of Zheng He, the great Chinese admiral who sailed from China to India and to Africa at the same time the Forbidden City was constructed here in Beijing—-1421 or so. His ships were ten times the size of Columbus’s and he had thousands of troops in his Treasure Fleet.—-There was even a British book based on old maps and records that claims he might have sailed to America before Columbus—-though I think it highly unlikely—-but I guess the problem here is that he left no significant writings, though some logs of his sailors have survived, so perhaps he is a hero of naval navigation more than of world literature.” patriotically interjected Professor Zhou, downing his thimble of Mao Tai.
“But you know…” interjected Mustafa, “Zheng He was also a Muslim, his father had been a Haji and had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, as had his grandfather and they had informed Zheng He of many of the aspects of travel there. He was a sixth-generation descendant of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a famous Khwarezmian Yuan dynasty Muslim governor of Yunnan Province. If we celebrate Zheng He deservedly as a Chinese we should also celebrate him as a son of Islam, and many of his navigational techniques were derived from Muslim knowledge of travel on the Hajj to Mecca of his father and others before he was taken from Yunnan to be a eunuch at the Imperial Court, and later from the Muslim sailing community in Quanzhou and Hangzhou, which regularly sailed from India and the Middle-East to China in those days.”
“Yes it would be interesting to speculate what the modern world would look like if in fact it had been Zheng He and the Chinese who had discovered and colonized America instead of Columbus…..undoubtedly much different than the present one, and maybe we would all be speaking Chinese instead of English today!…….But back to our little project…..For you Yoriko, we will include your beloved Love Suicides at Amijima, from the puppet theatre of Chikamatsu Mon’Zaemon, and we will include Ihara Saikaku’s, Japan’s Eternal Storehouse, sort of a Japanese Benjamin Franklin of sorts……….
“And for you and China, Teddy, we will include the great novel of the Qing dynasty—-the one we saw painted on the walls of the Forbidden City a while ago—-the Hong Lou Meng, by Cao Xue Qin—the classic story of the decline of the Jia family and the loves of Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu beloved even today in China. Anything else Teddy?
“Well, traditionally in China we have “the Four Greats” when we think of novels—–I guess it’s a Chinese disease to number these things this way—-the Four Great Inventions of China—Paper, Gunpower, Compass, and Printing—-though Gutenberg might dispute the fourth—–and we have the Four Yes’s and the Five No’s and the Three Represents and this sort of thing—-but every Chinese would consider the four great Chinese novels to be the Hong Lou Meng, or Dream of the Red Chamber, the San Guo Yan Yi, or Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a historical novel including the famous national tales of great generals such as Zhu Ge Liang, the Xi You Ji, or Journey to the West by Wu Cheng En, which we have already included and the Shui Hu Quan, or Romance of the Water Margin, also translated by Pearl Buck as All Men Are Brothers, or as Outlaws of the Marsh, classic tales of the rebel outlaws that are at the core of Chinese culture—–and if we want to throw in a bit of the licentious for Pari here and his Kama Sutra, then we could include the Jin Ping Mei, our semi-pornographic classic, sometimes included under the table as the fifth great book.” contributed Professor Zhou Tie Ya, holding a cup of Oolong tea in his hand and smoking a cigarette.
“All right that would point us next to the European Enlightenment as really the pivot of world history that is going to change the world globally—–and here we can follow a guideline that we want to include those writers and works that have had a truly global impact, a global circulation between cultures, and have become global touchstones for ideas and sensibilities, all of which necessarily, perhaps unequally but unavoidably, shifts the focus onto the West as the modern shapers and integrators of the modern world, for better or for worse.——–All right for the Enlightenment we would give pride of place to France and focus on Moliere and his satires—School for Wives, Hypocrite, Misanthrope, etc., Voltaire and his Candide no doubt, something from Rousseau, Diderot and Montesquieu, then Aphra Behn’s Oronoko, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women, and Pope, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels from Britain, Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and Age of Reason, Jefferson and Franklin from America. Then to widen our genres a bit I would include Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, creator of the anti-hero Don Juan, later taken up by Byron.—–and once again just for the spice of sex and the spirit of liberty, and to keep the young men from falling asleep over this ponderous tome, we can include some poems of the Earl of Rochester!” quipped Sartorius.
“Excellent” lilted Pari in his high-toned melodic Subcontinental accent, “……my idol for one-handed reading in high school, though maybe I have outgrown him…….or at least a little….one of the legacies of the Raj which appealed to my repressed native Indian sensualism”
“So then Yoriko, what else can we include from Japan at this stage—17th and 18th Centuries” gentlemanly bringing Yoriko into the conversation, who had seemed to be getting lost in making eyes and sharing Mao Tais with Andreas, who also was understandably not focused on the literary conversation for the moment.
“Well for Pari…..we Asian women don’t want to let down our young men in the area of sensual love…we do have our Geisha traditions to uphold!…I would nominate Ihara Saikaku’s Life of a Sensuous Woman, and to borrow something from the Chinese sphere I would add TsangYang Gyatso, a bit for Pari from The Love Poems of the Sixth Dalai Lama!” sallied Yoriko, looking for the level of response in Andreas’ smiling eyes as evidently they were drawing closer.
“Oh, I am really being corrupted and spoiled by you all!” cracked Pari, “I am really going to have to blame it all on you if my Mother pulls me on the carpet for going to seed morally!”
“Then we better throw in Philosophy in the Boudoir and the Cingt-Vingt Jour du Sodom of the Marquis de Sade and the Perfumed Garden for you Pari—–no half-measures!—-if you are going to be punished anyway you had better get in all the fun beforehand to make it worth your while!” drolly remarked Andreas in a sally of persiflage—–and to keep up with and gently heighten the building sensual tension with Yoriko, smiling back into her eyes.
“Oh, and if you are going to include a section on famous travelers’ writings, then you can include Matsuo Basho, and his Book of Travels chronicling his wanderings and search for spiritual purity in the mountains and remote regions of Japan’s north.” added Yoriko, trying not to make her fixation on Andreas too obvious.
“Right!—-that would do it for the Enlightenment—–now lets see if we can complete our little project with the 19th and 20th Centuries——now it becomes harder because of the great outpouring of work down to modern times.” observed Sartorius………Now for the 19th Century we would have the age of Romanticism in Europe North America———let’s see……we would then need Wordsworth and Coleridge of course, Lyrical Ballads and the Prelude, Kubla Kahn in honour of our host China, Byron’s Don Juan to go with Mozart and Da Ponte, Pushkin of course, Eugene Onegin,—-good now we are getting some of the Russians in though Pushkin like Goethe evolved into a Classicist from Romanticism——–we could add Lermontov—Mickiewicz from Poland too—Blake, Keats and Shelley from England, Leopardi from Italy, and Emerson, Poe, Whitman and Thoreau from the Transcendentalist and American branch of the Romantic family. Then there is the Romantic fascination with folk tales and fairy tales, so we would include something of earlier times Aesop, Panchatantra and the Pali Jatakas from the subcontinent, Grimm, Perrault, Joel Chandler Harris, maybe something from American Indian lore—the Coyote Tales and Trickster Tales for archetypes, Then of course the immortal Goethe—novels and Faust I & II.” mapped out Sartorius, writing down his notes in his leather notebook, “Now Muhammad, who would you nominate from the Islamic world for the early 19th Century?”
“Well, this one I would need to share with Pari, namely Ghalib, who mostly lived in the declining Muslim Mughal court in the days of the rise of the British Raj and wrote in Persian and Urdu, especially ghazal poetry,–themes of wine, women and song and the fleetingness of life, religious doubt and melancholy—-he was a sort of Muslim Byron if you will.” volunteered Muhammad.
“ Ok, that will do it for the moment for the early 19th Century, then lets go on and map out the late 19th Century—-what we call the Victorian age in British literary history. From France we would need Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal, Flaubert, Hugo, Balzac; the Symbolists—Mallarme, Verlaine, Rimbaud now we begin to get the great Russians—-Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, War and Peace—Dostoyevsky—Notes from the Underground, Madman, Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Chekov, Gogol—–From England Dickens, George Eliot, Thackary, Matthew Arnold’s criticism;—–From America Melville, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Henry James……Pari, what do you say for India……….?”
“Well Robert, I think into the 19th Century we begin to get the rise of English studies in India that will make writing in English a part of the Indian literary scene in the 20th Century—-towards the tail end of the 19th of course we then have Rabindranath Tagore, who wins the Nobel Prize and becomes a fixture in the Indian literary universe until the Second World War.”
“Good” added Sartorius, “and Yoriko?”
“Well, we are also dealing with the incursion of Western culture at this time, reflected in the works of Hattori Busho such as The Western Peep-Show, Higuchi Ichiro and Okakura Kakuzo’s The Cup of Humanity.”
“Teddy?” added Sartorius, glancing over to Professor Zhou Tie Ya, who had sunken into his own thoughts for a spell.
“Well, likewise we are encountering the West and Western culture with the First and Second Opium Wars and semi-colonization under the late Qing. Here I would nominate The Travels of Lao Can by Liu E, and I think we ought not to forget our neighbor Vietnam and the writings of Nguyen Du, which also draw on Chinese tradition as well. “
“Yes,” added Andreas, “….I think just thinking off the top of our head like this we are apt to forget the contributions of the writers from the smaller countries which make a mark globally but which are not included in the big national traditions—-Mickiewicz from Poland, you mentioned, but also Sarmiento and Ruben Dario from Latin America, American Indians such as Hathali Nez and Ohiyesa, Machado de Assiz of Brazil, of course Ibsen and Strindberg, Dionysios Solomos and many others from our smaller European countries are routinely ignored.”
“Right-O!” Sartorius intoned in a fake-British accent, “allright now lets try to crack the hardest nut of all—–the Modern Age—–the 20th to 21st Centuries down to the present—–there is so, so much and so much of the previously dormant world has begun actively contributing so its hard to choose and hard to design any meaningful criteria, but let’s give it the old college try—–OK, here goes——I would say the 20th Century begins with the march of the new “isms” so I would focus first on the “Manifestos” of the modern era—–Of course I would start with Marinetti and the Futurist Manifesto, Then Tristan Tzarza’s Unpretentions Proclamation for Dada, Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, Mina Loy for the Feminists, and Oswald Andrade’s Cannibalist Manifesto, Ezra Pound for the Imagists, and finally for China here, we have Hu Shi’s Some Modest Proposals for the Reform of Literature, which instituted the Bai Hua Movement along with the May 4 movement, with the goal of carrying out the Vernacular Revolution in China by writing literature in the ordinary speech of the people rather than the literary scholar’s Wen Yan Wen—-its goal was making literature the voice of the people rather than just the voice of the educated literati. Any others you can think of from your perspectives?”
“Yes, from the Japanese perspective I would add something……” volunteered Yoriko, “I would add Yokomitsu Riichi’s manifesto for the Sensation and New Sensation Movement. Maybe this is a bit difficult to explain, but it is a bit like Zen Imagisme—-the goal of literature to propagate a sudden shock of intuition, a Satori moment or ‘spot in time’ that becomes a flash of insight.”
And Andreas, perhaps to amplify Yoriko’s energy and keep up the flow of tension towards seduction, jumped upon her words with a suggestion of his own, saying “Yes, and we should not forget the Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art, put forward in Mexico City jointly by Andre Breton, Leon Trotsky, and Diego Rivera……..setting out a free and revolutionary role for the artist in modern society.”
“Now then……to begin with we would need Joseph Conrad…Heart of Darkness and Preface to the Nigger of Narcissus, then the mainstream Modernists, James Joyce—Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake—though nobody could ever get through it!–D. H. Lawrence—Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterly, the Rainbow and Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, Proust—A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Andrey Bely—Peterburg, Pasternak-Zhivago, Borges, Andre Gide, Nabokov, Camus, Sartre, Kipling,……for Poetry T.S. Eliot-Prufrock, Wasteland, Four Quartets, William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound—The Cantos, Garcia Lorca, Odysseus Elytis, Wallace Stevens, Anna Akhmatova, C.P. Cavafy, Osip Mandalstam, Rilke—the Duino Elegies, Neruda, Mayakovsky, Czesalw Miloc, Montale, Pessoa, for drama O’Neill, Shaw, Beckett–Godot, Pinter, Brecht, Miller, Ionesco, Pirandello—Six Characters in Search of an Author, throw in Tom Stoppard and Sam Sheppard for new and modern voices, then we would need Naguib Mahfouz from Egypt, V.S. Naipaul, Solzhenitzen, Günter Grass, Doris Lessing, Derek Walcott, Hermann Hesse, Saul Bellow, from Africa we would need Achebe—Things Fall Apart, Soyinka—Death and the King’s Horsemen, Cesaire and Senghor, Gordimer, Coetzee, from China we would need at a minimum Lu Xun, and from Japan at a minimum Akutagawa Ryunusuke, Junichiro Tanizaki, Yasunare Kawabata….from Latin America—Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz, Vargas Llosa…from India….Salman Rushdie…..OK, those would seem the obvious ones…….now lets open the floor for other nominations………Teddy?
“Well as to modern Chinese writers considered great, you already have Lu Xun and Hu Shi of the May 4 Movement, of course, then the moderns would include Ba Jin—-Jia, Lao She—Cha Guan, or the Teahouse, Cao Yu for drama, Guo Moruo, Mao Dun—Midnight, Zhang Ai Ling, Shen Congwen, and of course Gao Xing Jian, though the government doesn’t recognize him as Chinese anymore because of Tian An Men even with the Nobel Prize…Bei Dao is included in some of the newer anthologies but the quality is disputed……the trouble is not a lot of these writers have any international currency……they are famous in China but don’t have a big international footprint, so I don’t know if you can include them in World Literature or not.”
“ Well some Japanese voices would include Yosano Akiko, Yukio Mishima, and if I am not accused of nepotism, we can include Kenzaburo Oe—best known for A Personal Matter in light of the Nobel Prize——new voices might include Shizuko Todo, who writes on the psychology of women, and Kazuo Ishiguro, half British now—famous for Remains of the Day is a strong candidate, Haruko Murakami is known—especially for Norwegian Wood—but is controversial as to seriousness, and we have some pop voices like Banana Yoshimoto ”
“Well, we could include Nazim Hikmet—and Orhan Pamuk—who won the Nobel Prize from Turkey, Adonis, Ali Ahmad Sa’id from Syria, Assia Djebar of Algeria, Mariama Ba of Senegal, Fadwa Tuqan, Mahmoud Darwish, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Reza Baraheni, Abdelrahman Munif and many others……….they are some of the new voices from the Muslim world, maybe they have not made such a big global impact yet but they may in the future, Inshalla!” said Muhammad, struggling to pick up some seasoned peanuts with a set of chopsticks.
Well in terms of the Subcontinent I would include Premchand—My Big Brother, there are innumerable writers from the last century—-Salman Rushdie—Midnight’s Children you already have—having won the Booker of Bookers, others of note as new voices who may develop into major authors in future might include R. K. Narayan, Vikram Seth, Mahasweta Devi—The Breast Giver, Arundhati Roy, Raja Rao, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Chandra, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Ruskin Bond and Bharati Mukherjee. Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Arvind Adiga have all won Bookers.
“Well, to tell you the truth I worry more about whether we have too much fiction in our lives rather that too little. Modern life is so mediated—we vicariously and passively spend so much or our lives watching movies, television, listening and dancing to canned music—we spend too little time living, being, creating and experiencing…….Real experience is hard to find, though fiction isn’t. It’s a kind of life in falsetto.”
“Fiction False…..?” introjected Sartorius, “Yes, perhaps, but not an entirely bad thing either: Fiction, or art, is the lie that tells the truth!”
“Cute…..” retorted Andreas, “…..but I think half the bourgiouse world has abdicated living for vicarious tittilations and would be better off to, as they say, ‘get a life.’”
“Points well taken—but do you have a contribution for our little collective effort here, Andreas?” continued Sartorius.
“Well we don’t have anybody here from Latin America—so I suppose I should stand in to mention a few candidates who come to mind—–Julio Cortazar—Hopscotch, Carlos Fuentes, new voices such as Paolo Coehlo, Isabel Allende, Rigoberto Menchu—and the Nobels Alejo Carpentier, and Asturias.————If I presume to speak for Africa, then names that have an international impact would include Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Alan Paton from South Africa—Cry Beloved Country, Nigeria’s Ben Okri, and many others.”
“Oh My God!—we’ve lost track of the time!—-we need to get out of here if we are to get back to Tsinghua and get set up for the program—-Andreas you bring the car around and I will go in and settle up the bill—lets move out doubletime people!” urged Sartorius looking up from his watch.
SPIRITUS MUNDI ON CHINESE LITERATURE:
“Homo duplex, Homo duplex, ha, ha, ha!” chortled Günter——-Concurritur: horae momento“where there is life, there abide the contradictions of the human heart!”————-he sipped a small thimble glass of green Chartreuse and calculated how to set the conversation in the direction of his personal and professional interest—-Literature—–saying then to Sartorius “so what are you reading of Chinese Literature these days and are you finding anything there that they may have to contribute to the wider world? I have to confess I know only a small amount—–perhaps our generation did not have linguistic or cultural access to that world early enough to get a proper handle on it or judge anything about it very fairly—just a few of the Classics in translation—Confucius’s Analects, the I Ching, Lao Zi’s Dao De Jing, Lin YuTang, The Good Earth, the Dream of the Red Chamber, Lu Xun—a curious Taoist book on alchemy—The Secret of the Golden Flower—–and of course Gao Xing Jian since he won the Nobel Prize—–but we’ve always been waiting to see if something valuable was ever going to come over that wall.”
“Well there is certainly some passable writing” ventured Sartorius, “….but nothing very earth shaking….who would I say?—I’ve read recent writers such Mo Yan, Wang Anyi, Jia Pinguo…..and the Chinese Modern Classics….Ba Jin, Cao Yu, Lao She, Lu Xun, Mao Dun, Zhang Ai Ling, Shen Congwen……many are credible enough to include in the minor pages of an anthology of modern and contemporary World Literature……but I haven’t been overwhelmed by anybody and in recent years the output has been a bit disappointing!”
“Disappointing is a gross understatement!” savaged Wolfgang, “Who are the hottest writers in China today, even taken seriously by the literary establishment?—-we have the pretty-girl writers like Mian Mian and Wei Hui—-Sugar and Baby this and Baby that!—and the epicene boy writers like Han Han—–that is not Literature that is trash!”
“Even offerings like Wolf Totem, the social fable-allegory is mediocre and panderingly Facist,” he continued “……..They should open their eyes and have the guts to admit that from the international literary perspective they have been hopelessly backwards for decades……….they are really in a hellish no-mans-land caught between the stultification and corruption of the Communist publishing establishment and its moribund Chinese Writer’s Association and the equally corrupting and pandering influence of the capitalist publishing marketplace…..pandering after glossy sex or violence laced non-entities such as Shanghai Baby and its ilk!”
“But Wolfgang, have a little compassion for the young……” chimed in Günter, after all, all over the world the contemporary writer acutely in touch with life is forced to start from scratch—-reality doesn’t exist. God was the omniscient author, but he died; now no one knows the plot!”
“Quatsch and cant……” Wolfgang retorted as he thrust his body forward as a soldier bracing himself for battle, “…….though thou leadest me into the Valley of Artlessness I shall fear no evil!”
Sartorius smiled to Gunter as it became apparent that they had struck a nerve in Wolfgang’s sensibility and that he was going to continue at length on a subject that he had thought through in his professional capacity as a Sinologist and as the writer of a ten-volume history of Chinese Literature in German. Because they respected his mind and his integrity they prepared themselves with a shared smile and the pouring of an additional glass of cognac to listen with interest as well as amusement to his verbal histrionics and demands for attention attached to the very definite opinions over which he was ready to mount his tilting horse…..
But if the passion of old men and academics for their theories and literary lore was apt to rise to flood over over their aperitifs and cigars the passions of the young were turned in in a completely otherwise direction. As the distinguished literati persued their academic hobbyhorses and apercus, Pari, nodding and smiling in response to the points of discussion raised by the professors slipped off his shoe, conveniently an Oxford loafer, beneath the complete cover of the red floor-length table cloth and thrust forward his foot, clad in a fresh grey cashmere sock, and finding his girlfriend Jennie’s knee, began to rub into it his big toe and lift her skirt beneath the table. Jennie, after a slight muffled shock returned the smile of Günter as he made his comment about the necessity for a little compassion for the young. She then maintained a remarkable womanly sang froid as she studiously not looking at Pari’s face lurched her chair forward closer to the table, resting her elbow upon its edge as she pressed her lips to her cocktail glass with an elegantly smooth movement and measured smile. Pari then lifted the hem of her skirt with his toes, enabling his entire inhabited sock, which luckily he had put on fresh after showering before dinner, to wander about between her stockingless thighs. Professor Spitzer felt a surge of his amor propre as he sensed from the beautiful girl’s eyes, focused in his direction, an attention keyed to a new intensity in response to his exposition. His impression of the effect of his display of erudition upon the young Indian was, however, opposite and otherwise as he noticed the young man slumping backward slightly in his chair, in apparent disinterest. The professor was, nonetheless, slightly disappointed that he could not draw the young beauty further into the discussion, which touching so on Chinese letters might have been expected to engage her closer interest, but in response to his most brilliant points she could not to be induced to comment further than a curt “Yes” or “I see.” But had he known what he did not he might have been more impressed with her presence of mind, as through the course of the longish discussion the woolen provocation beneath the crisp tablecloth, accompanied by the sprightliest of talk, extensively reached a silk-covered point rarely referred to in polite mixed table conversation.
“………But why are contemporary Chinese writers hopelessly underdeveloped from an international literary perspective?” Professor Spitzer asked rhetorically, keyed on to a heightened effort, “Fundamentally because they have been sat behind the Chinese Wall intellectually for so long, not to mention being behind the Iron or Bamboo Curtain—-they have been isolated linguistically and culturally—–they don’t have the serious intellectual challenge of multiple perspectives on their own culture—standards and traditions that can force them into critical thinking and growth beyond their own cultural blinders and conformities——too few of them read in foreign languages beyond the few syllables necessary to pass their Gao Kao and Band 4 exams to get through school—and too few of them are immersed in the intellectual challenges of international literary currents which shake off one’s own self-satisfaction and stimulate growth………
“Chinese writers are backward because of their style, their world outlook, and because of the literary forms they make use of…..They should either stop writing or start reflecting on the one and only medium they have to work with: language.”
“I hope you are not going to get too Post-modern on us” Sartorius quipped.
“I will tell you that Chinese writers’ ignorance of foreign languages at literary levels of competence is the greatest barrier to their producing work which might be revered outside the Chinese mainland or its cultural appendages……..All the great writers that I know were either translators or could handle a lot of different languages……Goethe, Rilke, Celan, even respectable Chinese writers like Lu Xun, Lao She, Dai Wangshuo….The critical thing was that they not only knew and used foreign languages but they were able to encounter and respond to new ideas coming from beyond their own culture and to new and original perspectives on human life which stimulated their own growth and creativity.”
“Well, Wolfgang, it sounds like you are being a little hard on the younger writers—it seems at times that you academic critics hold the same view of writers that the US Cavalry held of Indians—that the only good one is a dead one!—Sorry about that Pari!—-Wolfgang, I agree with the thrust of your ideas,” said Sartorius “but to be fair not all great writers have been great linguists, Shakespeare apologized for his “Little Latin” and we Anglo-Saxons and Americans are notorious for our linguistic backwardness despite producing some great writers like Hemingway, Mark Twain and Dickens…..and your criterion might exclude the bulk of the working class…like Jack London or Gorky…who don’t get an international upper-class education or any chance to take in several languages—-from literature as well….but I agree with its desirability in principle, certainly…………”
“Yes, I see your point, but those authors welcomed international perspectives whenever they had the chance, and picked up foreign languages in the course of their development, instead of cocooning themselves willfully within their own limited background—-for instance Gu Cheng and Zhai Yongming once told me that learning German or English would destroy their mother tongue. But if there was any truth to this ridiculous assertion they why did Zhang Ailing, Lao She, Lu Xun, Lin Yutang, Yan Fu and many others write many of their best works after working in foreign languages or even writing books in foreign languages?—-many of the Chinese writers are provincially blindered like a workhorse and carry on with a niave and closed-eyed belief in their greatness but cannot rise to world-class standards.”
“And another problem,” Wolfgang continued with unimpeded momentum on his chain of performance of his set of ideas on the subject, “….is the inability to foster a supportive writing community with a sense of dedication to the craft of writing…..Of course the established Writers’ Association is out of the question and completely useless, self-satisfied, co-opted, bureaucratized, corrupted and stultifying..…Literature is fire—-it needs to be provocative and raise a rucus in the stolid institutions at times……..but writers also need the sense of belonging to a community of comrade craftsman who pride themselves in their craft, as well as an independent literate branch of civil society comprising a reading and writing community which shares a sense of nurture and responsibility towards literature, language and society…….”
“………..Of course we all know of the corruption and corrosion of the Republic of Letters by the money marketplace anywhere in the world, but in China’s volatile conditions we find too few of the writers have a professional commitment to their craft and integrity, and many write for money and then “xia hai” or jump into the sea of business and abandon their craft when more money beckons elsewhere. And a parallel corruption is that of the commercial publishing industry on the critics and commentators, where the magazines give a fat “hong bao” or red envelope of bribe money to reviewers to give favourable reviews to authors they are promoting. In this regard perhaps it is the very commercial isolation of the young Chinese poets and their realization that they will never get rich from their efforts which reinforces the integrity and commitment to craft of poets like Zhai Yongming, Xi Chuan, Wang Jia Xin and Ouyang Jianghe.”
“And there is a similar hypertrophication of the antagonism between writer and writer and writer and critic———–this is the lobster-pot-mentality of pulling down anyone getting ahead of oneself and in so doing destroying any kind of nurturing literary community or culture——Cao Pi—the son of the ancient great ruler of China Cao Cao of the San Guo Yan Yi and a great poet and literary critic said ‘wenren xiang qing’ meaning scholars and writers despise each other. They are forever criticizing others but never criticizing themselves on a principled basis….
“……..Don’t take me wrong!———I’m not saying there is any insurmountable barrier to Chinese writers developing to produce a world-class literature and individual genius is always possible, ——-and even in many areas recent progress has been significant—-not to mention their great literary heritage of the past—remember Goethe observed to Eckermann that Chinese were writing great poetry when our German forefathers were living in skins in the forest!—-but on whole there is a fair way to go yet——and when they develop the international quality of their writing it will also help in being able to communicate to the world what is unique and uniquely valuable within their own culture as well.”
“But do you think China and the outside world can comprehend each other, particularly the Western world?” asked Sartorius.
“Never completely—-but I tell you there are also benefits of misunderstanding. You could say there are two types of misunderstanding between great cultures: the stereotypical and the creative.—-The latter is not detrimental, indeed can be a jumping off place for creative dialectic or synthesis. China’s assimilation of Western culture is mostly a process of misunderstanding, misreading—-and vice versa. European interest in contemporary Chinese literature so far arises from curiosity about China and the increasingly imposing fact of China’s presence on the world scene, not, unfortunately, out of any intrinsic value or interest derived from that literature, which has not yet developed anything of world-class value, as for instance the counter-case of European interest in Latin American literature following “El Boom—for Europe Chinese contemporary literature offers a window on the world but has produced no masterpieces, though without doubt its historical literary classics—the Hong Lou Meng and Xi You Ji—Dream of the Red Chamber and Journey to the West, I Ching, Dao De Qing, etc. are an undoubted part of the canon of World Literature. But we shall be hearing more from this dialogue by and by, I suspect—A shrapnel of voices follows on the explosion of culture.”
On World Literature and the Response to Globalization: The globalization of the world economy has created imbalances leading to financial crisis unmanageable by the present order of governance by the local nation-state. Similarly the problems of global environmental degradation and climate change, organized crime and drugs, and terrorism demand the strengthening of international institutions to deal with problems that are global in scale. Thus our work in the creation of a United Nations World Parliament as a foundation for the further serengthening of the vital institutions of global governance as the only means of coping with the globalized problems overwhelming our lives. But the deeper and more foundational challenge is the globalization of the common spiritual heritage of mankind, reflected in the great challenge of the building and cultivation of a common world culture, a common human language of the spirit, and a common universal civilization rooted in a common collective unconscious human soul capable of modulating and harmonizing the potential ‘clashes of civilizations.’ That such efforts not come to naught, as in the mythic undoing of the Tower of Babel, there is required the rooting and cultivation of a common culture, the cultivation of the universal collective unconscious imagination, the development of a common global consciousness, citizenship and language, or (for those linguistically skeptical of the possibility of such a common culture arising spontaneously at a minimum its positive cultural construction based on a sustained effort to construct a sustainable cultural consensus) as a foundation for such global institutions. The survival of mankind globally makes this a modern imperative, and it is a project which historically cannot be avoided or delayed. The work of a World Literature is integral and vital to the success of this common project.
Notes On the Reasons for the Recent Collapse of Linguistic-based Literary Theory Leading to the Era of World Literature:
- Language has no independent existence outside the mind of the linguistic actor; Linguistic solipsism is a ‘huis clos’ dead end that both ignores internal and external realities and leads away from life.
- Death of the ‘Text’: A ‘text’ only exists in the mind of living beings. Otherwise it is only ink molecules on paper without meaning or significance. Neither it or its collective assemblage can have any existence outside the minds of living beings and must be understood within the context of the living experience of those living beings not exclusively in the context of supposed interactions of other ‘texts” or sign systems independent of their readers. Recognition of the fallacious alienated reification and personification of the ‘the text’ and of language accelerated the demise of the old linguistic-based theory.
- Language must always be derivitave from and subordinate to Life and Experience in existent lives which interpret such language.
- Living intelligent beings exist in realities independent of language in multiple dimensions:
- Objective physical, material, external reality
- Internal reality either as:
- Existential Experience antecedent to verbal forms
5. Living intelligent beings have non-verbal experience/perception/live energy beyond the realm of language.
6. Such properties cannot be arbitrarily transformed by language
7. Language has truth/falsity value in relation to its conformity and/or lack of conformity to such independent realities.
8. Such supra-cultural, supra-linguistic realities are not culturally or linguistically constructed (or are so only to a limited degree).
9. Deconstruction/Related linguistic theories are inadequate in enlightening the following necessary relationships beyond language via an arbitrary relationship of signifier and signified:
a. Existence and Perception
b. Perception and Expression
c. Language and Perception
d. Language and Experience
e. Language and Life Energy/Life Force
f. Life Energy and The Individual Consciousness of the Linguistic Actor
g. Linguistic Actor and Linguistic Community
h. Living Being and Living Community vs Text Signifier/Signified
i. Word and Concept
j Langue/language vs Totality of Experience (of Individual Speaker and of Linguistic Community
10. Critique of Rhetoric-based Theory: Words have truth value beyond their instrumental social, political and economic effects on the speaker and the audience.
11. A Literary Work is judged by the Extent and Quality of Experience it confers on living persons in the full exercise of their full human capacities.
12. Why Linguistic Literary Theory (InVitrio) was Superseded by Living Experience-based/Heuristic-Hermeneutic Theory (In Vivo): Linguistic Theory/Deconstruction fetishizes a tool/instrument (Language) and seeks to displace with it the organically whole being: It is anti-humanistic and anti-life in that it fails to subordinate language to life and living, lived experience of the individual and the community and creates a corresponding distortion of values. It was displaced by the (re-)realization that language only functions and derives meaning as a means of the individual and linguistic community questioning and their ongoing living experience within which the relationship of the signifier and signified cannot be arbitrary (as fallaciously postuated by Sassure and his epigones). Instead the relationship of the signifier and signified is constantly recalibrated and verified in the constant flow of living experience—heuristically and hermeneutically. By fallaciously attempting to make language or by extension ‘the text’ autonomous as a system outside its connection with the living being and the organic life process this alienates the linguistic actor from his own self and life energies. Language thereby ceases to be a heuristic tool for exploring the wholeness of human and universal experience and reduces the linguistic actor and linguistic communities to roles of passive spectators of an autonomous process—a mere tool of their own tools. It is a false projection of the life of the organically whole being onto a non-living part—ie. a fetishistic worship of a dead thing at the sacrifice of a living thing’s own wholeness and life energy. Linguistic Theory was discarded to make way for the development of World Literature, the further evolution of the common heritage of all mankind, and the cultivation of the collective unconscious of mankind in service of the cultivation and construction of a necessary globalized world consciousness, culture, common language and shared values and the enablement of a sustainable universal world civilization. As Dante points out in the Paradiso, Canto II, the arts are based in experience and experiment within the world of human experience:
Yet an experiment, were you to try it,
could free you from your cavil and the source
of your arts’ course springs from experiment.
Man is a word child and the only means of reaching reality and the idea is through the word or another medium of symbols. It is language which mediates the relation of the human and the real, though it does not and cannot create itself or its world ex nihilo in mere linguistic solipsism. The quality of a civilization depends upon its ability to discern and reveal truth, and this depends, in large part, on the purity, vitality and scope of its language. The function of language is not to eclipse and replace human experience and the process of its probing and interpretation, as some Sassurian literary theorists of linguistic solipsism would have it, but to creatively mediate our relationship to that experience by constantly interrogating and fathoming it in a loop of virtuous feedback. Language and literature engage the density of human experience beyond the huis clos of a mere self-referential language system by heuristically and hermeneutically probing its world, and thus renegotiates and renews our contract with the real. Every novel is a “New Deal” with reality, every work of art is a “New Deal” with life.
All the greatest and most important problems of man and life are fundamentally insoluable. They must be so for they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. Yin cannot overcome Yang nor can Yang ever solve the problem of Yin; Life cannot solve the problem of Death, nor can Death the problem of Eternal lfe. They can never be solved, but only outgrown. We all live in ceaseless conflict. Getting stuck in a conflict without growth is neurosis and a trajectory towards death. Living through conflict and accepting its necessary dialectic of growth is evolution, life and essential health. At the global level the world must also outgrow its problems of war and peace; of us and them. We cannot solve these problems; we must simply outgrow them and we must outgrow ourselves.
SPIRITUS MUNDI ON LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE IN WORLD LITERATURE
Towards late afternoon they paused to take a fine lunch at the best VIP dining room of the faculty dining hall of the University, taking in local specialties and many a bottle of fine wine, after which they settled in in the faculty lounge to a generous open bar of tequila, rum, mescal, kaluah, a taste of pulque—a local peasant drink, brandy, and of course a box of Cuban cigars of the highest quality. After a rambling conversation the topic of the hour turned to literature, as Sartorius mentioned that he had noticed and bought a copy of one of Rivera’s novels, then popular on the stands: “The Three Shadows.” While getting Rivera to autograph and inscribe it Sartorius mentioned that he and Günter Gross were working on a joint book exploring a canon of World Literature, and they asked for Rivera’s advice—-what would be the special characteristics of Latin American literature and who would Rivera consider to be the foremost figures and works of Latin American literature which had made a global impact, transcending their national and regional origins, such as to merit their inclusion in the canon of World Literature from a global perspective?
“Well, as far as Latin American literature is concerned,” Professor Rivera responded, “our writers have always been a hybrid and cosmopolitain lot—-on the one hand we are part of the Western world and draw our heritage, like all Western writers from the legacy of Classical Greece and the Latin masters of Rome, the Biblical and Christian heritage, and the heritage of in particular of Spanish and Portugese literature, of Cervantes and Camoes; the classical joke of ‘Modernismo” being that Latin American literature has evolved beyond its national and colonial origins to embrace a true regional culture, and that the cultural capital of this “Latin America” is Paris!—-Ha!—-the place where almost every Latin American writer, artist, thinker or revolutionary would make pilgrimage to to take part in the currents of the Western world. On the other hand, we are by necessity rooted in the history, geography and milieu of this corner of the globe, as you see reflected around you with all these references to our Pre-Columbian heritage and the various sub-cultures of our peoples, despite the fact that many or most of whom, just like North Americans, are immigrants or descendents from Europe itself—not only from colonial Spain and Portugul, but from Italy, Ireland, Britain, Germany—even Japan and the Middle-East, and really all of the countries of the world in a greater or lesser extent. Recall the joke of Borges—that the typical Argentine was an Italian, speaking Spanish, who thinks he is an Englishman! Ha! Ha! So in fact Latin American literature, just like ‘American’ or North American literature, has always been a part of both Western Literature and of World Literature, consciously or unconsciously.
If we ask who are the Latin American “Greats” who have made a global impact and contribution to World Literature as a whole beyond the milieu of their origins, then many of the names are quite obvious and familiar: Above all Borges, whose Ficciones and philosophical, bizarre and perplexing stories and exploratory non-linear modes of narrative are modernist classics the world over, such as “The Garden of the Forking Paths.” Then of course, there are the Nobel Prize winners, including many of the “El Boom” period with its “Lo real Maravilloso”—Magical Realism—-of which Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Cien anos de soledad—the Hundred Years of Solitude is foremost. The Nobel Prize, and perhaps the Neustadt, are prima facie evidence of global contribution—res ipsa loquitur——and thus we would have to include Pablo Neruda of Chile, our own Octavio Paz of Mexico, Asturias of Guatamala, and Gabriela Mistral of Chile. Overall I would have to say the indisputable “Big Three” who have had a global impact as part of World Literature over the last century would be Borges, Neruda, and Garcia Marquez.
Yet obviously it would be a travesty to think of Latin America’s contribution to world literature only in terms of a hagiographic handful of beatified ‘Greats.’ The major contributors to world culture from Latin America go far beyond them. Of the Pre-Columbian heritage, we are hampered by the fact that many of the Indian or American peoples had no written language and much of their rich oral language and traditions have been lost or deliberately suppressed. Yet some important works, such as the Mayan classic, the Popul Vuh, or Council Book, a kind of Mayan Bible recording their myths of origin, classical tales of mythic heros such as the Celestial Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and a kind of tribal history like the tribal history of the Old Testment, have come down to us, like the Iliad and the Odyssey, originally oral epics memorized by classical singers, then later transcribed into alphabetical script and recorded. As in the case of the heritage of many African tribes, whose oral works and traditions are excluded from the definition of ‘Literature” by the fact that they were composed orally rather than scripturally, we should keep an open mind and be ready to welcome “Orature” alongside “Literature” where the works are of significant quality and contribution, though I have to admit many of the oral stories and lore as well as comtemporary writing offered by opportunistic so-called “Post-Colonial” champions of Third-World cultures are of low quality in their themes, quality of expression and imaginative scope, and of merely anthropological or historical interest, not rising in artistic or imaginative quality to any legitimate level of significant Literature or Orature, and usually bogusly included for reasons of political correctness, guilt, opportunism, or a factitious impulse to liberal inclusiveness, which ignores the vitally necessary criterion of artistic and thematic intrinsic quality. Ultimately Literature qua Literature must address itself to the universal mind, heart and consciousness of humanity as a whole through the intrinsic quality of literary experience, not merely the incidental historical portrayal of the circumstances of a an endless series of sub-groups, ethnicities, genders, and tribalisms without any heightened significance or consciousness beyond their localistic circumstances of origin and of limited interest to others. There can be no World Literature without a standard of intrinsic literary and artistic quality, flexible though it must needs be.
Other Pre-Columbian contributions might include the Cantos Mexicanos,or Songs of the Aztec Nobles, composed orally in Nahuatl and then later transcribed into Romanized script, as was the Popul Vuh as well as later historical retrospectives recording Romanized transcriptions of Nahuatl, such as Bernardino de Sahagun’s General History of the Affairs of New Spain and Hernando Ruiz de Alarcon’s Treatise on the Superstitions of the Natives of New Spain. Perhaps these are of more historical than literary interest, though they often show the face of Western Civilization mirrored in the collision of the two hemispheres. Other borderline works of historical-cultural cum literary interest would include the Letters of Columbus to the King, and accounts of the conquest, such as Bernard Diaz del Castillo’s True History of the Conquest of New Spain, and the related historical works of Bartholome de las Casas, “Apostle of the Indians.” Once again, we get into a theoretical point—-“What is Literature?”—-are these works of historical interst only or are they of wider interest to the whole of humanity because of their universal quality? Sometimes it is hard to say at the borderline—-because a work that is perhaps of only local historical interest may become ‘foundational’ to a whole culture—may become a cultural ‘touchstone’ in ignorance of which one can never hope to understand the culture as a whole and the potentially universal ideas which grow out of it—–Perhaps the Old Testament being an example, originally only a self-centered tribalistic totem of a civilizationally marginal people, yet evolving to become the common ethical-religious and spiritual root of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic culture dominant in the world today. Yet certainly many parts of it also rise in their literary and artistic high quality to be undeniable parts of literature.
In the colonial period there are many worthy candidates for at least secondary status in the global canon: Juan Ruiz de Alarcon—playwright, and Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a remarkable woman and Mexican nun, proto-feminist, and intellectual, noted for her plays, poetry and prose.
From there we then reach the revolutionary period of the rise of nationalisms and Latin American nations attainining independency from Spain and Portugul, and going on to develop national literatures and cultures, all the while part of Western culture and literature and of a Pan-american Latin American culture and literature. Simon Bolivar, “El Liberator” was also a prolific writer, historical essayist and narrator of his military exploits. Similarly the Mexican Lizardi was an ardent propagandist and pamphleteer—a kind of Latin American Tom Paine, and also author of the supposed first Latin American novel, The Itching Parrot. Jose Juaquim Olmedo celebrated the victories of Bolivar in his La Victoria de Junin: Canto a Bolivar. As with Goethe, we have the coexistence of Classicism and Romanticism in such works as En el teocalli de Cholula, (In the Temple Pyramid of Cholula) of the Cuban Jose Maria Heredia, probably the first appearance of the Romantic poem in Latin America. Preminent at this time was probably Sarmiento of Argentina, notably his Romantic views in his Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants—a topic and theme to become widespread, even down to the time of Garcia Marques in his Hundred Years of Solitude. Romanticism and nationalism were as common here in this period as they were in Europe. There are countless others of estimable quality, but perhaps fate did not lend them a global impact.
With the ending of the 19th Century brought on the period of “Modernismo,” which generally saw a break with the nationalistic expression of the prior generation, and writers immersed themselves in a world of artifice and imagination. These were the “Modernistas”, who believed, so it is commonly said, in the French Parnassian ideal of “l’art pour l’art—Art for art’s sake.” They wrote on rare and exotic themes and experimented with language and meter and symbolism. These included Najera, Silva, del Casal and Jose Marti but is generally accepted to have reached its peak with Nicaragua’s Ruben Dario, who I would strongly suggest as a candidate for the global canon of his era.
Then coming down to the early 20th Century, Latin America, together with the rest of the Western world was taken up with a myriad of movements and literary trends. Three women poets distinguished themselves, Alfonsina Storni, Juana de Ibarborou, and notably the Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral, known for their impassioned lyrics. The avant-garde in poetry included, Vincente Hudobro of Chile, Cesar Vallejo of Peru, Nobel winner Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina and Chile’s Pablo Neruda, also a Nobel Prize winner. The Latin American essay reached notable heights with our own Jose Vasconcellos of Mexico, known for his cultural theory and his prominent role in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and in the more artistic and aesthetic Alfonso Reyes. Urena, Picon-Salas and German Arciniegas made the essay a vehicle for social, historical and political ideas in Spanish speaking America. Our Mexican Revolution of 1910 also produced a flurry of revolutionary historical novels, such as El Aguila y la Serpiente—The Eagle and the Serpent—by Guzman, and The Underdogs, by Azuela. Around this time there was also a movement to represent the particular experience of the Indian or Native peoples, raised to the level of awareness of a protracted social problem, called the “indigenista” literature, with such writers as the Bolivian Alcides Arguedas, with his Raza de bronce—Bronze Race, and El Mundo es ancho y ajeno—Broad and alien is the World, by the Peruvian Ciro Alegria.
Of course coming down to the second half of the 20th Century again we have the great period of “El Boom” in which Latin American literature really is put on the map of globalized World Literature. The Boom reflected the economic development of Latin America and the assimilation of many of the global Modernist influences in form and technique, multiple points-of-view, stream of consciousness and internal monologue, non-linear innovative narrative styles, and other techniques, pioneered earlier in the century by Faulkner, Joyce, James and Woolf. We have Guatamala’s Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, who combined mythological and social themes in such works as “El Presidente,” and The Bejewelled Boy. Then we have Cuba’s Alejo Carpentier who captured the world of magic and superstititon in The Lost Steps and other works, and who is generally credited with coining the term “Magic Realism.” Similarly, writers of the older generation carried their work to higher powers, with Borges, Ficciones, that like many of the Boom writers to follow, combined he real with the fantastic, exploring the outer borders and limits of human reason and reality. His younger Argentine comerade, Julio Cortazar, made history with his formalistic experimentation in non-linear narration, embodied in such works as Rayuela—Hopscotch. And our own Carlos Fuentes, rose to global reknown with his La Muerte de Artemio Cruz—The Death of Artemio Cruz, accompanied by other Latin American brothers in letters, such as Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru,–La casa verde–The Green House, and of course the now immortal Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez with his Hundred Years of Solitude.
Of course everything under the sun has its day, and the Boom gradually receded. In the Post Boom period, as is ever the case when we draw near the present things are more complicated and confused, and the broad lines are yet to be recognized. There seems to be a turn towards irony and popular genres, such as in the works of Manuel Puig. We even get “Anti-Boom Literature” such as Alberto Fuguet’s “McOndo” satirizing and puncturing the Magic Realism tradition which had now fallen to become a cliché, every book seemingly mandatorily leading to the Latin American jungle where the real and the fantastic are effortlessly and seamlessly evoked, and the spectre of the fantastic and supernatural more and more idiotically is intruded into an unrelated reality, unmotivated by the narrative, themes and characters. We have the modern “Best Sellers” of Paolo Coehlo and Elizabeth Allende, and post-Boom pastiches of Magic Realism, such as Como agua para chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. Historical explorations such as Fernando Vallejo’s account of the violence surrounding the Medellin Cartel appeared, along with the “subaltern’’ and “Testimonio” wave, characterized by such figures as Rigoberta Menchu, and thus the present disappears in the fog of the present day.”
“So what is your take then on the Post-Modern Novel then, drawing on your experience with El Boom and its successors?” asked Sartorius.
“Well as a young writer I was also swept up in the Boom, which in our Latin American literature swept over the area like a tidal wave in the Sixties.” he said.
“As part of the movement, or part of the moment we you concerned about your originality as a writer?—I mean this ‘anxiety of influence’ thing?” asked Sartorius.
“The originality of a work or a writer is directly proportional to the ignorance of their readers.” Rivera laughed.
“So what’s your take on the Post-Modern novel then, looking back from now?” Sartorius repeated.
As a reaction to Realism I think it was quite healthy, injecting a dimension of fantasy and imaginative development and room for innovations in narrative form that enriched the literary experience immeasurably. From it we begin to evolve the major characteristics of the Post-Modern Novel: Undermining of narrative conventions; subversion of Realism; self-reflexivity; the challenging of the text by the characters; the ‘Metafictional Loop’ whereby the readers re-enact and double searches undertaken by the work’s characters; the emphasis on the reader’s experience—-overwhelming, manipulating and thwarting the reader’s strategies of interpretation; narrative impasses and cognitive confusions; the overthrow of the New Critical assumption that a strong reading can master the text with the Post-Modern assumption that no reading can master the text, rendering reading a Sisyphusian struggle against an insoluable range of meanings; the hyper-ironizing interposition of a mise-en-abime of the persona of the persona of the persona of the author or the text within text within text; the emphasis on Intertextuality—writing as re-reading, allusiveness of the text, creative re-inscription blending into plagiarism; the shift of emphasis from the foregrounding of the process of writing the work of Modernism to the process of reading the work of Post-Modernism; the ‘Breaking the Frame” with mixtures of fact and fiction and the baring of the raw fictionality of the work—or the assertion that the ‘The Truth of Fiction is that Fact is Fantasy;’ assertion of the absurdity of human existence and the radical undecidability of the text or any possible meaning thereof; the emphasis of plot over character with labyrinthine and entrapping plots overwhelming flattened and stereotypical characters; the shift from the Modernist assumption that there is a real story but it is inaccessible in its totality because of the limitations of human consciousness, to the Post-Modern assumption that there is no ‘real story’ and by extension there is no ‘real’ reality and no ‘real life’ to know; the mixing of high and low culture—academia and popular street culture—-all these are the characteristics of the Post-Modern Novel we have become all too familiar with.”
“So you are now less sympathetic to the Post-Modern novel than you were before?” Sartorius followed up.
“Well, like everything in life it had its day and made its contribution and then began to manifest its limitations. The pendulum swings too far in one direction and it becomes necessary for it to swing back—Yin cannot overcome Yang, nor can Yang overcome Yin as you say from your Chinese experience. I think the Post-Modern movement has exhausted itself and has become a dead-end which now must be escaped into a new direction. Post-Modernism has become part of the ‘Literature of Exhaustion’ which has lost its life source. What do we have?—–We have onanistic novels fixated on the isolated masturbatory self-reflexive process of writing and reading and text which is cut off from life itself. We have flat, fragmented and stereotypical characters incapable of bearing to the reader the gravity of real life experience—with the psychological reality of the characters undercut by the satiric or implausible nature of the fictional universes they inhabit. We have flights of vacuous fantasy and irrealism dissociated with and untethered to real life—escapism and evasion. Linked also to a Sassurian sense of language alienated from its active human subject we have also a cancerous fictionality which undermines the sensibility of the sacredness and preciousness of life itself in the real human being that for the moment is the reader of the fictional text, but who must then return to eonfront and engage his real life in the real world in his real community, with its real natural environment, history and culture. In short, we have a Post-Modern Novel and Literature which is cut off from life itself, and does not return itself to life and the process of living in the real world after its flights of fantasy and fictionality. As critics such as Raymond Williams points out from a Marxist point of view it is an escapist literature without an active social conscience and without political engagement for social reform or revolution—-especially as commensurate with modern globalized social, economic and political conditions, and from an existential or humanistic point of view it is a fiction and literature which evades an engagement with self, reality, and the core issues of life and death and the struggle with the limitations of the human condition in the real world. The bourgious realist novel declined into an escape into the bourgious cocoon of love and family and personal decadence whereas the Post-Modern novel declines into escape into alienated language, disengaged fantasy, social fission and deconstructed helplessness. We have a contemporary literature which is unfit for life.—-But I am ever hopeful—the forces of life itself will bouy this literature up and new works and new voices will return it to health I am sure. The Post-Modern Novel has a rendezvous with destiny, and a rendezvous with life that will return it to the service of life while transforming it into something new—that is life itself.
………..So to sum up, all in all, Latin American literature has had a strong mark on global World Literature in the last century, including the greats, Neruda, Borges and Garcia Marquez, and the near greats, Octavio Paz, Asturias, Mistral, Fuentes, Cortazar, and Vargas Llosa. Without them the face of World Literature at the present time would not be the same.” concluded Professor Rivera.
Sartorius looked up from his notebook, over which he was scurrying to note down the significant details of Professor Rivera’s discourse, keeping a record of these conversations across the globe, so as to make use of them in the later book he and Günter were planning and outlining together. Günter Gross, also raised his glass in a toast, and said to Rivera “Most excellent, most excellent, Carlos. I want to pick up on your initial remarks about the historical-cultural cum literary candidates for the canon—–and I think it is a hard nut to crack theoretically.—-Ultimately you have to come up against the big question—‘What is Literature?’—especially as we define it as a living institution rather than a mere word. Nowadays we are bombarded in the modernized anthologies with “testimonial” accounts of former slaves, women, members of ethnic minorities, religions, hyphenated interest groups, and the like, and very often the writings are indeed of some human and historical interest and could commend themselves to broaden one’s perspective in how others might see the world, yet when you come down to it they are not well written or well conceived as writing, offer little in the expansion of consciousness beyond the prosaic and mundane, are not excellent as writing in and of itself, nor do they bring new ideas, sensibilities, experiences or vision. In short they make perfect sense as case studies in a book of Contemporary History or Sociology, or human interest stories for a popular magazine, but there is nothing to them as Literature, by any standard of quality. They don’t really belong in a canon of imaginative masterpieces as much as in a civics or sociology class. But it is devilish hard to identify the standards of literary quality by which to make a proper distinction, and then, after that to identify what is the social role of literature, either in civil society as a whole or within the classroom and institutional academia. I would like to get your views on this Gordian Knot!” Günter asked Rivera.
SPIRITUS MUNDI ON AFRICAN LITERATURE IN WORLD LITERATURE
“Yes, I recall that you said something very similar in your latest novel published in Nigeria, ‘The Soul of the Soil’” added Christina, “………….are you working on another now?”
Obatala laughed and replied, “Well I am taking an “R＆R” from that effort at the moment—-it took me six years to finish the last one and I am not in too much of a hurry to rush into another. I need to recover my life! It is amazing how a major book takes over your life, just like a pregnancy does to a woman, and some of them take nine years rather than a mere nine months to bring to birth into the light of day!”
“That is very true” replied Sartorius, “And even after the books are born they too also keep you up at night for a couple of years with their constant feeding and diapers until they finally make their way into the world by themselves! I am just working on a joint book with my friend on the global committee Günter Gross on the rise of World Literature in the sense of Goethe’s ‘Weltliteratur’ and just our preliminary research has stretched out over four years—-of course it is an enormous project touching on the literary contributions of all the cultures of the world to a canon evolving over several millennia. Luckily, however, the work on the UNPA Committee takes me all around the world and I am able to pick the brains of the global best and brightest as to their culture or region’s contribution to the canon of World Literature. Without such input we would be hard pressed to deal with the enormity of the task. ”
“Well if I can be of any assistance in your efforts do not hesitate to ask, if my meager store of knowledge might prove of any value, that is.” offered Obatala with a gentlemanly show of modesty.
“Gladly! Well let’s see…….How should I get the ball rolling?……..Wait, let me get my notebook and take down a few notes—-I’ll never remember anything unless I get my legal tablets out…….All Right, how about starting off with a broad question?—————-What would you consider to be Africa’s greatest potential contribution to World Literature?”
“Well, not to be purposefully cryptic or paradoxical, I would say that the greatest contribution African writers and artists can make to World Literature is by remaining African, that is in vital contact with the African World and its particular genius, which, deeply rooted, is also part of the universal archetypal genius of humanity as a whole. As Leopold Senghor was wont to say drawing analogy to a flourishing plant or tree, Africans and African writers—-if I or anyone can presume to speak for so diverse a myriad of peoples and traditions and individuals—-should be both rooted in their own unique milieu, rooted in their own African soil, yet send forth their branches and vines in all directions to draw nourishment from the sun and light of all the world in all directions, and from all the peoples and cultures and traditions of the world.
What contribution shall Africa best make? What defines its potential unique contribution? I would say this by way of general observation, with the inherent qualifications of all very broad generalizations: Africa, like the ancient Greeks, remains in her constituent cultures, rooted in the more immanent experience of the soil, the Earth, and of palpable material experience. What I mean is not a naïve romantic primitivism, but rather the notion that the African World embodied in the millennia old cultures of the peoples of Africa and their experience of their gods and communities are more firmly rooted both in the soil of their origin, and in the cosmic totality, perhaps in an age in which that umbilical connection has been attenuated or lost by other civilizations focused more on metaphysical abstraction, science, consumer market materialism and institutionalized or ideologized religion. This is not to deny that all peoples in their origins have been similarly rooted and in interaction with the cosmic totality, perhaps in a universal collective unconsciousness that is the common heritage of all mankind, but that perhaps this vital connection has been more vitally preserved in the communal, perhaps tribal cultures of the diverse African peoples. Within this communal culture, ritual tradition has preserved this link, and as Nietzsche has often observed in his work with relation to the very similar origins of Greek tragedy, myth, music, dance, the plastic visual arts, and ultimately literature and the collective conscious and unconscious are all rooted in the Ritual Heritage of mankind-drawing the whole community together in ritually enacted dream under the totality of the cosmic sky and upon the broad fertile Earth, as in the rites of Dionysos, which gave birth to Greek tragedy.
But modern civilization in its industrial and post-industrial uprootedness, social- and self-alienations, severing individuals in vast metropolises and conurbations from their communities, families, communal roots, rituals and traditions, has posed a stark spiritual challenge to the peoples of the world, African and other. In the West perhaps the transition from the classical Greek and Roman gods to the Platonic-Christian tradition heightened this alienation from the cosmic totality rooted in the earth, confining the world of the spirit to the world of the mind, excluding the world of the earth, governed by science and reason, and excluding the chthonic, unconscious underworld realm, attenuated but never wholly lost anywhere. In the West D.H. Lawrence is associated with the counter-movement back into the sensual and subconscious realms, particularly through a re-spiritualization of sexuality, but also including a regeneration and re-spiritualization of the communal culture and its immanent immersion in the cosmos. In the Asiatic realm, perhaps Buddhism, that twin-brother of Christianity likewise oriented towards an individual salvation, similarly alienated those peoples from their cosmic, chthonic, coommunal and earthly roots, confining their spirituality to a more mental realm. Perhaps in the modern world, the relative contribution of the African World to the spirituality of global humanity might be to be, relatively speaking, in being good brothers to the spirit of the Greeks and in making a bridge of themselves to the realms of the Dionysian, Apollinian and the Promethian universal spirits of mankind, while adding their own communal heritage, their accommodating and balancing of the realms human and the divine in a cosmic social harmony, of the sense of the common life of the living, the dead and the yet unborn in a common community of the spirit communicated via vital communal ritual, and a celebration of the transit of the realm of transition, dismemberment, transformation, and regeneration in the hero or god’s middle passage between those diverse cosmic realms.
The archetypal protagonists of the chthonic realm, Orpheus, Xbalanque and Huanahpu, Gilgamesh, Ulysses did penetrate into the chthonic netherworld in concrete and elemental terms. And in Asia, Lord Shiva drove his ecstatic course through the very earth, uniting all of the elements of the cosmos with his powerful erection, which burst through to the Earth’s surface, split in three, and spurted sperm into the upper cosmos like a vast cosmic geyser from the chthonic depths! If the African writer and artist is only a fraction better situated from his communal heritage to follow the thread of Ariadne, collective Mnemosene perhaps,—–to guide humanity from its lost wanderings in the Labyrinth of Alienation of modern civilization back to the organic light of the cosmic sun; to help it oversome its schizophrenic compartmentalization of world and self and refigure globalization to include a greater completing of the cosmic circle, human consciousness and collective unconsciousness circumnavigating each other in reconstitution of a lost organic unity——it is only because, perhaps they have kept the silken thread of the universal human collective unconscious more firmly between their communal fingers.
As you know, I am from Nigeria, and my study of World Literature and of the Greek tragedy, with its struggles of humanity and the gods, its Dionysian, Apollinian and Promethian spirits, leads me ever back to my own Yoruba heritage, and the stories of our African gods, Ogun, Obatala and Sango. Our ritual enactment of the drama of our ancient gods correlates well with the common heritage of mankind reflected in the better-known Greek tragedy, and there are many parallels, though of course many divergences, between Ogun and Dionysos and the Dionysian and perhaps Promethian universal human spirits and sensibilities and Obatala, and the Apollinian. Not that one or the other tradition is better or worse, but perhaps because we still have authentic communal enactments of their tragic stories within our extant tribal communities, and the “choric voice” of the tribe still, in a weakened state or transformed state, preserves a link to the masked archetypal voice of the collective unconscious common heritage of mankind, so that we can make a unique contribution at the present moment, perhaps in aid of such Western artists as Joyce, Lawrence, Yeats and innumerable others, struggling to recover the endangered common archetypal and cosmic imagination and so dialate the consciousness of all mankind. With them we may find again everything sacred and nothing profane. T.S. Eliot, in his famous Tradition and the Individual Talent elaborates on the plastic nature of the collective wisdom of mankind, and how each new master work takes its place in “the tradition” and adds to and modifies it by its presence. Despite in colonial days being revolutionary, Africans are also deep traditionalists, attached to the traditions of their tribes and ancestors as much as Eliot to his own great traditions. The best African writers are also Protagonists of Continuity, especially with relationship to their communal heritages, along with Eliot, as well as persistent reformers and even revolutionaries with regard to social exploitation, corruption and disintegration which the evils of modern life too often inflict on that continuity. Much of their effort is directed at a retrieval of this common heritage of all mankind, alongside their own communal or tribal heritage, even though some may yield to the inferior temptation of ressentiment in attempting a retributive and spurious racial retrieval—Rastifarian nonsense, based not on the collective consciousness and unconsciousness of the race, one with the human race as a whole, but a pseudo-tribalist war-totem of pigment and hate alien to their own heritage. The task is not to overthrow tradition, as the early Modernists would have done, but first of all to widen it to include the millennia of contributions of all civilizations and their ancient written and oral heritages, and then form a new living relationship with that “globalized tradition” including the heritage of conscious literature and myth alongside the eternal presence of the collective unconscious, yet not allowing the tradition to ossify and strangle new and creative innovation, but to lend energy and resource to such innovation in the constant evolution of the ever-transforming collective wisdom of humanity. In some ways the sagas and myths of the African gods such as the suffering and struggling god Ogun and the archetypally saintly Obatala draw renewed modern vitality because these gods are, like struggling modern man, struggling with their own destinies, limitations and errors in an uncertain cosmos; they are journeying gods, exploring gods, making their way through a cosmic wilderness——a realm of uncertain meaning and destiny—– much in common with modern and classical Western heroes——-in the struggle to work out their own destiny in a universe where, brother with modern man, the fate of the gods may be as uncertain or as absurd even, as the fates of their cosmic brothers, modern man and mankind, with whom they are common members of a spiritual cosmic community—including gods and men, female and male, man and nature, and the spirits of the living, the dead and the yet unborn—–which they must struggle against odds to restore, revitalize and rebalance to sustain the process of cosmic life.
The transformation of uncivil urges into the woof and web of human society—-family and community—is one of the great mysteries and miracles of human civilization. Sexuality, profound, savage, perverse and life-giving, the fear of death and the craving for life, the fear of the dead and the dream of the immortality of the flesh and the as well as the spirit—these are all part of the sexual dialectic within us. Mastery and submission, sadism and masochism, the desire to hurt those whom we love and be hurt by them for our desires, the conflict within us between knowledge formed into a civilizing power and the sustaining and solely sustainable power of unknowable and profoundly uncivil urges of primordial vitality, balanced precariously between the desire for eternal peace and rest and the equal and opposite desire for ever renewed and endlessly vibrant life, these contradictions and involutions of the human spirit, they have always been and will always be within us. Its terror, its horror and orgasmic beauties will always threaten and convulse the fragile vial of mere individuality, and dissolve and re-dissolve its essence into the greater colloidal solution, the great suspension of living energy, life and life force, out of which it is forever precipitating and returning to its mothering solution. The fusion of the male and female nucleus, and the male and female psyches, one into another, necessitating the mutual obliteration of both into a greater whole, is the horror and beauty to which we are born. All this gives ever renewing life energy and force to our myths, our religions, our art and to our world literature, both here in Africa and universally across the living world of man.
The very environmental movement calls out for a new and creative reconciliation of man and nature, hitherto implacable tormenters of each other. Thus Ogun, with Osiris and Dionysos-Zagreus, and by extension Christ, shares the experience of modern man in his psychic disintegration, and they must face the psychic abyss of dismemberment, death, greater reintegration and resurrection to a greater life—they must negotiate the Passage of Terror—the middle passage between the realm of life, and death and greater life. African myth may thus make some vital contribution to the psychic and social sanity of modern man and modern civilization—the strengthening of the communal psyche of global humanity, rendering it more fit for global life. In the end, what is the social and cosmic role of myth, literature and the imaginative arts—African literature and World Literature included?—-we can only say that they are in service to life, and their role and their measure of success is the extent to which they strengthen the individual and the collective communal strength and capacity for life—and to marshall, mobilize and enhance their maximum common energies——–to endure life’s horrors, contradictions, transitions and and trials—inevitable death, transformation and re-birth included, and to more completely partake of life’s beauties, ecstasies and joys—to live most wholly and most vitally.” concluded Obatala.
“What would you consider the strongest candidates of African Literature for inclusion in a body of World Literature?” continued Sartorius, scratching in the question on his yellow legal pad behind another Roman Numeral.
“Well, of course, in terms of the instantly recognizable “names” of African literature in the global public imagination, there are of course the Nobel Prize winners such as Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, and Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee of South Africa, and the North African-Arabic contingent such as Naguib Mahfouz and perhaps Camus, as well as many African writers who have attained considerable global currency such as Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, Alan Paton, Ben Okri, Leopold Senghor, Mariama Ba and many, many others.
If we move beyond the obvious, however, then we get into perhaps theoretical difficulties in conceiving what exactly this presupposed “African Literature” might be, what its contributions to a corpus or canon of World Literature might be over the ages, and hence what “Masters” or “Masterpieces,” whatever they might be, could or ought to be included, by any reasonable criteria
What then, is African Literature? Presumably, we would want the most inclusive definitions possible, though by so doing we might well step on others’ toes. First of all, it is inescapable to recognize that Africa in an incredibly diverse continent, with thousands of tribes and languages, each with their own culture and history, not to speak of the many modern nation-states, somewhat the heritage of European colonialism, superimposed upon them. Here we get into the complexities that bedevil African literature as a concept that are not so problematic to many European literatures, focusing on more compact peoples united in language, geographical territory and political or ethnic unity, though even there we often encounter many of the same problems if we scratch but a little beneath the surface. Should we include or exclude, for instance, white or colonial writers writing in or about Africa?—Arabic writers?—Writers of African hereditary, racial, and cultural origin, but displaced to other geographical regions such as Derek Walcott or Toni Morrison?—-African Writers in English or French or other non-African languages? Non-African writers writing of or about Africa—such as Conrad in the Heart of Darkness or Rider Hagard, of Isaak Dinisen? Afrikaans writers such as Ernst van Heerden? All these are threshold problems of large proportions. At the base of these questions lies a deeper question: What is “Africa?” It is a large chunk of land, of course, a continent—but is “Africa” also a particular people, a particular race or a particular culture, one or more “civilization?” or a “world,”——or is it a chaos of disconnected tribes—a primordial wilderness jungle of human and pre-human heritage—an absence of civilization as some might imagine in derogation?—does it have any particular source of indigenous cohesion exclusive of its external influences from other civilizations? Is the unity of Africa only an alien illusion imposed upon it by alien cartographers looking at it from the outside, or is it a psychic unity somehow present in all its inhabitants ready to be rediscovered for the looking? Is Africa black? —or is it also white, and Khoisan, and Pygmy and going back to its roots from the ‘Out of Africa Theory” did Africa include all the races in their origins, even to the whites and Asians, some remaining in part and others departing in part, some returning but all of the same mother? But if we assume that Mother Africa would not disown any of her children that sought her, and seek for a definition that would be most inclusive we might find African Literature would include at least four broad divisions:
1) The Westerner or other non-African writer who utilizes the subject matter of Africa in a language not native to the African continent—-E.g. Conrad, Greene; and Castro Soromenho.
2) The African writer, black or white, who utilizes the subject matter of Africa, or other subject matter, in a language native to the African continent—Eg. Mofolo and Thiong’o;
3) The African writer who utilizes the subject matter of Africa, but who writes in a non-African language that has, by custom, become part of the African means of communication—-English, French, Arabic—-Achebe, Soyinka, Mahfouz, Senghor, Ba, Gordimer;
4) The Non-African writer of significant African heritage writing in any language incorporating major elements of that heritage or the subject matter of Africa—Walcott, Morisson, Aimee Cesaire, etc.
In addition to these categorical problems, we also have the complication of the interface and relationship of the signal forms of language itself—namely the relationship of written Literature to, what we might term Oral Literature or, for want of a better term, “Orature.” For here the special problem of Africa, really a universal problem rather than a merely African problem, however, raises its head——namely, how can we take account of “Literature” amoung the thousands of African languages which had no writing or system of writing prior to colonization, and if, as we assume, their cultural genius and wisdom in the absence of a written language was transmitted by oral forms in an oral cultural tradition, then how do we integrate that reality into our concept of “World Literature,” whatever that brave new concept might prove to be? We might think of this as a special African problem, but it is really a universal one, since, by anthropological conjecture, all branches of the human family were without writing during most of their evolution and history, minimally for at least sixty-four or five of the last seventy-thousand years, and almost assuredly such works as the Iliad and Odyssey, the Chinese Book of Songs and parts of the Bible began as oral compositions before being recorded in written form in later centuries.” Obatala continued as his voice hoarsened.
“Would you like another glass of cognac or some fruit juice” asked Christina, sensing his discomfort after talking at extended length.
“Yes, both if you would” he replied, taking up a tall beaker-glass of fruit punch.
But if we set aside those deeper questions for a short moment, and just take a panoramic tour-de-horizon around the continent of the recent era to get a broad overview of some of the strong writers who, either now or in the oncoming generation may rise to the level of global interest then we could say, first, in the broad area of East and Central African Literature we have strong candidates in Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, novelist, short-story and essayist—author of such works as Weep Not, Child, A Grain of Wheat, The River Between and Devil on the Cross; then we could include Nuruddin Farah of Somalia—-From a Crooked Rib and Sweet and Sour Milk and Okot p’Bitek of Uganda and Shaaban Robert of Tanzania—Maisha Yanga and A Conceivable World. David Rubadir of Malawi and Tchicaya u Tam’si of Congo could also be mentioned.
Then if we survey Southern African Literature, we would need to include Thomas Mofolo of Basutoland, novelist and prose writer, including such works as The Pilgrim of the East and Chaka the Zulu. Solomon T Plaatze, author of Mhudi and Native Life in South Africa; of course the greats Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee, and many others such as Alan Paton, Peter Abrahams, A Wreath for Udomo, Ezekiel Mphahlele—Down Second Avenue and The African Image and a healthy host of South African writers such as A.C. Jordan, H.I.E. Dhlomo, B.W. Vilakazi, Alex la Guma, Bloke Modisane, Lewis Nkosi and Noni Jabavu—a woman writer of the Xhosha people—Drawn in Colour and The Ocre People, as well as Dennis Brutus and Alfred Hutchinson.
If we then turn to West African Literature, we have a rich offering led off by the Nigerian greats Wole Soyinka—Death and the King’s Horseman, The Swamp Dwellers, A Dance in the Forest, Idanre and Mandela’s Earth and Chinua Achebe—Things Fall Apart, but are also blessed with a host of near-great and to-be-great such as Amos Tutola of Nigeria—The Palm Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts; and also Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, Elechi Amadi, Buchi Emecheta, and Ben Okri—Flowers and Shadows, The Landscapes Within; and some of the younger writers, Okigbo, Aig-Imoukhuede, Ekwere, Sagun and Echeruo.
Outside Nigeria there would also be Ba, Lenrie Peters of Gambia, George Awoonor-Willians, Efua Theodora Sutherland, Kweel Brew and Ellis Ayftey Komey, William Conton, Syl-Cheney Coker of Sierra Leone, Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana, and Mariama Ba, Ousame Sembene and Cheik Allou Ndao of Senegal.
In the widest definition, African Literature would include works in the most diverse languages: in English—Achebe, Soyinka, etc; French—Birago Diop, Gide, Kessel, Malonga, Oyono; in German—Kurt Heuser; in Danish—Buchholz and Dinesen; multiple African native languages—Mofolo and Thiong’o; in the English of South Africans—Gordimer, Paton; and in Afrikaans—Nuthall Fula and Ernst van Heerden.” he continued, first stubbing out a Cuban cigar butt and feeling in his sports coat pocket for another.
Gerry Bonoir observing his embarrassment then reached into his own breast pocket and took out two of his own in silver metal containers, and unscrewing them lit one for Obatala and one for himself.
“Do you smoke them also?” he said, motioning towards Sartorius with a third.
“I have sinned in the past but Eva is trying to get me to quit.” grinned back Sartorius.
“Related to this phenomenon,” continued Obatala, “…….is the controversy over whether African writers should continue to write in their former colonial languages—English, French, Portugese, Arabic, or whether they should call quits and launch out into writing in the language of the local indigenous vernaculars. This problem was acute at the time of independence some fifty years ago, yet continues as a question in the “Post-colonial” era, a problem shared by writers of other areas, such as those of India and Pakistan in relation to Anglo-Indian literature. In Africa different sides of the question were championed by writers such as Molly Mahood, the Nigerian professor after independence at University College, Ibidan who famously called for the development of a new African-Nigerian literature in English, with the other side represented by Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, calling for a transition from colonial English to the local indiginious vernacular, such as his own Kikuyu. Outsiders might harp that Africans now had independence, so why not quit complaining in the colonial language and build a literature in the native vernacular. This, however, would ignore many unfortunate realities, such as the fact that the nations of Africa were often artificial amalgamations of hundreds of different tribes, languages and traditions unified only by the colonial language and bureaucracy. Many of those “local vernaculars’ were without writing, or if one had been adapted, there was very little literature in it, and hardly any practical works necessary to deal with the modern world. So fragmented were they that local literatures were simply unviable, or if viable, were divisive with regard to the larger nation, often making the colonial language the only practical glue to hold the country together. Nonetheless, the inevitable result of adherence to education in the colonial language would be the development of sharp class divisions between the native speaking uneducated working and peasant classes and the English- and French-educated, wealthier urban elite. Thiong’o, argued for the necessity of solidarity with the majority of one’s own people in the language of that people, just as Europeans since the Renaissance and the Gutenberg Revolution and the democratic bourgious revolutions, gradually shifted from a Latin based elite education and classical colonial-language literature (Latin), to writing their literatures in the vernacular of the people: English, French, German, Italian, etc.
Beyond the controversy of that era, however, lay the more recent controversy, based on the further dilemmas of Globalization. African nations, peoples and intellectuals, after liberation from imperial conquest and national independence, still had to find their way in a more and more globalized world of which their home countries and cultures were but a small part. Thus, globalization placed further pressure on national elites to carry on their educations and their cultures and literatures in English or French, so as to avoid being fatally isolated or marginalized in a global world, either economically or culturally. A writer writing in a world language such as English, or to a lesser extent French or Arabic, could have a good hope of finding support and even financial success across the globe. A writer in Kikuyu would find little global currency, especially in the absence of translation into English, and his career might be snuffed out by censorship by the local political tyrant or establishment. Thus many African writers found writing in English or French to be the only viable pathway to be “citizens of the world” as well as “citizens of the Republic of Letters” and they of course always had the option of writing in both the native vernacular and the world lingua franca, as did their predecessors of an earlier age, such as Petrarch, Dante, Bacon and More. Many concluded that if African writers wanted to serve the cause of Africa being healthily accepted as part of the modern world and its thinkers and artists empowered to make their contributions to that wider world, then they must cultivate the world languages, particularly of English and French, and continue to make use of them as the most effective bridges between their own cultures and the wider modern world and humanity as a whole globally.
As I said before, the problem of the oral origin of much of the “Orature” of Africa complicates how to integrate African Literature into the common heritage of World Literature, and to integrate it historically into periods, etc. But if we look to its inclusion in the historical canon of World Literature, then of course the African oral tradition would give a rich contribution to the myths, fables, riddles, histories, songs, proverbs, dramas and stories of origin of the pre-literate ages of all peoples, and provide material for the uncovering of the archetypes of the collective unconscious shared by all human kind. Looking back historically, we have the rediscovery of some of the oral epics dating back over the last thousand years, such as the Mali Legend of Sundiata, The Ozidi, and The Mwindo. These often reflect the influence of Arabic culture or other exogenous influences at the time of origin or in their time of recording in imported script. In more modern times the oral tradition has been strongly present in modern literature—as in the Kikuyu songs incorporated in the Kenyan plays of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Acholi oral poem structure incorporated in the Song of Iowino, by p’Bitek and in the speech and oral proverbs present in Achebe’s great novel, Things Fall Apart.
Some of the first writings by Africans to come to the attention of Westerners were the slave narratives and other “testimonial literature” of the 19th Cetury, such as the Life and Adventures of Olauda Equiano, and similar narratives such as that of Frederick Douglass in America, written in the global colonial languages. While often criticized, undoubtedly true in part, as not being of intrinsic high literary quality or deep works of art, these works are often included in anthologies as “Windows on the World” and of significant sociological and historical interest, particularly in giving Westerners a chance to see their own history through other people’s eyes. As Africans became literate in their own languages, they increasingly stood up to tell the forgotton stories of their own people’s struggles against colonial conquest and dominiance as in Mofolo’s story of the Zulu leader: Chaka.
In the 19th Century and early 20th Century African writers developed newspapers in colonial and native languages and began to contribute to the development of a body of literature. In Francophone West Africa writers such a Leopold Senghor were active in the “negritude” movement, along with Leon Damas and Aime Cesaire, French speakers from Guiana and Martinique. Their poetry and literature not only denounced imperialism, but asserted the vitality of the cultures that colonialism sought to suppress.
After World War II, Africans began demanding and then achieving independence, and the growth of African national literatures, as well as a Pan-African literature began to take shape, led by figures such as Soyinka, Achebe, Sembene, Okri, Thiong’o, p’Bitek, and Jacques Rabemannanjara. Important contributions were made by such writers as Duro Lapido, Cheeikh Hamidou Kane and the L’Aventure Ambigue, Yambo Oulougem’s Le Devoir de Violence, and Ayi Kwie Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons. They were largely writing in the global colonial languages and on themes such as the clash of the colonial and indigenous cultures, condemnation of racialism and imperial subjugation, pride in African heritage and hope for the future under independence and social transformation.
In the apartheid era, a strong literature reflected the trials and contradictions of life under that regime with the rise of writers such as Gordimer, Coetzee, Paton, Brutus, Bessie Head and Miriam Tlali, all addressing, along with universal themes, the problems of life across the racial divide.
Ironically, after so much transformation, much of more contemporary African literature seemed to reveal disillusionment, loss of hope, and dissent from current events. For example, V.Y. Mudimbe in Before the Birth of the Moon, seemed typical in exploring a doomed love affair in a society rife with deceit and corruption at all levels. And in Kenya Ngugi wa Thiong’o was arrested for producing plays in Kikuyu highly critical of the nation’s corrupt and arbitrary government.” concluded Obatala as he grew silent and thoughtful over his last glass of cognac.
At length after a long afternoon of refilled buffet plates, Champagne, cocktails and a long and significant chain of conversation and renewed small talk the small group broke up and summoned the maitre d’ to call for taxis to take them back to their hotels and they departed with an elaborate ritual of thanks, leavetaking and friendship. Over the next three days Sartorius and Bonoir attended each other’s speeches at the relevant committees and special assemblies of the Pan-African Parliament held in the meeting halls and function rooms of the Gallagher Estate in Midrand, situated astride the theoretical mid-point between the commercial capital Johannasburg and the political capital of Pretoria. Each treated the other to dinner after their speeches and both treated Wole Obatala and Pieter Verhoven to another dinner at the Ama-Cradle on the day before Obatala was to return to Lagos. Sartorius continued to pick Obatala’s brain regarding African Literature, and used up three yellow legal pads taking down his notes. They all thanked Pieter Verhoven for the many sidetrips he took them on to show them the highlights of South African culture and history in and about JoBurg and a quick jaunt to take them for a drive-by of the national capital in Pretoria, and it was with a personal regret that Eva and Sartorius waved goodbye to Verhoven and Christina at the Johannasburg International Airport as they mounted the steps to board the British Airways flight to Heathrow in the UK.
Dynamic Principles of Art and Literature:
1) The Apollinian—formal beauty and achieved balance of aesthetic perfection;
2) The Dionysian—Magnification and channeling of the infinite energies of Life and the Cosmos
3) The Promethean—The Creative and Self-Creative Impulse: Declaration of Independence from the powers of the gods and of nature—Revolutionary Humanism—-The Faustian Aspirational
4) The Transformational—Maturation, Self-transformation and Re-harmonization of creative man with the sustaining energies of Nature, Spirit, the World and the Cosmos; Continuity of Life and Death, the Living, Dead and Yet Unborn—Evolutionary Sustainability.
Possible Standards of Intrinsic/Extrinisc Literary Merit (for evaluating candidates for inclusion in the corpus of World Literature:
5) Relative Comprehensiveness of Vision
6) Degree of Power of Expression/Skill of Technique
7) Degree of Intensity of Experience and Memorableness Evoked
8) Degree of Beauty and Pleasure Experienced
Plus: Standards of Extrinsic Literary Merit:
9) Degree of Cultural and Historical Impact, Influence and Embodiment
10) Degree to which the Work has become Foundational to Values and World Views of Major Cultures, Traditions and Civilizations
11) Degree of Universality and Cross-Cultural Validity and Influence Attained
12) Subjective: Degree of Contribution to Strengthening of Collective and Individual Life Force/Enhancment of Human Powers for the Struggle of Human Life within the Cosmos
How the New Enters the World: The Function of the Modern Writer at the Present Time
The function of the modern writer is to mediate between the greatness of the past and the new. This implies a progressive conservatism of the future: its goal is the preservation of a core of values around which, in beautiful forms, the new might crystallize. Art and the imagination supply the missing seed crystals of this process. This also implies the hermeneutic imperative to understand and interpret our experience of the world and the ongoing life of which we are a part. To inherit something one has to understand it; inheritance is, after all, culture. Life is also inheritance and transformation, ever evolving onward, down to the double helical core of every cell of our inner being.
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