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The World Republic of Letters Paperback – May 30 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674010213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674010215
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #459,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


This is a marvelous study of the international networks and ethnic forcefields out of which a modern world literature has emerged. In drawing a map of the literary globe, Pascale Casanova shows just how different it is from any political map ever framed. Unlike many previous comparativists, she shows just how many of the texts of literary modernism have been contributed by peoples without financial or political power. This is a brave, audacious and luminous analysis, and a bracing challenge to those who still believe in the nation as an explanatory category. This book will provoke debate for years to come. (Declan Kiberd, author of Inventing Ireland and Irish Classics)

As a researcher, Pascale Casanova specializes in the exception. Along with a literary knowledge that is exceptional in its breadth and depth, she possesses a theoretical knowledge that is truly vast and wielded with great authority. In pursuing this immense topic - the universe of relations that constitute the "World Republic of Letters" - she has set herself a daunting challenge: that of constructing, and empirically verifying, a theoretical model for the "fabric of the universal." (Pierre Bourdieu, author of Distinction and Language and Symbolic Power)

The book is remarkable for its multidisciplinary and transnational approach, and for the response it has excited in Japan as well as many other countries, where it will surely continue to inspire lively debate. (Hidehiro Tachibana, Waseda University (Tokyo, Japan))

Casanova's book is a major contribution to modern literary theory. It effectively shatters national boundaries. (Gilles Lapouge, O Estado de São Paolo (Brazil))

Corpus literarium universalis… What is interesting is that Casanova reads a series of concrete events in the history of the "republic," showing the need… for constant interpellation of aesthetic and linguistic notions. (Patricia de Souza, El País (Madrid, Spain))

The great majority of writers in a language outside the Atlantic core who have gained an international reputation have done so by introductory passage through the medium of French, not English: from Borges, Mishima and Gombrowicz, to Carpentier, Mahfouz, Krleza or Cortazar, up to Gao Xinjiang, the recent Chinese Nobel Prize-winner. The system of relations that has produced this pattern of Parisian consecration is the object of Pascale Casanova's [The World Republic of Letters], [an] outstanding example of an imaginative synthesis with strong critical intent...Here the national bounds of Bourdieu's work have been decisively broken, in a project that uses his concepts of symbolic capital and the cultural field to construct a model of the global inequalities of power between different national literatures, and the gamut of strategies that writers in languages at the periphery of the system of legitimation have used to try to win a place at the centre. Nothing like this has been attempted before. The geographical range of Casanova's materials, from Madagascar to Romania, Brazil to Switzerland, Croatia to Algeria; the clarity and trenchancy of the map of unequal relations she offers; and, not least, the generosity with which the dilemmas and ruses of the disadvantaged are explored, make her book kindred to the French élan behind the World Social Forum. It might be called a literary Porto Alegre. That implies a beginning, with much fierce argument and discussion to come. But whatever the outcome of ensuing criticisms or objections, The World Republic of Letters--empire more than a republic, as Casanova shows--is likely to have the same sort of liberating impact at large as Said's Orientalism, with which it stands comparison. (Perry Anderson London Review of Books 2004-09-23)

[A] brilliant, groundbreaking book...Casanova's work amounts to a radical remapping of global literary space...Casanova parts company with the historicism that has swept literary studies over the past two decades. Rather than tying literary phenomena to underlying social and political developments, she charts an autonomous history for literature itself. The world republic of letters is governed by its own rules, keeps time by its own historical clock, partitions the world according to its own map and features its own economics, its own inequalities and its own forms of violence...Casanova devotes the second half of her book to exploring the means by which writers from the literary periphery have sought to break into the center--a myriad of struggles whose existence has heretofore been concealed by 'the fable of an enchanted world...where universality reigns through liberty and equality.' The breadth of her scholarship here is staggering: from South America to North Africa, Eastern Europe to East Asia; from the emergent Modernism of Ibsen and Yeats to the most recent postcolonial hybridities; from 'assimilationists' like Naipul and Cioran to 'rebels' like Neruda and Achebe...She has created a map of global literary power relations where none had existed, and she has raised a host of further questions. (William Deresiewicz The Nation 2005-01-03)

There is a great deal more to this path-breaking study, not least a superb sketch of Franz Kafka, who is depicted caught between Yiddish, Czech and German, high modernism and popular nationalism. There are portraits of exiles or 'translated men' such as Joyce and Samuel Beckett who are adrift between cultures, adept at being homeless in a whole number of languages. And there are snapshots of 'assimilations' such as V S Naipaul, who eagerly identify with the imperial heritage that uprooted their own people. Casanova's range of literary allusions, from Berlin to Havana, Norway to Somalia, is astonishing...This book, which unlike many other works of literary theory is written (or at any rate translated) with exemplary lucidity, represents a milestone in the history of modern literary thought. (Terry Eagleton New Statesman 2005-04-11)

A heroically ambitious new book...aims to put this quest for literary hegemony into a deep historical context. The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova travels far and wide, from French Renaissance disputes over the language of literature to the recent fashion for post-colonial fiction--from Ronsard to Rushdie...Casanova (well-known in France as a critic and broadcaster) follows the battle waged by writers on the margins of the system to carve out a space in which a truly autonomous 'republic of letters' can flourish...Casanova's book is a demanding, rewarding read...She draws a remarkably rich and persuasive map of global writing and publishing not as 'an enchanted world that exists outside time,' but as a battlefield on which dominant languages and cultures have always wielded the heavy weapons. (Boyd Tonkin The Independent 2005-03-11)

Learned and important...It denies the existence of a so-called 'world republic of letters' that is open to all talents and that judges according to universal aesthetic standards...Casanova remaps the fantasy of a homogenized global space into regions of centers and peripheries, rigidly divided into a 'tacit and implacable hierarchy.' Between these regions she identifies only a few gates, guarded by powerful gatekeepers with murky agendas...[She] argues that as concentrations of literary 'capital' are uneven, so are judgments of literary value...The book offers several excellent analyses of 'small national literatures'...This is an original book. (K. Tölölyan Choice 2005-06-01)

Arguing for how the world marketplace of literary value functions--that is, what rules govern the 'game' of style--Casanova offers a start to thinking about how Faulkner got to be 'Faulkner,' Joyce, 'Joyce,' and Naipaul, 'Naipaul' (while any number of dominated worthies struggle angrily on the periphery). Her careful but revealing prose is a model of critical language, and in M. B. DeBevoise's translation from French it attains a martinet's clarity. If you take little from the book--such as an understanding of the freighted relation between intellectual and political power, or the obstinate resiliency of cultural capital--it's still as refreshing a read as a gulp of ice water. Powerfully researched, beautifully learned, and elegantly argued, The World Republic of Letters should be at the top of any syllabus of 'Art, Politics, and Globalism.' Its deep reading of the deep structures of intellectual life is as disconcerting, and productively counterintuitive, as it is smart. (Eric Banks Artforum 2005-12-01)

[A] rather brilliant book...Literature departments are almost always organized by language and country, but Casanova's book gives us many reasons to doubt whether this captures the way literature really works. She has an excellent account, for example, of the international influence of Faulkner--once his novels had been translated into French. (Louis Menand New Yorker 2005-12-26)

First published in 1909, Pascale Casanova's La République mondiale des lettres now appears in English in an intelligent and reliable translation, which carries also a brief but illuminating "Preface to the English-Language Edition" and a much better index than that in the original publication. (Peter France Comparative Critical Studies 2007-01-01)

This book is certain to provoke lively discussion, as any good critical study should. The wide-ranging view Casanova brings to her subject puts her in the companionship of very few literary critics capable of competing with her. (Thomas Austenfeld South Atlantic Review 2006-12-01)

[An] excellent book...Today's international space, as Casanova sees it, is created on the one hand through a rivalry between the growing number of nations eager to establish a literary prestige, promoting their poets and novelists internationally with the help of government institutions: literature here is understood as expressing the genius of a people--one thinks of the magical realist novels from South America, or indeed a book such as Midnight's Children--but its productions are only properly consecrated when translated worldwide, or, paradoxically in the case of Rushdie, when written in English. This literature is not, that is, addressed to the people whose genius it supposedly expresses and celebrates. (Tim Parks The Times Literary Supplement 2011-04-20)

About the Author

Pascale Casanova is an associated researcher at the Center for Research in Arts and Language and a literary critic in Paris. She is the author of Beckett the Abstractor (Paris, 1997), winner of the Grand Prix de l’Essai de la Société des Gens de Lettres.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ideal Work of Scholarship Feb. 8 2005
By A Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book in the original (French) while writing my dissertation (comparative literature), and quoted from it often. The writing is engaging, the author covers an encyclopedic range of writers and literary periods, and she brings a compelling theoretical perspective to fundamental questions of cultural development and social history. The book is particularly authoritative in the crucial question of how literary vernaculars legitimate themselves--a question as central to contemporary post-colonial literatures as it was to the early-modern writing of the 16th and 17th centuries. That Casanova can speak meaningfully to readers and researchers at both ends of the modern literary spectrum indicates the magnitude of her scholarly achievement. This is the kind of book that all of us who are in the academic racket would like to have written, and it is one that anyone interested in literary studies would enjoy and profit from reading. I'm looking forward to reading this translation to remind myself of what I liked about the original, and to catch any nuances that my quite non-native command of French would have missed. Thank you, Harvard, for bringing this book out in translation: please put it out in paperback, as well!
26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars French cultural propaganda Oct. 24 2009
By Jason Argonaut - Published on
Format: Paperback
While Casanova does appear to be speaking for cultural decentralization (especially where novels are concerned), her argument is so selectively and relentlessly gallocentric she winds up reifying a center-periphery vision that effectively erases alternative centers. She tends to confuse the economic dimension of (relative) cultural hegemony (who has the money to translate, publish, review, distribute?) with what one might call a strictly cultural dimension of hegemony (i.e., excellence, for want of a better word). Excellence is and has always been everywhere. As Hollywood has demonstrated within France itself over the past 40 years, having more money to produce and especially to control channels of distribution is neither a mark (necessarily) of excellence, nor is it (necessarily) a symptom of cultural superiority: it's merely a mark of having more money and organizational power to create, market, and distribute your own "product." Casanova's gallocentric view of the world is distorted badly enough where the 19th and 20th centuries are concerned (she effectively erases the fact, and significance, of writers who did not move to, dream about, or react to Parisian aesthetic dictates, while claiming to want to destabilize Parisian hegemony), although her model works relatively well for this period given the fact that Paris did nevertheless operate, relatively speaking, as something like the hegemonic center Casanova curiously both laments and goes a long way toward naturalizing (a better strategy, of course, would be to focus on the much bigger literary world that was not filtered through Paris). But her account fails utterly (and becomes a lot more like French cultural propaganda than well-informed, even-handed scholarship) when it looks at historical beginnings in the 16th and 17th centuries. Anglophone critics have pointed out the problems with her account of Shakespeare reception and of Paris's position since the 1960s (although they have missed her essential point: alas, neither New York nor even London has taken over the function of Parisian publishing houses where translation is concerned; in the US 2-3 % of books are translated, compared to England's 20-40% in the 18th century). Paris has not been displaced by New York and London; New York and London have participated in the increasing parochialism of an Anglophone world more than ever functioning like a giant cultural island with its back to a very much larger, diverse, vital world out there. It is not obvious to me that ANY city is now fulfilling Paris's 19th to mid-20th century function as literary arbiter (certainly where Latin American writers are concerned, Madrid and Barcelona in the past 50 years have been far more central to diffusion than Paris or New York: e.g., the case of Chilean Roberto Bolaño). Would comparatists centered in French and English, please, for once wake up to the fact that the world is and has always been polycentric; and that what you know and do not know is not the measure of what is worth knowing about other cultures and literatures, it's just the measure of the greater or lesser extent of your personal ignorance and the blinkers of your professional (grad school) training. Casanova niftily dismisses the medieval and early modern Italian defenses of the vernacular and the consolidation of a vernacular literature in Italian on the questionable grounds that Italian was not backed by a large, centralizing state. But she has to ignore the early modern Spanish case because it simply cannot be dismissed (except by ignoring it): unlike the Italian case, there was a large, powerful, centralizing state behind it (indeed more powerful than the French till 1648); it antedated French defenses of the vernacular by anywere from 50 to 100 years (Nebrija's groundbreaking first grammar of a European vernacular, published 1492; Valdés's Defense of the [Castillian] language of the 1530s, widely circulated in Italy as well as Spain); and the emperor Charles V's dramatic and decisive use of Castillian, and his demand that Spain take diplomatic precedence before French, at the papal court in the 1530s. Indeed, Castillian was consolidated precociously as the vehicle for official historiography and the laws of the land already by the mid-13th century, as part of the remarkable cultural project of Alfonso X of Castille (with his court at Toledo). His politically motivated cultural project is a major precursor for what was accomplished by the Spanish and French monarchies in the 16th and 17th centuries, but itself looked to the example of the great Hispano-Muslim courts at Córdoba, Seville, Toledo, etc. for its effective recognition of the crucial links between political and cultural power (it also explains why Castillian was a vehicle for major literary texts well before Nebrija and the Spanish Golden Age). More importantly, there was the translation and deep influence of Spanish letters on French beginning at least as eaarly as La Celestina (1499) [whose translation went through over a dozen editions in 16th century France], the vogue for Spanish sentimental/epistolary novels of the 1490s through the 1550s, the Continent-wide success of the chivalric book Amadis de Gaula (from 1508), Antonio de Guevara's influence on Montaigne (Montaigne recognizes that Guevara was one of his father's favorite writers, in the original!), the diffusion of picaresque novels (which originated in Spain, beginning with Lazarillo in 1554), to say nothing of Cervantes and Don Quijote. The biggest erasure of Spain in Casanova's account, however, has to do with the Spanish classical theater's widely documented influence on the beginnings of French classical theater: as is well-known but not sufficiently appreciated, Corneille's Le Cid was an adaptation of Guillén de Castro's Mocedades del Cid and a reflection of course on the Spanish medieval epic hero; Corneille's Le menteur was an adaptation of Alarcón's wonderful play, La verdad sospechosa. Many other examples could be cited: Casanova focuses on the relation between Racine and Shakespeare because if she looks at Corneille and his generation she'd have to deal with the fact that the French classical theater in significant ways emerges out of its engagement with Spanish classical theater (as well as Italian commedia dell'arte, etc.). I'm less interested in turning tables here than in drawing attention to the fact that we need, once and for all, a comparatism that sheds its vestigially 19th century narratives and stops trying to do the work of nationalists and imperialists by promoting one or another tradition as origin, center, source vs. alleged "peripheries." A disciplinary imperialism has taken the place of the old politically motivated nationalist imperialisms: but there are more intelligent ways of defending your field and particular interests than by engaging in these knee-jerk, self-serving narratives (a true comparatism recognizes and enchances the distinctive greatness of all traditions, and recognizes a "center" wherever there is human creativity). All cultures draw on others and are shot through with borrowings and contradictions, now, in the recent and remote past, and for the foreseeable future. Moretti's work on the novel, in this sense, gives a much more useful, and much less tendentious bird's-eye view of the development of the novel (although even he has a tendency to reinforce the Chunnel myopia).
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Modernist Republic of Letters, maybe April 5 2012
By jdou - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Thoughts from a scholar of revolutionary literature
Analysis of publishing data and the search for evidence of a work's "influence" on later audiences is an important first step in the creation of strong and verifiable scholarship. This step, which involves painstaking research in newspapers and archival sources of police and publishers, is often overlooked by critics who think that it is the job of the historian. For some fields such data may already exist and excellent editions make it accessible for students and scholars. But for others, such as the literature of the French Revolution and other moments of socio-political turmoil, this basic data is still missing. We have to delve into the background of publishing history ourselves: this attention to concrete data is crucial for putting literary history into true dialogue with political history, for example, or understanding traces of its echoes in art.
Pascale Casanova disparages these methods in her provocative book, The World Republic of Letters (2004). She dismisses the concepts of "reception" and "influence" as outmoded for today's readers, noting: "Plainly, this will not do." Instead she calls for critics to depict the "specific geography of literature and its unique measure of aesthetic time," or "the balance of power and competition that organizes the literary field" (103). These geo-political and economic metaphors are appropriate for Casanova's study, because it focuses on major writers of the Modernist school (1890s-1920s). It is not easy to find something new to say about such well-known writers as William Faulkland and James Joyce, and so it is appropriate--and quite fascinating--to reveal aspects of the dialogic afterlife that they inspired among writers who work in "minor" languages and hail from small countries of South America and Eastern Europe. Such famous literature responds well to this kind of scrutiny because it continues to wield a powerful role in the global publishing market, as seen in the teaching canons of high schools and universities, and in modern-day notions of aesthetic Beauty and literary Excellence. To be nick-named the "Brazilian Beckett" would be a sure-fire promise of material and intellectual success! To be named the "Brazilian Regnault-Warin," not so much. But even if the French corpus of revolutionary materials that are today emerging into sight cannot yet aspire to global geopolitical scrutiny, given the dearth of primary research and aesthetic evaluation of their place in world canons, I think that they still herald a kind of innovation that makes them worthy of close scrutiny. For that, the methods that I listed above (otherwise known as the "new positivism") are very much in demand. And Casanova is way off base.
The bottom line is that Casanova's claim to an atemporal and universal republic of letters is a bit misleading. A Modernist republic of letters is more accurate.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The geography of literature Sept. 24 2007
By Felix Bouquin - Published on
Format: Paperback
The rise of geography in the social sciences has now officially entered the field of literary theory. I read this book as a person caught between different cultural and national identities and as a writer and artist caught between traditions and questions of how - and what - to represent. It was a thrilling read for me although not everyone, I suspect, will like the implications of this book. This isn't really the forum to go into them, but they are potentially revolutionary - and potentially liberating. Casanova's method draws heavily on the political sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and the historical sociology of Ferdinand Braudel. English-language fans of Immanuel Wallerstein and David Harvey will find fascinating correspondences. There are moments when I felt that she might be pushing her thesis too far, only to have my doubts dispelled within moments. 'The World Republic of Letters' is, I believe, the tip of the iceberg: these ideas will ripple out beyond literature into the broader cultural studies field. I hope many more people - especially writers who are, like me, baffled by the seeming bankruptcy of contemporay fiction - will engage with this book. It is only when we are stripped of our illusions and fantasies of what constitutes art and beauty that we shall be finally able to become true artists.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Redundancy Dec 18 2007
By Richard Zimdars - Published on
Format: Paperback
Casanova's book probably reads better in the original French than in this lumbering translation. Nonetheless, in any language the book suffers from constant repetition of the same ideas. The book could easily have been one hundred pages shorter. Much of the discussion goes over old ground. The concluding chapter is not revelatory at all, but is worth pondering. Experienced readers might do well to skip directly to it.