ERIC Number: EJ937007
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Jul
Reference Count: 48
What Good Is World Literature?: World Literature Pedagogy and the Rhetoric of Moral Crisis
Smith, Karen R.
College English, v73 n6 p585-603 Jul 2011
The past decade has seen a resurgence of scholarship on world literature. The best-selling successes of "Great Books" arguments contained in Azar Nafisi's memoir "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and in Dai Sijie's novel "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" seem to mirror, on the popular front, this scholarly return to the question of world literature's meaning and value. Many would argue that this current emphasis flows seamlessly from the developments of the past fifty years, which saw the rise of post-colonial and multicultural literary studies and, with them, the advent of the culture wars in which world literature, particularly the survey course with its premise of totality, often served as a battleground. The author counters that in the past decade, the nature of the discussion of world literature has shifted, and that the present moment may in some ways be compared to the period following World War II in the United States, when the convergence of world events with an influx of new students on the 1944 GI Bill accelerated the development of broad international survey courses and professional discussions of how and why to teach them. As at that time, the idea of world literature, deeply contested during the culture wars, is once again emerging as a pedagogical response to global events that challenge existing paradigms of national identity in the United States. Indeed, the author argues that a review of the rise and fall of interest in the methods and impact of teaching world literature reveals three distinct eras: (1) the postwar period of the late 1940s; (2) the culture wars era that came to a head in the 1980s; and (3) the past decade or so, in which post-Cold War globalism, transnationalism, and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks have inspired reexaminations of the field. Each of these three eras has produced distinct but comparable ideas about the nature of world literature and about the value of literary study for a world, and a nation, in crisis.
Descriptors: World Literature, Introductory Courses, Nationalism, War, Moral Values, Teaching Methods, Rhetoric, Veterans, Terrorism, Educational History, Course Content
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A