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Properties of the "Global" Novel: : Comparative and Otherwise

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Organizer: Sangeeta Ray

Co-Organizer: Jeanne Marie Jackson

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The novel has been criticized for being Eurocentric, implicitly liberal, and increasingly removed from the field’s most innovative directions (e.g. the turn to popular forms, virtual worlds, or the anthropocene). And yet the “global turn” in literary studies, along with the presence of new and prestigious book prizes, has seen an embarrassment of riches in terms of internationally available novels from the Global South, either written in English or in translation (for example, the Congolese novel Tram 83 or the first novel to be translated from Burundi, Baho!). On what evidence, then, are such dismissive truisms based? A critical mass of novels from “global” geographies, which would include Africa and South Asia, but also novels translated from other spaces like The Story of My Teeth (Spanish [Mexico], The Vegetarian (South Korea), The True Deceiver (Swedish), or Maidenhair (Russian) remain under-theorized. This panel proposes a closer look at significant novels from the Global South and other spaces (including those very popular in the US, like Amitav Ghosh’ Sea of Poppies, but also those with mostly local followings like Jennifer Makumbi's ground-breaking novel Kintu) in order to uncover what comparatist properties may be intrinsic to the form. In observing how attributes like multilingual philology, self-reflexive acts of translation, and contrapuntal design emerge organically outside places and languages traditionally identified with the novel, we build a more robust set of possibilities for imagining the relation of literary form to literary method and histories. Thus, we may examine moments of embedded rather than prescriptive cosmopolitanism, and think about globality as a formal function rather than a “theme” or market phenomenon. We may ask whether and why some novels are intrinsically more comparative than others, re-locating comparison from a strictly academic field to a broader literary concern.

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