Skip to Content

World Literature in the World: Teaching Literature in English Beyond Europe and North America

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Maya Aghasi

Contact the Seminar Organizers

World literature has been the poster child of diversity in literary studies. It has been described as being a window on the world that allows us to glimpse unknown cultures and past times. It has been touted to build bridges and encourage empathy and has been taught to broaden our students’ literary horizons beyond North American and European traditions. The study of world literature, though, has become increasingly Ameri-centric; as a pedagogical practice, it has focused on introducing “foreign” works into the American classroom. Works like the Korean The Vegetarian are juxtaposed with Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist,” and “exotic” traditions such as the ghazal are listed on syllabi to highlight the stretch of foreignness that will be traversed to broaden our literary horizons. Such practices make it clear that the implied student (or professor) of world literature is North American or European. Indeed, the very gaze of the field—including its theory and criticism—is North American or European in spite of the plethora of criticism produced by postcolonial scholars on the problems of such an approach. This raises the problem of teaching world literature, or literature more generally, in an English department outside of North America or Europe. Would ghazal be “world literature” in an American university in Lebanon, for instance? What about Jane Eyre? Or Beloved?

This panel seeks to understand what it means to teach world literature, or literature in general, in English outside Europe or North America. How does the English language and its global hegemony affect our pedagogical practices? Do literary texts offer windows on the world, or do they frame the world, limiting vision to a very particular way of seeing? By exploring such questions, this panel seeks to address how teaching literature in English departments globally forces us to re-conceive the field of world literature and, indeed, of literary study.

Papers on pedagogical experiences/conundrums, syllabi that worked/that didn’t, as well as critical and theoretical explorations are welcome.

«Back To Seminars