Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘Writing Adrift in the World’

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Every year I send a number of my Italian students in the Masters in Translation program at IULM University, Milan to England on an exchange. Years ago they would take general courses in English and American literature; then it was post-colonial literature; now they study “world literature.” Looking at the reading lists, which range far and wide chronologically and geographically, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Ernest Hemingway, the Tale of Genji to Jorge Luis Borges, it is hard to imagine how a strong sense of context can be built up around any of the individual works. Or rather, the only relevant context is the human race, planet Earth, post 5000 BCE, circa. The stress will be on the essential and universal rather than the local and accidental; the subtext, as David Shields insists in a recent polemic on contemporary fiction in Little Star (excerpted here), that “Every man contains within himself the entire human condition.”

But does he? Or she?

Tim Park considers literature after national canons in the New York Review of Books.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm

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