restricted access Literature for Europe? by Theo D'haen and Iannis Goerlandt (review)
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Literature for Europe? Edited by Theo D'haen and Iannis Goerlandt. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. 437 pp. Cloth $132.00.

In contrast to the Americas at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the European Union remains the place in which most books are published, literary and otherwise, translated and untranslated—a place where multilingual "cultural literacy" is the order of everyday life. In twenty-two chapters, the volume under review seeks to examine how literary texts of all genres and in all European languages shape the cultural and political self-perception of Europe in a seemingly globalized world. While it is not be possible to do justice to every contribution in this volume, they do have much in common. Above all, they seek to investigate what the editors describe as the formation of a "common literary 'space'" in Europe (5) while also critically examining how such a common literary space is marked by tensions and, of course, by the hybrid nature of those literary texts that are located at the intersection of Europe with its perceived other—from Turkey to Japan and further afield.

Seeking to outline a clearer definition of what constitutes "European literature," Pascale Casanova's opening chapter adopts a position shaped by Jürgen Habermas's notion of an ongoing project of modernity: Europe is undergoing a progressive "literary unification" (13) and European literature should thus not be conceived merely in terms of a collection of national literatures but also in terms of a somewhat diffuse and highly dynamic transnational literary space. On the one hand, the circulation of literary texts through translations, and through the influence they exert on authors from a range of different national backgrounds outside Europe, renders contemporary European literature a part of what Casanova calls "world literary space" (21). On the other hand, it is difficult to overlook that such a transnational literary project remains a highly contested enterprise. On a more positive note, Europe's diversity might be reflected in the diversity of its literary cultures, although those literary cultures are also tied up with the conflicts, political and otherwise, of Europe's past (22). [End Page 364]

Each of the following contributions highlights, at times unintentionally, the enormous difficulties anyone has to face who wishes to outline a research object as elusive as "European literature." One wonders whether it is even possible to come to any definition: considering the examples cited—from Novalis to Hilde Spiel, W. G. Sebald, Yoko Tawada, and beyond—European literature seems to be constituted by all texts that, in one way or another, are either written in Europe or about a topic relevant to Europe. The vagueness of European literature to some extent reflects the vagueness of the idea of Europe itself. European literature, as the editors note, might mirror the "diversity in unity" that marks the current European Union (7), but the question is whether such set phrases are not more suitable to the official memoranda composed by EU civil servants pondering the greater social value of funding museums for local folklore on Aegean islands.

There is, of course, a serious question that stands in the background of this volume: the primary historical points of reference for most of the chapters are the Second World War, including the Holocaust, and the migration in and to Western European countries after 1945. It should not be surprising that both shape the very notion of contemporary European literature to a considerable degree. These themes come to the fore particularly in the excellent chapters written by Christoph Parry on the imagination of Europe in modern fiction, Ottmar Ette on European literature in a global context of migration, and Kristian Van Haesendonck on the construction of "Europe" among Caribbean intellectuals. Following a number of selected works of fiction, from Hilde Spiel's The Darkened Room (1961) to W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz (2001), Parry convincingly shows how the postnational identity of Europe and European literature is marked by an irreducible tension between belonging and otherness, between a desire for home and the need to share historical predicaments with others in unexpected ways. Although one might take issue with Parry's somewhat emotional description...