World Systems & the Creole
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Narrative 14.1 (2006) 102-112



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WORLD SYSTEMS & THE CREOLE

I am delighted to have been asked to respond to this important and exciting paper. I want to sketch out the broad points of solidarity between Professor Dimock and myself and then point to some suggestions for the kind of future work that can arise out of so rich an undertaking.

First I would like to express solidarity vis-à-vis Franco Moretti: "I would like," Professor Dimock writes, "to caution against what strikes me as [Moretti's] over-commitment to general laws, to global postulates operating at some remove from the phenomenal world of particular texts." This resonates with what I wrote in Death of A Discipline, although I was, admittedly, a little stronger: "The worlds systems theorists upon whom Moretti relies . . . are . . . useless for literary study—that must depend on texture" (108).1 Thanks to initiatives such as Professor Dimock's, we can begin to emphasize the altogether obvious point: in order to do distant reading one must be an excellent close reader, as both Wai Chee Dimock and Fredric Jameson make abundantly clear.

I also find interesting Professor Dimock's idea that "the epic is a cross-over phenomenon." I would like to go on record as joining in this, beyond simply noting the kind of intertextuality where a modern text clearly alludes to an ancient one, "encoding the temporal within the lexical," in Professor Dimock's lovely words. I suggested that Maryse Condé's slim novel Heremakhonon deploys epic time in the very management of narrative time itself: [End Page 102]

Clearly, with the disappearance of robust orality, the epic tendency could not just shrivel. Rather than call deliberately large-scale narrative undertakings "epic" by a species of descriptive metaphor of size and complexity—we could call this training of memory by the impersonal heterogeneity of "historical " times a displacement of epic play. . . . Heremakhonon, with its rich epic dimension—loosely named "Africa," "Islam," "decolonization," and the like (unitary names suppressing the plural epic as monoculture does biodiversity)—can then open the door closed by Aristotle when he compared the slim tragedy to the massive performative epic.22 It is a large and generic door, closed when history, tied to the self-determination of the individual, began to be written on a gradual incomprehension of the miraculous mnemic scripting of orality. . . . To say that the timing of the text is hybrid is to learn to read its epic dimension and witness this acknowledgement.
(Staging 91–92)

Professor Dimock does not suggest, as do I, that in such use of narrative time, literature touches orature; but her argument can clearly take it on board.

For her distant reading, Professor Dimock turns to anthropology as a model. I do of course most heartily endorse this move. Here I would like to elaborate a little and again, I feel confident that Professor Dimock's approach can take this on. I should mention that I have discussed this part of my response with Professor Rosalind Morris.

It is not really "literary anthropology" that Professor Dimock uses as her model.

(My response was composed with reference to an earlier version of Professor Dimock's essay. The phrase "literary anthropology" was used in its initial paragraphs: "I was in Beijing a few weeks ago," she had then started,

and was struck by a phrase that seemed to come up again and again even in the handful of articles that I happened to be reading: "literary anthropology." This is not a phrase we use very much in this country; in fact, with the exception of Wolfgang Iser, I don't recall seeing it anywhere else. I (would?) like to borrow it as a preface to this talk—as a summary and apology for the very immodest claim that I seem to be making: namely, that in order to think about the epic and the novel in conjunction, we need an analytic frame that has to be measured in terms of continents, an analytic frame that reflects, not the life of a single nation, and not the...