- "Chinese" Intextuations of the World
[If I knew a dictionary I would love it without surceaselove its order that lets nothing escape from its crammed pageslove that it calls out the names of all things with or without formlove its warped cover and its twine-peeling spine when I close itlove that it holds innumerable keys without one needing a keyholeor having to open the doornor acknowledge anything behind the doorI love reading the many divergent meanings of every unknownword and forget my own complexityI love its ignorance]Hong Hong, "與我無關的東西" ("Yu wo wuguan de dongxi")["Things That Have Nothing to Do with Me"]
What if we understood world literature in its most radical sense? What if we read literary texts not as merely in this world, nor as mere representations [End Page 318] of the world, nor as only tools for mapping intercultural flows and circulations? What if we espoused, instead, a view that repositioned world literature as of this world? As neither contained in the world, nor as creating a more or less faithful mirror of and for the world, but rather as touching on this world? Not as yet another example of the textual construction of reality but instead as an im/material participant in a process of worlding with and beyond words? Read in this sense, texts of world literature would be held accountable for the ways in which they answer the following questions, posed by Jean-Luc Nancy in The Creation of the World, or Globalization :
How do you engage the world? How do you involve yourself with the enjoyment of the world as such, and not with the appropriation of a quantity of equivalence? How do you give form to a difference of values that would not be a difference of wealth in terms of general equivalence, but rather a difference of singularities in which alone the passage of a meaning in general and the putting into play of what we call a world can take place?1
In this incipient, experimental exploration of literary worlding, I pay special attention to fictional recreations of texts that simulate a privileged link to the world, such as the encyclopedia, the dictionary, and the atlas. As nonliterary genres, even as they pose as faithful representations of a reality perceived as coherent—as a world unto itself—these are paragons of world ordering, even of world making.
The encyclopedia aspires to reunite all of the world's knowledge—or what one culture perceives as such and posits as universally valid—in one textual whole. The knowledge contained in its however many volumes is organized according to (what counts as) logical categories. Its claim to represent the wisdom of the world therefore actually determines what counts as legitimate knowledge. With its inclusionary, exclusionary, and categorizing mechanisms, the encyclopedia produces (a notion of) the order of the world.
The dictionary is an attempt to give a more or less extensive and complete account of a world through mapping a linguistic universe. The dictionary is linguistically as well as culturally specific, but, under its acceptance of linguistic relativity, it harbors an implicit claim to universality, since it gives names to all the visible and invisible things, phenomena, and ideas that are (in) the world. Its logic is one of naming or labeling. In its contemporary form, organized according to the order of words, not of things, it reshapes the world into strange contiguities where "panic" and "pannier," "sculpture" and "scum," or "wit" and "witch" rub shoulders. [End Page 319]
The atlas, like its sister genres, maps the world. Instead of presenting the world as a complete whole through a system of knowledge or linguistic expressions, the atlas orders space itself. It underlines the supposedly mimetic relation between itself and the world with the use of different media: words and maps. Even though the graphism of the map suggests its investment in the representation of the world rather than in its shaping or ordering, the atlas's mapping is anything but neutral. In its pages, geography weds politics.
When fictionalized, these textual genres lend themselves particularly well to...