- Towards a Radical World Literature:Experimental Writing in a Globalizing World
Avant-garde and experimental writings have been associated with a wide range of political perspectives and agendas, including emancipatory struggles for social justice, “progressive” ideologies, militant actions, repressive regimes, and allegedly apolitical forms of creative expression. This special issue focuses on a radical strand of experimental world literature, one that participates critically and creatively in the ongoing struggle for affirmative social transformation in a globalizing world. This kind of radical literary experiment is indebted, at least in part, to the revolutionary ideas and practices of the nineteenth-century avant-garde, which inaugurated and inspired “a range of social postures and strategies for artists by which they could differentiate themselves from current social and cultural structures while also intervening in them” (Orton and Pollock 142). This spirit of avant-gardism1 continued to stimulate the emancipatory agendas and fictions of the twentieth century, including its anti-colonial, democratic, feminist/queer, and ecological movements. Such experiments have contributed to a radical imagination, understood as an ongoing and collective effort “to think critically, reflexively and innovatively about the social world” (Haiven and Khasnabish 2). However, in our contemporary era of neoliberal capitalism and still-incomplete decolonization, we suggest that radical experimental writing now faces distinctive creative challenges as it seeks to surpass the known limits of globalization’s own world-making experiments and to inaugurate new forms of collective knowledge and coexistence.
This special issue investigates how contemporary experimental world literature mediates the scales, locations, and practices of globalization’s world-making activities through its radical interventions. To frame the “problem” of experimental writing in a globalizing world, this introduction calls for a materialist world literary critique of writing that tests new propositions about social transformation and articulates alternatives to [End Page 1] prevailing hegemonies and epistemologies. Specifically, we argue for the world-making potential of the textual experiment as it interrogates and rearticulates its position within the world literary field and the long history of social transformation. We reject the idea of an experimentalism that emanates from a single Western European centre or proceeds linearly and argue instead for a conjunctural approach to aesthetic and political resistance. If the twentieth century saw the waning of certain modes of experimentation, we also find ample evidence of the reawakening of experimental literatures in the contemporary period, especially in writing that seeks to renew and extend the call for social justice globally. We propose that the radical literary experiment interrogates its participation in the long history of globalization and renders visible other critical and creative views of transformation, particularly through its challenges to the inequalities that structure the prevailing global imaginary and world literary field. In the final part of this introduction, we discuss how the contributors to this collection address the radical experiment as a form of world-making that seeks to re-envision worldly belonging and coexistence on a planetary scale.
Our approach to experimental writing differs from that of The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, which rather blandly defines literary experimentalism2 as “[t]he commitment to exploring new concepts and representations of the world through methods that go beyond the established conventions of literary tradition” (Baldick 120). This definition may suffice within communities that share a dominant construction of established literary conventions and a universalist conception of what constitutes “the world.” But it does not account for the particularities of experimental world literatures that mediate the heterogeneous perspectives, cultural traditions, and political possibilities of an unevenly developed world-system. In our contemporary era of globalization, the literary experiment offers a fresh ethico-political articulation of the world as “an ongoing dynamic process of becoming, something that possesses a historical-temporal dimension and hence is continually being made and remade” (Cheah 42). In our view, experimental literatures not only participate in world-making but self-consciously foreground the challenges associated with their efforts to reconstitute globalization as [End Page 2] a process of world historical transformation through the alternative accounts, knowledge, and critiques they seek to generate and disseminate.
This world literary perspective also differs from the largely formalist approach outlined by the editors...