- Introduction: Thinking Literature across Continents
As we mark the twentieth anniversary of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies: A Journal of Criticism and Theory, this special issue underscores the inherent and ongoing value of multidisciplinary critical inquiry. With the second decade of our young century slouching toward its fruition, globalism has become increasingly beset by political and cultural hostility. Entitled “Thinking Literature across Continents,” this special number addresses the “how and why” of literary study in a transnational context.
In this special issue, the contributors challenge us to reconsider our own critical perspectives vis-à-vis a wide range of literary works and genres. In their important volume Thinking Literature across Continents (2016), Ghosh and his coauthor J. Hillis Miller interrogate our contemporary analyses of world literature, pedagogy, and the ethics of literary study itself. As Ghosh observes in his introductory remarks to Thinking Literature across Continents, “the trans-moment or trans-now is about enacting a communication—difficult and debatable—between apparently incompatible paradigms of thought and concepts” (5). Indeed, it is these seemingly “incompatible paradigms of thought and concepts” that merit our most fervent critical energies during these turbulent times in which ideas of globalism are increasingly perceived as alien and threatening. [End Page 129]
As with Ghosh and Miller—who work from divergent continents, cultures, training, and critical viewpoints—the essayists in this special issue provide a powerful and illuminating space for establishing a much-needed dialogue regarding the creation of a transnational theory of literature. With Ghosh serving as a kind of textual thought-leader, these writers are working toward establishing a clear understanding of textual meaning and the vital contexts in which those utterances are made. In so doing, Ghosh and his contributors astutely work to establish new vistas for understanding our literary and cultural traditions and—perhaps most significantly—to create a valuable space for exploring the ways in which they are produced, communicated, and ultimately disseminated. In “X-Trails: Notes on Another English School,” Sigi Jöttkandt addresses Ghosh and Miller’s divergent readings of Matthew Arnold’s “The Scholar-Gipsy” and Wallace Stevens’s “The Motive for Metaphor.” By juxtaposing these canonical works with Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia,” Jöttkandt reveals the ways in which a sense of “unreadability” emerges—one that pointedly challenges the very communication model upon which educational practices depend. As Jöttkandt points out, “It is hard to argue with this impulse to open the teaching of literature and theory toward the global world we have always lived in and, moreover, from a more attentive perspective to the deep imbrication of ‘English’ with Western imperialist and colonialist legacies and histories.” In Jöttkandt’s argument, then, reconciling the resulting fallout from our contemporary practices of unreadability is essential if we are to further the vital aims of literary education.
In “Reinventing the Teaching Machine for Our Time: Reading Thinking Literature across Continents,” Ming Dong Gu acknowledges that “teachers of literature around the world are confronted with a stark reality: shrinking reading public of literature in society, and dwindling enrollment of literary majors in colleges and universities due to the ongoing digital revolution and pressures from STEM (science, technology, engineering, Mathematics) subjects.” As Gu demonstrates, this diminishing readerly interest has impinged upon the consumption of Western and Eastern literatures alike in a host of different and often alarming ways. Through his reflection on Ghosh and Miller’s book, Gu examines literature’s fate and future during an era in which globalization and telecommunication have become inextricably linked. With “Pondering along with Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller’s Thinking Literature Across Continents,” Erik S. Roraback examines similar terrain, drawing upon Ghosh and Miller’s book as a means for establishing a new culture of learning during our “hypermediatized and digitized twenty-first century.” Roraback argues for a more expansive conception [End Page 130] of what constitutes literature. In so doing, he contends that “as a form of universality, literature merits this sort of caretaking and cultivation for our shared and collective possible futures and forms of critical citizenship.”
In “Traveling Criticism and the Worlds of Literature,” Daniel Dooghan examines the concept of world literature as a form of literary pluralism...