- The Global South and Literature ed. by Russell West-Pavlov
The moment is ripe for a collection of critical essays on the Global South and literature: the term “Global South,” referring to a territory roughly equivalent to what was once called the Third World, has gained much traction in both academic circles and the wider public discourse. The journal The Global South, founded in 2007 and grounded in literary and cultural studies, is entering [End Page 609] its second decade. In 2014, the Modern Language Association (MLA) approved the creation of a forum on the Global South under the rubric of Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies. And, in 2016, the Association of Third World Studies (which is oriented toward the social sciences) changed its name and that of its journal to the Association of Global South Studies and the Journal Global South Studies, respectively. But, if timely, the task of such a collection is by no means uncomplicated.
While the term “Global South” may be ubiquitous, its meaning, political inflections, and critical utility remain questions of heated debate. As Russell West-Pavlov acknowledges at the opening of his introduction to The Global South and Literature, it is a “protean” term, “shifting its meanings chameleon-like across various epochs and contexts” (1). Indeed, “Global South” is not simply a place-name; nor it is properly a post–cold war substitute for the Third World, itself a term whose meanings ranged from serving as a commonly understood synonym for “underdevelopment” to naming a variety of emancipatory political projects organized under the broader principle of nonalignment, as in the Non-Aligned Movement. Several scholars have in the last decade or so argued that the Global South is not so much a place as the resistant political imaginary arising from the mutual recognition of shared or analogous circumstances by marginalized or dispossessed groups throughout the world (see the work of Alfred J. López, Anne Garland Mahler, and Vijay Prashad). In its more abstract invocations, the Global South functions as a framework for South–South comparison, where “South” refers only broadly to geographic location, privileging instead the shared experience of subalternization. From here it becomes possible to speak of a “South” within the North, as in the experience of indigenous or otherwise racialized populations, and vice versa.
A collection on the Global South and literature, therefore, must account for the overlapping and sometimes conflicting interpretations of the term “Global South.” Given its still-prevalent spatial associations, that collection should also strive for some degree of geographic coverage, combining attention to the particular (the local or regional) with elaboration of a larger whole (the Global South as a transregional collectivity). West-Pavlov rather effectively attends to this first challenge in his introduction, putting aside the temptation to stake a singular definition of the term in favor of tracing its history and competing inflections in the present. The introduction points readers to a wealth of critical material in the name of opening up multiple avenues of inquiry. Moreover, as West-Pavlov also points out, the contributions to the volume do not share in a consensus understanding of the term. While the Global South as a large-scale collectivity or comparative framework is of explicit concern in some cases (see, e.g., the essays by Dilip M. Menon, Sudesh Mishra, Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Tabish Khair, and Pashmina Murthy), in others it is only [End Page 610] the background against which a particular set of questions or texts are explored (see Hongwei Bao’s piece on the poetry of Mu Cao, for instance).
The essays in this volume are loosely organized into three sections of increasing size: Origins, Developments, and Applications. In the first, the notion of origins has less to do with genealogy than establishing an archive of precursors and intellectual touchstones. This includes the work of critics such as Édouard Glissant, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Walter Mignolo, as well as the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung (Indonesia) and the Cuban Revolution—although Sánchez Prado persuasively...