- Literature and the Experience of Globalization: Texts without Borders by Svend Erik Larsen
Svend Erik Larsen’s Literature and the Experience of Globalization, originally published in Danish in 2007, constitutes an original and readable contribution to the field of global literary studies. While its stated goal is the investigation of “literature and the experience of globalization,” it also reflects more broadly on the role of literature in the present. In the context of the current crisis in the humanities, in particular in literary studies, this question is becoming increasingly important. The fact that globalization now permeates all aspects of culture, including literature, makes this book extremely timely, as does the author’s engagement of many current analytical strands in (comparative) literary study, such as investigations into affect, the posthuman, embodiment, memory, translation, and cosmopolitanism.
In nine chapters, divided into two main parts (“Globalization in a Literary Perspective” and “Literature in a Global Perspective”), Larsen explores how literature makes its readers understand the globalized and the globalizing world. In this respect, Larsen underlines that his book “does not deal with how we read a particular type of literature [literature with explicit global themes], but with how we can use literature from various times and places to relate actively to the global and rift-filled cultural processes we find ourselves in. The focus is not on a textual theme but on reader involvement and a wider historical perspective” (14). Larsen addresses the question about literature’s cultural function and, ultimately, its relevance inside and outside the academic realm.
Three elements are particularly appealing about Larsen’s argument. First, Larsen anchors his discussion locally, in Denmark—through biographical reflections and his choice of authors—but extends it globally. Looking at globalization from the perspective of Scandinavia and Australia, geographical areas typically perceived as the margins of the globalized world, allows for a rethinking of notions regarding the center and the periphery. Second, while many studies of the relation between literature and globalization start in the twentieth century, Larsen uses texts from the past, mainly from the eighteenth century but also from the Middle Ages and Antiquity, and explores their connection to the present day. A prime example is his discussion of [End Page 613] the Yahoos, legendary beings in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), in the context of the popular Internet search engine of the same name. Third, by juxtaposing works by canonical and lesser-known authors from various geographical areas and time periods, ranging from Goethe and Shakespeare to Danish writer Ludvig Holberg and Afghan-French author Atiq Rahimi, Larsen establishes a dialogue that runs throughout the entire book and allows the reader to follow global connections between multiple works in various contexts.
Larsen’s book begs the question of the connection between literature and the experience of globalization, on the one hand, and world literature, on the other. It can therefore be read alongside such works as David Damrosch’s What Is World Literature? (2003), Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters (2007), Theo D’haen’s A Concise History of World Literature (2011), and Emily Apter’s Against World Literature (2013). In fact, Larsen himself addresses this question at the beginning and at the end of his book. Unfortunately, however, he does not articulate the difference between “world literature” and “literature and the experience of globalization” very explicitly, except to say that “literature, its own forms and historical vicissitudes are not, as in most world literature studies, at the center; the core is the challenge that our experience of globalization poses to literary works and literary studies” (285). Discussing this difference more extensively and engaging some of the other scholarship on the topic by updating the English translation of his work (which appeared after the publication of the books by Casanova, D’haen, and Apter) would have been extremely fruitful for the reader. Nevertheless, Larsen’s book constitutes an extremely readable and engaging account of why we need literature and why we need to continue...