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The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova

Submitted by Robert Buch, Assistant Professor of Germanic Studies:
"A remarkable study that tries to redefine and to reinvigorate the study of world literature.  Pascale Casanova's book aims at overcoming the compartmentalization (and departmentalization) of national literary histories, replacing an evolutionary (and putatively organic) model of literary history with a spatial and economic one.  Inspired by Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of the field and of cultural capital, the author examines what she calls the 'univers littéraire', the space of world literature in which writers occupy and compete for positions.  Casanova argues that this world-wide republic of letters is constituted out of the struggle for recognition and dominance.  The critic is particularly interested in the exchange and 'commerce' between the center and the peripheries and in the mechanisms by which authors (and national literatures) with no noteworthy position in the 'world republic of letters' manage to create a space for themselves.  

She thus studies the rivalries and revolutions, the challenges to existing authorities and hierarchies taking place in the world literary space.  However, Casanova's 'spatial turn' does not entirely abandon the diachronic perspective, for the world literary universe has its own history.  In Casanova's account it begins with Joachim du Bellay's challenge to the dominance of Latin as the language of literature and learning by advocating the vernacular as an alternate literary language (As Dante, Petrarch, and Bocaccio had done earlier).  It continues via Herder, Goethe and the German Romantics all of whom defined a new sense of German national literature against the universalist claims of French classicism and its cultural hegemony.  They did so by translating and appropriating the Greeks, Shakespeare, and Cervantes as well as recovering the popular tradition of folk tales and song.  In the nineteenth- and twentieth century numerous 'smaller' literatures follow Herder's lead, choosing different ways of positioning (and thereby inventing) themselves vis-à-vis the established 'world literatures.'   The range of cultural (both geographical and historical) contexts in which Casanova studies these struggles is truly impressive.  Besides outstanding chapters on the 'Irish miracle' (Yeats, Joyce, Beckett); on the discovery, 'consecration' and subsequent influence of Faulkner in France (and elsewhere); on Kafka as a Yiddish writer, the book includes chapters and sections on the different Scandinavian literatures, Brasilian modernism, the boom of the Latin-American novel, Franco- and Anglophone authors from a variety of backgrounds, Eastern European writers (Danilo Kis, et al.), Spain's generation of new writers, etc."

Field of Blood by Denise Mina

Submitted by Deborah Nelson, Associate Professor, English Language & Literature:
"Mina has been called 'the Princess of Scottish noir' (from a group that includes Ian Rankin and Allan Guthrie), having made her reputation with the Garnett Hill Trilogy. Field of Blood introduces a new character, Paddy Meehan, an overweight, smart-mouthed girl from working class Glasgow who is trying to turn her job as a copy runner at the Scottish Daily News into a career in journalism. Two stories are interwoven: young Paddy Meehan's, and an older male Paddy Meehan's (a career criminal of no relation), each of which turns on a murder in a bleak Glasgow neighborhood. The mystery is in itself compelling, but the vision of working class despair and Paddy's desperate attempts not to succumb to it take the novel beyond the genre fiction category.

If you've read other Mina novels, you'll know that her writing voice is remarkably chameleon. Her previous novel, Deception, which is also very good, sounds nothing like this one. Field of Blood is gritty, dark, and funny, too, with a moral question wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a social commentary."

Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means by William T. Vollmann

Submitted by Rajeev Kinra, FIH Dissertation Fellow:
One of the great stylists of his generation, Vollmann spent decades preparing his magnum opus, a penetrating seven-volume meditation on the 'moral calculus' of human violence from antiquity to the present day; now this welcome abridged version--which retains plenty of the original's grisly, spellbinding, and timely substance--has made Vollmann's haunting masterpiece far more accessible to all readers who might, like me, feel increasingly confounded by the pervasive and morally dubious violence of our own times.





Photo Credit: Mai Vukcevich

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