Memos from the Besieged City: Lifelines for Cultural Sustainability

Memos from the Besieged City: Lifelines for Cultural Sustainability

Memos from the Besieged City: Lifelines for Cultural Sustainability

Memos from the Besieged City: Lifelines for Cultural Sustainability


Memos from the Besieged City argues for the institutional and cultural relevance of literary study through foundational figures, from the 1200s to today, who defied precarious circumstances to make significant contributions to literacy and civilization in the face of infelicitous human acts. Focusing on historically vital crossroads- Baghdad, Florence, Byzantium, Istanbul, Rome, Paris, New York, Mexico City, Jerusalem, Beijing, Stockholm, Warsaw- Kadir looks at how unconventional and nonconformist writings define literacy, culture, and intellectual commitment. Inspired by political refugee and literary scholar Erich Auerbach's path-breaking Mimesis, and informed by late twentieth-century ideological and methodological upheavals, the book reflects on literacy and dissidence at a moment when literary disciplines, canons, and theories are being reassessed under the pressure of globalization and transculturation. At the forefront of an ethical turn in the comparative analysis of cultures and their literary legacies, it reminds us of the best humanity can produce.


To articulate the past historically … means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes
up at a moment of danger…. the danger affects both the content of the tradition
and its receivers. the same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the
ruling classes. in every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away
from a conformismi that is about to overpower it.

—Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, VI(194o)

This is more than an academic matter.

—Bella Brodzki, Can These Bones Live?

Memory intensifies when cultures that memory made possible come under siege. Cultural memory and cultural literacy have always been coeval. Literature, an integral part of this cultural history, is a line of stories. Comparative reading and teaching draw the lines of literature into a force field. the energies of that field coalesce into a series of problems. These problems aggregate into a set of disciplinary practices called comparative literature. This book explores and illustrates a number of these practices. It does so by tracing a genealogy of the discipline through certain defining precedents that inform its current institutional protocols. Each of the interconnected chapters is devoted to a particular set of problems. Historically focused by means of a number of predecessors and their legacies, each chapter illustrates a significant facet of a multifaceted discipline: the subject (Chapter i); world history and world literature (Chapter 2) . . .

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