The Idea of World Literature: History and Pedagogical Practice

Article excerpt

John Pizer, The Idea of World Literature: History and Pedagogical Practice. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2006. 190 pp.

Goethe did not coin the term Weltliteratur, as John Pizer notes in his introduction. This distinction appears to belong to Christoph Martin Wieland, who used it in undated notes to his translation of Horace's letters. Because Wieland died fourteen years prior to Goethe's first mention of the term in 1827, he would technically deserve credit for it. Another possible candidate is the lesser-known August Ludwig Schlözer, whose "Vorstellung der Universaltheorie" uses the term as early as 1772. Despite their advocates' attempts to insert them into the history of Weltliteratur, neither Wieland nor Schlözer plays a substantial role in the genealogy of this concept, Pizer argues, because Goethe's engagement with this topic both set the tone of the discussion and continues to inform not only the question of "world literature" but also current interests in transnationalism and globalization.

This study offers a unique contribution to Goethe scholarship insofar as it exceeds traditional readings of Goethe in a number of ways. First, the author offers a fine example of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, in other words, scholarship that is explicitly concerned with what takes place in the classroom and dedicated to improving the impact of our teaching on our students. This aspect of the work complements its traditional scholarly strengths. Pizer carefully balances critical engagement with readings of Weltliteratur since Goethe with regular consideration of the value this endeavor might have for students in "World Literature in English Translation" courses. Beyond "the desire to fill a critical gap in literary history," the author incorporates a "metatheoretical dimension" in his work, as he explains: "That is to say, students in introductory World Literature courses should gain a knowledge of the history of Weltliteratur itself, an overview of the development of this paradigm from Goethe to the present day" (3). He offers his text as an aid to instructors, and in the Afterword, he elaborates on his "metatheoretical approach." Pizer's intended audience offers a further example of how this work extends beyond the bounds of traditional Goethe scholarship by offering a meaningful contribution to Goethe scholars but not limiting itself to them.

Following the introduction are three chapters dealing with Weltliteratur within the German context. Chapter 2,"The Emergence of Weltliteratur: Goethe and the Romantic School," considers Goethe's employment and elaboration of the concept within the rapidly expanding communication and transportation networks and emphasizes the dialectical relationship between the universal and the particular in Goethe's view of Weltliteratur. Drawing upon the vast literature dedicated to this topic, Pizer expands the discussion to include theorists such as Homi Bhabha and Edward Said, and he revisits Mikhail Bakhtin's reading of Goethe's sketch "Aufenthalt in Pyrmont" (1801), underscoring the dialectic relationship between global and local, macro- and microcosm. …


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