Complaints, despair

I’m troubled by the metaphors (?) this week’s secondary readings use to understand the translation and circulation of “world literature.” First, Berglund leans heavily on the idea of a linguistic core, periphery, and semi-periphery, apparently invoking world-systems theory. (While the terms “core” and “periphery” seem to be commonly used in network analysis, the use of “semi-periphery” is, as far as I can tell, basically exclusive to world-systems.)

I put a question mark after “metaphors” in the preceding paragraph because I’m not sure precisely how we’re meant to read these terms. Are they naming a relationship of domination and exploitation? Suggesting a homology between an economic world system and a linguistic or literary one? And what exactly is the “periphery” in this model? Berglund plays fast and loose with the concept, first describing Swedish novelists as “writing from a periphery” (77) then seeming to accept Heilbron’s quantitatively/sociologically-based identification of Swedish-language novels as “semi-peripheral” (83). Meanwhile, world-systems theory consistently identifies Sweden as a core country. Ultimately, this lack of clarity on the definition of periphery seems to contribute to Berglund’s ambivalent conclusion that “‘otherness’ or ‘exoticness’” are both “a requirement and an opportunity” (87). In this model, Swedish literature seems to wind up almost but not quite exploited, and almost but not quite dominant. I suspect that more clarity would be possible were this analysis backed by a clearer account of political and economic power dynamics on a global scale, in addition to its account of global literary production.

Beecroft substitutes the idea of multiple “ecologies” for the core-periphery model Berglund employs, but his model of world literature remains dependent on some dubious ideas about the ease of immigration, multiple citizenship, and movement across borders. Discussing global literary ecology, Beecroft suggests that as languages and texts “escape the bonds of the nation-state,” “we may be moving in the direction of just such a borderless world” (36). As nice as it is to think about the “writers of the future Anglosphere […] carry[ing] dual passports” (264), we may also wish to question who can simply “choose” to take on such a global identity given the current climate of militarized borders and renewed assaults on immigrants and refugees.

In summary, it seems that both these theories are evoking political realities of immigration and core-periphery relationships only to submerge those issues again. These issues are, however, raised fairly explicitly by Faceless Killers, a book about how “foreigners” are violent and dangerous, or really aren’t, or are after all, and about its protagonist’s libidinal relationship to blackness. (Is this novel exoticizing Sweden as Berglund suggests, or is it exoticizing blackness and other forms of racial and national difference!?!?!?) This post is too long already, so I’ll leave off here, mid-idea.