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New Left Review 48, November-December 2007


Roberto Schwarz discusses the cultural-political import of rival interpretations of Machado de Assis, within the critical space of world literature. Local versus international, specific versus universal, entangled within the ironies and dizzying narrative disjunctures of a Brazilian master.

ROBERTO SCHWARZ

COMPETING READINGS IN WORLD LITERATURE

In her book, Borges: A Writer on the Margins, Beatriz Sarlo describes the ‘curious sensation’ of lecturing on Borges at Cambridge: ‘There I was, an Argentine woman in an English university, talking about another Argentine who today is considered “universal” . . . Borges’s international reputation had purged him of his nationality.’ What is at stake, culturally and politically, in this ‘purging’? The case of the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis (1839–1908) offers us the chance to locate two sets of readings as—unequal: agonistic?—parts of the global literary system. [1] Pascale Casanova, La République mondiale des lettres, Paris 1999. See also ‘Literature as a World’, nlr 31, January–February 2005. The first is rooted in the national-historical experience of the periphery; the second, based in the dominant metropolitan centres (first Paris and London; now indubitably the United States) seeks to identify new entrants to the canon of world literature: masterpieces fit to set beside the great works of the established tradition. What is the relation between these readings—or rather, between the conceptual matrices that lie behind them? And what should it be?

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