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The World Republic of Letters

The World Republic of Letters

Pascale Casanova

Translated by Malcolm DeBevoise

ISBN 9780674010215

Publication date: 04/30/2007

The "world of letters" has always seemed a matter more of metaphor than of global reality. In this book, Pascale Casanova shows us the state of world literature behind the stylistic refinements--a world of letters relatively independent from economic and political realms, and in which language systems, aesthetic orders, and genres struggle for dominance. Rejecting facile talk of globalization, with its suggestion of a happy literary "melting pot," Casanova exposes an emerging regime of inequality in the world of letters, where minor languages and literatures are subject to the invisible but implacable violence of their dominant counterparts.

Inspired by the writings of Fernand Braudel and Pierre Bourdieu, this ambitious book develops the first systematic model for understanding the production, circulation, and valuing of literature worldwide. Casanova proposes a baseline from which we might measure the newness and modernity of the world of letters--the literary equivalent of the meridian at Greenwich. She argues for the importance of literary capital and its role in giving value and legitimacy to nations in their incessant struggle for international power. Within her overarching theory, Casanova locates three main periods in the genesis of world literature--Latin, French, and German--and closely examines three towering figures in the world republic of letters--Kafka, Joyce, and Faulkner. Her work provides a rich and surprising view of the political struggles of our modern world--one framed by sites of publication, circulation, translation, and efforts at literary annexation.


  • This is a marvelous study of the international networks and ethnic forcefields out of which a modern world literature has emerged. In drawing a map of the literary globe, Pascale Casanova shows just how different it is from any political map ever framed. Unlike many previous comparativists, she shows just how many of the texts of literary modernism have been contributed by peoples without financial or political power. This is a brave, audacious and luminous analysis, and a bracing challenge to those who still believe in the nation as an explanatory category. This book will provoke debate for years to come.

    —Declan Kiberd, author of Inventing Ireland and Irish Classics


  • Pascale Casanova is an associated researcher at the Center for Research in Arts and Language and a literary critic in Paris. She is the author of Beckett the Abstractor (Paris, 1997), winner of the Grand Prix de l’Essai de la Société des Gens de Lettres.

Book Details

  • 440 pages
  • 1-1/16 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press