Vallejo and world literature

In modernism, the universal and the obscure make familiar bedfellows. Who in the 20th century wrote poetry more deserving of being translated into all languages and sent on thumb-drives in spaceships to all galaxies — so that aliens may become acquainted with our better selves before deciding whether to enslave or befriend us — than the impoverished Peruvian Communist and surrealist César Vallejo did upon returning to his tiny rented apartment in Paris from a Republican Spain that was attempting to stave off fascism? Virtually no Parisians, Peruvians, Spanish speakers, or fellow Communists read Vallejo at the time; his posthumous Poemas Humanos (1939) intone distraught sermons to a nonexistent congregation on the lost cause of somebody else’s civil war. These poems continue to live, while the works of such contemporary world-spanning giants as Malraux and Gide slowly fade to oblivion. Which goes to show that “world literature” is like happiness: you might possibly achieve it, but not by aiming to.

Here is the article. Comparative Literature in the philological sense acabou, says my other friend, because it requires knowing “other” languages and cultures and/but defines these as French and German, basically. Postcolonial theory (which has its own problems, of course) showed how Eurocentric that was and the next paradigm(s) became world or global literature (along with global English), these are problematic in their own ways. How to do Comparative Literature, then? “By following the material networks of literary circulation: what your authors actually read, what translations actually exist, and so on.”

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