The book: The World Republic of Letters
The contention: There is a "world republic of letters" analagous to the international political system. Entrenched by hundreds of years of cultural history, several European nations are the word republic of letters’s standard-bearers and enforcers of legitimization. Paris is the capital, the enduring heart of the avant-garde.
New entries into the world republic of letters (i.e. relatively late-formed nations like Germany, and post-colonials, America included) gain entry through their unique national soul, or "genius."
Competition between the various national literary traditions created literary values independent of national political and moral agendas. Literature is a sphere unto itself.
Short quote: "[Casanova, the author,] has created a map of global literary power relations [for the last 150 years] where none had existed, and she has raised a host of further questions." (from The Nation’s review)
Long quote: "That last idea might damage the English speaker’s amour-propre, but our self-esteem should be diminished even more by the evidence Casanova marshals to support her thesis. For it is an ongoing source of shame that so many of the finest exponents even of our own literature were acclaimed in Paris while still virtually unknown in London and New York. Faulkner, without a name in the United States until just three years before winning the 1949 Nobel Prize, was celebrated in France from as early as 1931. Joyce, though already recognized within the avant-garde, was unable to find a publisher for Ulysses until the book was taken up by the great French translator Valery Larbaud. In later years, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita and Naked Lunch would join the list of pathbreaking English-language novels first published in Paris. It was also through France that much of English literature found an international audience. Casanova lists Shakespeare, Scott, Byron and Poe among the authors whose works were long read in French translation, or translations based on the French, throughout Europe and Latin America. This isn’t true just of English literature, of course, but of all literature, which is why Paris has been the capital of literary exiles for the past two centuries. And it is also why Paris is the answer to the question of where translated writers "come from." Borges and Kundera are just two of the many authors who became known in the English-speaking world–and the world in general–only after being consecrated by Paris." (from The Nation’s review)
The scope: Immense.
The expectations: Larger still. Supposedly a classic in the making.
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