World Literature

It's kind of a travesty to have independent categories for American and British literature, and to relegate everything else rather ignominiously to the vaguely designated "World Literature." Perhaps it can be forgiven since we're all English speakers around here, but nevertheless—a travesty. We freely admit it, and we're working to improve our selection.

For Christians, the most important book falls squarely within the limits of world literature. Authorship of the Bible can be the claim of no one race, nation or linguistic group, and its relevance and value extends to every person on the globe. Some will balk at calling the Bible "literature," but there can be no other word for a text that includes narrative, poetry, philosophy, theology and apocalyptic imagery. It's not merely literature, but literature it certainly is.

Basically, our world literature section includes anything not originally written in English. This includes everything from Homer's Iliad to Cervantes' Don Quixote to Solzhenitsyn's modern classic One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Some of the greatest writers of all time are "world" writers—Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hugo, Aeschylus, Dante, etc.

This is really just literature in general, of course. Without many of these works, no literature at all would exist. Alfred North Whitehead said all philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato; it could be said with similar accuracy that all literature is an appendix to Moses, Homer, Virgil and Aristotle. A history of literature that took every writer's influences into account would be impossible long because every writer is responding to, supporting, or expounding on the ideas posited by a previous author.

When seen from the vantage point of its global progression, this interrelatedness of every book, poem and treatise becomes increasingly more obvious, and the myth of independent creation is entirely dispelled.

Back in the old days this was only true to the extent that communication and travel were possible. The earth was less tamed, transportation was less certain, and because law was less prevalent crime was more rampant. In a very real way, the spread of literature and the exchange of ideas were very dangerous undertakings.

Not that things changed too much in the 20th century—Communist regimes routinely squelch creative output, terrorism means the specific targeting of outsiders in a foreign culture, and postmodernism has forced the meaning into retreat from the dark visage of Relativism. Yet ideas still cross borders, and great writing still makes it into the hands of the people.

A lot of Westerners are fairly unversed in Eastern literature, though the writings of Chinese poets and thinkers, Japanese philosophers, and Indian mystics has been subtly shifting the European mindset for centuries. The fact that not much African literature existed prior to the 1940s is explained by a lack of written language south of the Sahara, but the recent influx of scholarship and fiction from the last great unexplored continent is quickly making up for lost time.

To claim to be well read, and yet not to have read outside the British and American canons, is to misunderstand the truly massive extent of the whole global body of literature. We intend for this section to help fill this common deficiency to some extent, though we do understand our own deficiency in carrying a representative variety of titles. Suggestions are welcome. In the meantime, the world is your oyster. Or book. Whatever. Happy reading.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.


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