It was almost 200 years ago that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used the term Weltliteratur or World Literature to describe what he perceived to be the future of literature, in contrast with so called national traditions, which he felt would and should gradually disappear from the firmament.
While we are yet to reach a universally acceptable definition and canon of World Literature, the process of global integration that began in the wake of the industrial revolution and colonial expansion helped literary works and traditions travel beyond linguistic and cultural boundaries creating a space for and opening peoples’ eyes and minds to the Other.
World Literature, as we understand it today, is an important marker of the diversity of human civilization. At the same time it underlines the fact that the linguistic articulation of the reflective/creative act – literature – is translatable, and hence can be shared by all of mankind. The main objective of a course in World Literature would be to bring participants to a real understanding of the oft repeated but scarcely understood Nehruvian idea “Unity in Diversity” at the global level and through the literary approach.
In the absence of a well defined canon, the contents of this course will have to be flexible: there will be a constant component provided by anthologies of and companions to World Literature published over the last 3 or 4 decades, and a variable component, which will enable the instructor handling the course to bring in writings from literary traditions that are ‘traditionally’ under-represented in anthologies – China, Japan and other Asian countries, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, for example. The variable component will depend on factors such as available resources and the instructor’s familiarity with a given text or literary tradition.