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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Gatekeepers : the emergence of world literature and the 1960s
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Scope of the Study

The questions that I asked two paragraphs back are large, so I have limited myself to a small set of test cases. Since my task is to illuminate gatekeeping, rather than World Literature itself, I have not taken up such giants as Salman Rushdie, J. M. Coetzee, Doris Lessing, etc. I have just four authors. Two of them are Americans, who had the advantage of great domestic gatekeeping, and two are foreign writers who were less advantaged but who gained American audiences. This may seem Amero-centric, but it has two great advantages. First, it places the Anglo-American publishing industry, which John Thompson, Albert Greco, and others have shown to be the engine of world publishing, at the center of World Literature.8 The English-speaking market produces and consumes the most World Literature, so an understanding of its gatekeeping is critical. Second, this market has extraordinary archival and statistical resources, ranging from university archives of authors’ letters to their agents and translators to detailed publishing industry analyses. I have used these resources extensively; with them, we will be able to trace the evolution of gatekeeping in World Literature between i960 and 2010. This is a big payoff, not possible if I focused on more writers in less depth. So I will offer fewer, but deeper, ethnographies.

As for the question, “What is World Literature?” I rely on David Damrosch’s answer in What is World Literature? Literature that is translated, circulates beyond its original culture or borders, and attains added value in its travel is World Literature. Does World Literature replace comparative literature? I wait for the profession to settle that question. My interest is specifically in the social-cultural field of World Literature in the 1960s, and in how the positions taken by writers in that era build for them a new cultural capital that is used to cross borders. I suggest that if we answer these questions about gatekeeping, then we can approach the more abstract inquiries about nationality, genre, gender, and flows to and from cultures and nations. As this bottom- up method may hint, I think that there was something particular about the 1960s, its history and technology, which I take up in my conclusion.

 
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