What's Wrong with World Literature?

n+1 magazine published "World Lite," a jeremiad against world literature. The literary world is still talking about it.


Fields of Knowledge
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory


Shaj Mathew

Process initiated


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4017 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


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Last August, the editors of n+1 magazine published "World Lite," a jeremiad against world literature. The literary world is still talking about it. In this provocative and far-ranging piece, the editors lament the transformation of the global novel in the post-cold war era into a self-congratulatory, apolitical product that is sold to elites at book festivals around the world. The university system is not spared, either, for its role in "insulat[ing] World Lit from the world it wants to describe and address."

Join us for a conversation at Slought on Thursday, January 30th at 6pm, featuring n+1 editors Nikil Saval and Marco Roth. In dialogue with Jean-Michel Rabaté and moderated by Shaj Mathew, the conversants will take "World Lite" as a starting point and will explore alternatives to World Literature—including a more politically-charged, internationalist literature that is more project than product—while also addressing criticisms of the piece.

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"World Literature, in the form gestured at by Goethe and now canonized by the academy, has become an empty vessel for the occasional self-ratification of the global elite, who otherwise mostly ignore it. If an earlier World Literature arose in the four decades after World War II to challenge northern narratives of the south, these days writers from outside the rich countries don't seem afflicted by white writing in the same way, not when titles like Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013) are being published. The contemporary phase is different, less contentious. Today's World Lit is more like a Davos summit where experts, national delegates, and celebrities discuss, calmly and collegially, between sips of bottled water, the terrific problems of a humanity whose predicament they appear to have escaped. There is another path..."

— The Editors of n+1, in "World Lite", 2013

Nikil Saval is an editor of n+1. His book, Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, comes out in April.

Marco Roth is an editor and co-founder of n+1. His memoir The Scientists about a family riven by AIDS and other unforeseen transmissions, is now available in paperback from Picador.

Jean-Michel Rabaté is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Curator of Discursive Projects at Slought.

Shaj Mathew is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow of the Penn Humanities Forum. He has contributed to The New York Times, The New Inquiry, and Guernica.