What is World Literature?

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1EL9064

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon 2021
Course Coordinator and Team: Sandeep R Singh
Email of course coordinator: sandeeprsingh[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in
Pre-requisites: None.

Aim: This course helps the undergraduate student converse with the idea of a world of literature, how it came to be conceived, what was left in and outside. World literature is not just the name of a diversity of literary practices, but a unifying principle of discourse under which we perceive cultural otherness in the contemporary world. The course thus introduces students of both literature and otherwise with some milestones in the discourse of world literature and the kinds of literary and critical transactions that take place under its name. It is envisaged as one of the beginner’s courses in comparative literary study which trains students to write and think about the stakes in connecting, comparing and resituating literary texts and practices across national traditions and international borders.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Recognize the category of world literature and itemize its differences from national literature courses.
  2. Distinguish between local detail and universal themes in literary reading.
  3. Using comparative reading to generate cross-generic and cross-cultural understandings of genres such as the novel and the lyric.
  4. Show familiarity with the position of India in the world-literature system.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:
The course comprises of two parts: A. Theories and B. Literatures
A. Theories: Module 1: This module introduces the student with the current status of world literature as a logic of studying literature. It will present this concept through issues emerging from our position in South Asia.
B. Literatures: Module 2. World Poetry, Old and New: This module presents the lyric form as one of the earliest logics of world literature thinking. The texts will range from older lyrical traditions such as the ghazal and their reworking in more contemporary writers. The module thus works with a history of world literature across time periods.
B. Literatures: Module 3. The Novel and the Globe 1: The novel form is assumed to be the best example of the spread of literature around the world. This module comprises of a twentieth-century novel showing the nature of this spread and its attendant forms of reading.
B. Literatures: Module 4. The Novel and the Globe 2: Following the issues explored in the previous module, this module will bring the discussion to the present through a reading of a recent novel that addresses the question of the globe.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • 2 Response papers (20%)
  • Mid-term exam (40%)
  • Final written assignment (40%)

Reading List:

  • David Damrosch, “Goethe coins a phrase”, What is World Literature?, Princeton UP, 2003.
  • Rushdie, Salman. “India and World Literature”, Frontline, 1997.
  • Hafiz. The Nightingales are Drunk, trans. Dick Davis. London: Penguin Books, 2015. [Selected poems]
  • Agha Shahid Ali. Selected English ghazals.
  • Coetzee, J.M. Waiting for the Barbarians. New York: Penguin Books, 1980.
  • Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007.


  • Etherington, Ben and Jared Zimbler, eds. The Cambridge Companion to World Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018