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World literature refers to literature from all over the world, including African literature, Arabic literature, American literature, Latin-American literature, Caribbean Literature, Asian literature, European literature and Australasian literature.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe introduced the concept of Weltliteratur in 1827 to describe the growing availability of texts from other nations, including translations from Sanskrit, Islamic and Serbianmarker epic poetry. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels used the term in their Communist Manifesto (1848) to describe the "cosmopolitan character" of bourgeois literary production.

Although anthologies of "world literature" have often used the term to market a largely European canon, the past three decades have given rise to a much more expansive conception of literary interest and value. Recent books such as David Damrosch's What Is World Literature?, for instance, define world literature as a category of literary production, publication and circulation, rather than using the term evaluatively. Arguably, this is closer to the original sense of the term in Goethe and Marx.

World literature is conceptually similar to world cinema, world art and world music.

See also

Further reading

  • The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 6 vols., second edition, 2001-2003.
  • David Damrosch, What Is World Literature?, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris (editors), Poems for the Millennium: a Global Anthology of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, Berkeley: University of California Press, two vols., 1995, 1998.

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