On Weltlitteratur and transnational literature

Transnational is a present but obscured, and often pirated quality of “World Literature:” i.e., Goethe tells us in Dichtung und Wahrheit that as a child, he got a tutor to teach him “Judendeutsch” (Yiddish) and that he composed in it for his seven-language epistolary novel he wrote then (it is not extant now, unfortunately). If there were ever a transnational language at that time, it was Yiddish (as described by Kafka in his Talk in the Yiddish Language, Feb. 1912, English translation available since 1952 or so in the collection Dearest Father). Goethe spoke a version of German related to Yiddish in Judengasse of Frankfurt where his uncle did business. Yet this affects readings of Goethe not at all–as if it never happened. His “richness” comes non-recognized and transnational linguistic sources. “Weltliteratur” begins at home.
Also: Deleuze and Guattari on “minor literatures,” taking the concept from Kafka’s “small literatures,” paradoxically emphasized the “major” or “world” (read powerful national) literatures–finding the “minor” (they called it polylingual) in them and obscuring the particularities of the trans-national: cross-border borrowings and influences.
On Kafka as formed by minor, trans-national Czech–an excellent new book that gets at the transnational in Kafka in other directions: Anne Jamison, Kafka’s Other Prague: Writings from the Czechoslovak Republic.
There is a text Goethe wrote in Yiddish–the literary etablishment finally accepted it–known as the “Judenpredigt.” All this info is in David’s Kafka book. Also: there is a passage in Beckett’s 1946 French text (one of his first) “Premier Amour,” where the narrator (in a graveyard, a very literary one, meeting a prostitute–where the narrator talks about taking notes in “six or seven languages, living and dead” that is a reference to this part of Goethe (G’s epistolary novel included Latin and Greek). “Erste Liebe” is the name of a Goethe poem. (I would like to make a list of references to this activity, taking notes in six or seven languages, living and dead).

And this is a good article. (What’s in a name?)


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