Cultura International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology

Volume 19, Issue 2, 2022

About Formations of World Literature(s)

Shunqing Cao, Shuaidong Zhang
Pages 105-114

Literary Syncretism and Variations in the Formation of World Literature

If we inspect closely the works that ascend to world literature from the peripheral, David Damrosch’s well-recognized argument that “world literature is writing that gains in translation” may need some revision, because apparently translation is not the sole factor that decides the formation of world literature. Translated works do not necessarily represent the best part in one national literature. Damrosch’s overemphasis on translation differences and untranslatability in world literature tends to overlook the syncretism of heterogeneous literatures: The influence of Roman Empire on Indian Buddhism, the influx of elements from Indian, Arabic, and Persian stories into European writers’ creation, the genres of China’s ancient literature influenced by Buddhism, etc. Furthermore, a great deal of Chinese idioms and allusions appearing in Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese literatures provide us a general view of how world literature forms through exchange and syncretism. On this account, Damrosh’s argument may be reformulated as “world literature is writing that gains in variation.” Variation reflects the ability to absorb otherness and then to create something new. Meanwhile, the perspective of literary syncretism will help us reasonably distinguish world literature and national canons.