World literature

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To world literature are literary works counted, the national and regional boundaries widespread and found the same as for the world's population are considered significant. The approach is thus comparable to the considerations that led to a term such as World Heritage . The term “world literature” was first used by Christoph Martin Wieland , who understood it to mean literature for the homme du monde , the “man of the world”. Goethe coined the term from 1827 on in his magazine Über Kunst und Altertum and gave it a meaning that is still an essential part of the term today. He understood it to mean the literature of the French, Italians, Germans, English and Scots, which was created out of a supranational, cosmopolitan spirit.

Use of terms

Today the term “world literature” encompasses two different, methodologically not always clearly separated concepts: a qualitative and a quantitative definition. In the qualitative definition of the term, it is assumed that the international distribution of a work alone is not a sufficient condition for its classification as world literature. The decisive factor, however, is the exemplary artistic value of the respective work and its influence on the development of worldwide literature. The prerequisites for this are also comprehensibility and translatability. This can be achieved, for example, by renouncing dialect , by using a lingua franca or by similar social conditions and worldviews in the area of ​​literature reception. Fritz Martini sees the courtly epic of the 12th and 13th centuries, which - based on Celtic and Germanic foundations - spread from France via the Lower Rhine to southern Germany and was not only translated, but repeatedly reworked, a “kind of world literature ", The attitudes and views" mediated between the peoples and literatures ".

For Goethe , national literature only becomes world literature when, beyond getting to know and referring to one another, it comprehensively presents the great tasks of a common world, including the knowledge of the respective time. This also includes historical or scientific knowledge, so it requires comprehensive education. For the aging Goethe, however, only French, Italian, German, English and Scots were “participants” in the future.

An agreement on generally recognized criteria to decide which works can be accorded world literary rank is not easy, especially since the specifics of the genesis of the individual works, given by epoch and region, have to be taken into account. This is why this canonical use of the term “world literature” is problematic. Furthermore, different nations and peoples have different perspectives on the meaning of literature for cultural reasons. In the West , for example, there is a tendency towards a certain navel-gazing : Even basic works such as the Iliad or the Bible can hardly be understood as “global” cultural property .

After the Second World War , comparativeists like the French literary scholar René Etiemble subjected the term to a fundamental revision. The new quantitative concept of world literature has "an eye on world literature as a totality" and criticizes the qualitative evaluation of world literature as "Eurocentric". However, given the volume of literature to be considered here, this second definition of world literature remains a utopia.

Literatures of the world

If one understands world literature in this second, expanded sense as the totality of all literature of all times, the following overview articles offer an insight into the literature of different languages, regions, cultures and peoples:


Countries, regions


See also

Portal: Literature  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of literature


  • Robert F. Arnold : World literature. In: Speeches and Studies. Vienna / Leipzig 1923, p. 3.
  • Elisabeth Frenzel , Sybille Grammetbauer: Substances of world literature. A lexicon of longitudinal sections of the history of poetry (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 300). 10th, revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-520-30010-9 .
  • Elisabeth Frenzel: Motifs of world literature. A lexicon of longitudinal sections of the history of poetry (= Kröner's pocket edition. Volume 301). 5th, revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-520-30105-9 .
  • Axel Ruckaberle: Metzler Lexicon world literature. 1000 authors from antiquity to the present. Metzler, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-476-02093-2 .
  • Gero von Wilpert : Lexicon of world literature . German authors . Kröner, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-520-83704-8 .
  • Gero von Wilpert: Lexicon of world literature. Foreign language authors . Kröner, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-520-83804-4 .
  • The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd Edition. 6 vols., 2001-2003
  • Critical lexicon of contemporary foreign language literature
  • Hermann Hesse : A library of world literature . Reclam, ISBN 3-15-007003-1 .
  • Manfred Schmeling (ed.): World literature today. Concepts and Perspectives . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1995, ISBN 3-8260-1068-X .
  • Theo D'haen et al. a. (Ed.): World literature. A reader . Routledge, London 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-60298-3 .
  • Theo D'haen et al. a. (Ed.): The Routledge Companion to World Literature . Routledge, London 2012, ISBN 978-0-415-57022-0 .
  • Peter Goßens : World literature. Models of transnational literary perception in the 19th century . Metzler, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02305-6 .
  • Dieter Lamping : The idea of ​​world literature. A concept of Goethe and his career (= Kröner's pocket edition. Volume 509). Kröner, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-520-50901-7 .
  • Dieter Lamping (Hrsg.): Milestones in world literature. From the Enlightenment to the present . Kröner, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-520-41701-5 .
  • Renate Stauf, Cord-Friedrich Berghahn (ed.): World literature. A Braunschweig lecture . (= Braunschweig contributions to the German language and literature. Volume 7). Publishing house for regional history, Bielefeld 2004, ISBN 3-89534-527-X .
  • Renate Stauf, Cord-Friedrich Berghahn (Ed.): World literature II. A Braunschweig lecture. (= Braunschweig contributions to the German language and literature. Volume 9). Publishing house for regional history, Bielefeld 2005, ISBN 3-89534-549-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: World literature  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fritz Martini: German history of literature. 13th edition, Stuttgart 1965, p. 39.
  2. ^ F. Strich: Goethe and the world literature. 2nd edition, Bern 1957.
  3. See also Hendrik Birus: Goethe's idea of ​​world literature. A historical visualization in world literature. (1995/2004).
  4. ^ Rolf Engelsing: A bibliographical plan from the year 1826. In: Börsenblatt for the German book trade - Frankfurter edition. No. 89, November 5, 1968 (= Archive for the History of Books. Volume 62), p. 2869 f., Here: p. 2870.
  5. Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann: Introduction to Comparative Literature. Erich Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 2000, p. 21.
  6. René Étiemble: Faut-il réviser la notion de world literature? In: Actes du IVe congrès de l'Association Internationale de Littérature Comparée. La Hague 1966, pp. 5-16.