Many scholars have embraced world literature as a project to understand literature’s role in a large-scale story of global inequality. Yet critics have paid remarkably little attention to one of the most unevenly distributed of the world’s resources: literacy itself. For most of human history, the written word has been the province of a privileged minority. This essay argues that current discussions of world literature have taken their shape from three print-based institutions — the mass literacy movements of the late nineteenth century, the publishing industry, and the university — all of which have valued writing at the expense of meaningful attention to oral works. Levine explores the serious political implications of effacing orality and proposes specific ways to incorporate orature into the institutions of world literature.
Skip Nav Destination
June 1, 2013
Caroline Levine B. Venkat Mani
Research Article| June 01 2013
The Great Unwritten: World Literature and the Effacement of Orality
Modern Language Quarterly (2013) 74 (2): 217–237.
Caroline Levine; The Great Unwritten: World Literature and the Effacement of Orality. Modern Language Quarterly 1 June 2013; 74 (2): 217–237. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-2072998
Download citation file:
Don't already have an account? Register
You could not be signed in. Please check your email address / username and password and try again.
Could not validate captcha. Please try again.
Sign in via your InstitutionSign In