This essay revisits critical-humanist approaches to literary totality that have largely been sidelined during the recent revival of world literature studies. While there has been no shortage of defenses of close reading in the face of distant reading and other positivist approaches, this essay argues that it is precisely the hermeneutic attention to particular works that has allowed critical humanists to think about literary practice within the most encompassing purview. For those in this tradition, “world literature” can never be a stable object but is a speculative totality. The essay discusses three exemplary critical concepts that assume a speculative epistemology of literary totality: Alexander Veselovsky’s “historical poetics,” Erich Auerbach’s “Ansatzpunkt,” and Edward Said’s “contrapuntal reading.” Each, it is argued, is grounded in the distinctive qualities of literary experience, a claim for which Theodor Adorno’s account of speculative thinking serves as a basis.

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