What is the “world” in “world literature”? In publishing, as in literary criticism, this term often applies to the leftovers of the international literary market: works not drawn from the major national publishing markets. It signifies, in effect, “the rest of the world” or perhaps “the unknown world.” Yet if Édouard Glissant is right, this shortcut bred of convenience and contempt aptly names the world-historical significance of the leftovers called “world literature.” This essay reads Glissant's Poetics of Relation as a theory not of Caribbean literature but of world literature; I tease out its approach to “the world” by exploring it alongside a recent novel representing one of the local worlds with which Glissant is most concerned. I focus on Edward P. Jones's depiction of a slave plantation in Virginia in 1855 in The Known World (2003). Reading this novel in light of Mikhail Bakhtin's exploration of the “destruction of the idyll” in the novel, I consider how Jones's work imagines a relationship between a local place (a “known world”) and a totality that extends beyond it. As Glissant has argued, “Not knowing this totality is not a weakness. Not wanting to know it certainly is.” Exploring Jones's novel in light of Bakhtin's and Glissant's theories of linguistic diversity and literary form, I ask how, and to what effect, Jones's novel connects its known world to the unknown one that we might call “the world.”

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