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Abstract

In her article "Challenges and Possibilities for World Literature, Global Literature, and Translation" Kathleen Shields argues that Goethe's concept of Weltliteratur was grounded in translation practice: in creating a canon representing the best of each nation, translation occupied centre stage. Nation-building in Europe in the nineteenth century was combined with the idea of transnational literature where translation was an important tool of transmission and exchange, as well as a way of decentering from a strong monolingual base. There are four challenges for comparative literature now. Firstly, the nation state is weakening. Secondly, despite the growing interest in world literature since the 1990s, Goethe's idea of Weltliteratur is in decline, replaced by the rise of English as a lingua franca and pivot language for translations. Thirdly, asymmetries in relations between languages, and the very small number of translation languages, are becoming more marked. Finally, digital reading means that literary products are simply "there," fluidly absorbed into ever-changing canons with no visible means of mediation. What then are the opportunities offered by the European tradition of translation studies? Could polysystem theory help to re-examine the filters and asymmetric relations that exist between producers and consumers of literary texts? Can translation studies map relations of prestige to arrive at not only an ethics but also a geopolitics of literature?