Nuruddin Farah and Pascale Casanova: A pas de deux across the world republic of letters
Nuruddin Farah’s life and work at one and the same time exemplify and highlight contradictions in Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters, a book that has had major impact in comparative and world literature circuits. As an author who shows in the extreme most of the hallmarks of the dispossessed writer of the periphery, Farah would appear perfectly to illustrate Casanova’s hierarchical, binary, and highly agonistic world literary systems theory, where Euro-America dominates the world, and Paris dominates Euro-America. However, precisely because of his unique position on the literary periphery of the periphery, Farah’s work itself is the practice of Casanova’s theory, carrying within itself the key precepts, especially in its constitutive and conscious transnationalism. In other words, Farah does not derivatively illustrate the theory, but his career and novels preempt through practice the major insights of the theory. But Farah also signposts transformations in Casanova’s world republic of letters in the twenty-first century. Farah’s career, with consecration through prizes and awards increasingly in peripheral countries, suggests a wider polycentrism of influence than allowed in Casanova’s model. The postcolonial aesthetic of teacherliness, furthermore, clearer in the late realism of Farah’s mature work than in that of most other writers, signals a fundamental rewriting rather than renewal of aesthetic modes at Pascale’s literary Greenwich meridian.
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