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The Passage of the Text

Books are -- or, at any rate, used to be -- powerful tools of fantasy, ambition, and enlightenment. Even today, those affected by war, disaster, or oppression, risk their lives preserving the remnants of literary culture. How do books inspire such care and passion? How do they travel across cultures? How do they resonate with readers across time and space? It is such questions concerning the movement of literature that guide the investigation of B. Venkat Mani in Recoding World Literature: Libraries, Bibliomigrancy, and Germany’s Pact with Books (Fordham, 2016). Mani’s term for the movement of texts, both the central paradigm of the work and a theory of world literature writ large, is “bibliomigrancy”, i.e. “the physical and virtual migration of literature as books from one part of the world to another”. In Mani’s dutiful reading, Germany plays a crucial role in the history of bibliomigrancy and the construction of the paradigm of world literature. Mani focuses specifically on Goethe’s internationalism, a literary worldview that saw the book a site of connection to other texts and to non-European literary traditions. It is such a relation, of Europe with “non-European peripheries”, that Mani regards the conceptual genesis of world literature in Germany. While the book is comprehensive and offers a deeply nuanced portrayal of global networks of writing and readership, BRB reviewer James Daniel wonders whether Mani should not perhaps also have included further discussion of the contemporary political crises and the attendant migrancies they have borne. How, for example, has the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia influenced world literature? These are questions that a future-oriented study of the phenomenon of world literature might need to tackle.

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Welcome to The Berlin Review of Books

The Berlin Review of Books aims to publish high-quality reviews of, and insightful essays based on, important recent books published in any language, with a focus on non-fiction. While it will often approach contemporary debates from a European perspective, it is open to intelligent contributions from around the globe. Our goal is to promote honest and knowledgeable debate of issues of real significance; for this reason, we are committed to financial and editorial independence. The Berlin Review of Books does not normally publish fiction or poetry, except by invitation.

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