Speaker examines alternative ways to decenter Eurocentric discourses of global literature

September 01, 2022
Speaking at a Northwestern Qatar Liberal Arts Program Speaker Series, Ian Almond, professor of world literature at Georgetown University in Qatar, examined the Eurocentric discourses of global literature and history and ways to decenter them in the non-western world.
The talk hosted by the Liberal Arts program included Almond discussing his most recent book World Literature Decentered: Beyond the “West” through Turkey, Mexico and Bengal. In his talk, Almond drew insights from his book to explain how the West, despite representing merely 10 percent of the planet, has become the single dominant lens through which people look at world literature and world history.
Almond began by pointing out how the west's dominance of the field has eliminated non-Western writers from the field. “Africa, Latin America, and South Asia are not [some] sort of a token minority that we need to address, it is the overwhelming majority of the world,” said Almond. “It is incredible the degree to which non-Western countries are filtered out of conversations around world literature and world history.”
In explaining how the Euro-American emphasis on world literature and world history came into being, Almond said that, as world literature emerged in the 19th and mid-20th centuries into a pedagogical field, there was an unchallenged Euro-American canon view of the field. He added that the rise of liberalism and the success of western colonialism in self-mythologizing are also contributing factors.
“The West has been so successful in insinuating its stories, timelines, and landscapes, like the Queen, the Royal Family, London, and New York, have this kind of glow, and it is very difficult to uninstall this kind of allure,” said Almond. “They have left behind these legacies, educational, and cultural institutions which memorialize and self- memorialize the cultural and semantics assets of basically 10 percent of the planet, and we are still working with this.”
Almond went on to highlight the success of fiction in the second half of 20th-century Latin America as well as the post-war success of the Japanese and, more recently, South Korean literary culture and pop culture in challenging western-centric literature. He added that, in order to decenter Eurocentric discourses of global literature and global history, writers “can do so, not just by deconstructing or historicizing them, but by actively providing an alternative.”
The lecture was part of a speaker series hosted by the Liberal Arts Program at Northwestern Qatar. At its last lecture, Khaled Almezaini, associate professor of politics and international relations at Zayed University, examined the politics of foreign aid in the Middle East and its use as an instrument to shape geopolitics.