Eric Hayot’s new book is a bold, ambitious, and inspiring call for revising the way we think about, practice, and teach literary history. Pt. I of On Literary Worlds (Oxford University Press, 2012) offers a critical evaluation of the notion of “worlds” in literary studies and beyond, offering a language for describing and comparing individual aesthetic works and their modes of worldedness. Pt. II proposes a way of thinking about the history of modern literature and categorizing its modes that makes the study of the non-West not just relevant, but absolutely necessary. At the same time it both contextualizes the history of ideas of the world in early modernity, and asks us to re-think our notions of what “context” is and how we access it. Pt. III of the book takes us into the institutional contexts of literary studies, showing how some basic assumptions about how to periodize literature dominate and constrict the discipline, A final set of appendixes in Pt. IV of the book offer myriad extensions of and ways forward from the project outlined in the previous chapters. The insights here are relevant and useful for scholars working in a wide range of disciplines, and as a historian I found Eric’s insights on how we might innovate our characterizations of textual worlds and temporal modes particularly enlightening. In the course of our conversation, we also talked about how these ideas have transformed Eric’s teaching. For his syllabus on “Comparative Cosmologies,” see this link.
Eric Hayot is a contributor to Public Books.