Modern World Literature: Characteristics & Influences

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  • 0:01 Fusion Literature
  • 0:49 What Is World Literature
  • 1:39 Influences on World Literature
  • 2:48 Contemporary World Literature
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Modern world literature exists beyond the boundaries of writers' home countries. In this lesson, you'll learn how world literature is now different from the writing of the past, and you'll learn why those changes have been made.

Fusion Literature

Roll through any city and you're bound to encounter a fusion. In cooking, fusion is when you take elements of more than one cuisine and bring them together to get, say, a Korean riff on Southern fried chicken or the Hawaiian take on pizza. Even my little town has a restaurant that advertises their Italian-American-Thai food.

Now, turn your attention towards music. So much of our contemporary music is a fusion of eclectic styles. The last concert I attended was a band that blended traditional Australian didgeridoo, African drums, and dubstep. Art, cooking, music - the modern approach is fusion, and that holds true for world literature, as well.

What is World Literature?

Before we go any further, let's be clear on our terms. World literature means writing that circulates widely beyond the borders of its country of origin. For literature to truly be considered world literature, it has to speak to people of more than one nationality. Even books that are very much influenced by their country of origin can rise to become world literature if they contain that insight into human nature that transcends borders.

Take the American classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This quintessentially American book might be about the South before the Civil War, but it reveals insights into the human heart, the nature of loyalty and courage, family, and morality in ways that are meaningful even for those outside of the U.S.A.

Influences on World Literature

Literature, in many parts of the world, has undergone a profound change in the 20th and 21st centuries, in part through changes in technology, communication, and warfare. In the aftermath of the First World War, literature took a dark turn. It's no wonder - writers were inspired by a conflict with the potential to cause more death and destruction than had ever been seen. In the wake of World War I, writing also became much more experimental.

As we passed World War II and the rapid expansion of technology and communication, artists (writers included) had more potential to share new ideas and express themselves than they had ever had in history. The experimentation from the early century continued, and as writers came more in contact with ideas from other cultures, they had more with which to experiment. And now, when ideas are shared in an instant, writers have a nearly limitless palette of flavors from which to choose and the freedom to question any assumption. In essence, contemporary world literature is a literary fusion.

Contemporary World Literature

To illustrate this idea, I present to you a few examples. Haruki Murakami, a current Japanese novelist, published a novel in 1985 titled, in translation, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. The term pastiche means a work that honors another through imitation. Murakami's literary fusion shows his love for things as diverse as the American hard-boiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler and the dark and obtuse societies described by Franz Kafka.

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