Book Review: Michael Allan: In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review


We have grown accustomed to understanding world literature as a collection of national or linguistic traditions bound together in the universality of storytelling. Michael Allan challenges this way of thinking and argues instead that the disciplinary framework of world literature, far from serving as the neutral meeting ground of national literary traditions, levels differences between scripture, poetry, and prose, and fashions textual forms into a particular pedagogical, aesthetic, and ethical practice. In the Shadow of World Literature examines the shift from Qur'anic schooling to secular education in colonial Egypt and shows how an emergent literary discipline transforms the act of reading itself. The various chapters draw from debates in literary theory and anthropology to consider sites of reception that complicate the secular/religious divide--from the discovery of the Rosetta stone and translations of the Qur'an to debates about Charles Darwin in the modern Arabic novel. Through subtle analysis of competing interpretative frames, Allan reveals the ethical capacities and sensibilities literary reading requires, the conceptions of textuality and critique it institutionalizes, and the forms of subjectivity it authorizes. A brilliant and original exploration of what it means to be literate in the modern world, this book is a unique meditation on the reading practices that define the contours of world literature. Cover ; Title ; Copyright ; CONTENTS ; Acknowledgments ; Notes on Transliteration ; INTRODUCTION ; Of Words and Worlds ; Literary Modernity in Colonial Egypt ; Reading Beyond Representation ; The Moral Universe of a Secular World ; A User's Guide. 1 WORLD The World of World Literature The Constraints of Democratic Criticism ; International Standards of Excellence? ; World Literary Space ; The Saidian Grounds of Worldliness ; The Force of a Secular World ; 2 TRANSLATION The Rosetta Stone from Object to Text. Making Stones Speak Leveling Languages, or The Conditions of Equivalence ; Entextualization and the Purely Literary ; The Contours of a Literary Empire ; 3 EDUCATION The Moral Imperative of Modernization ; Failure's Success: Securing the Imagined Future ; From Prejudice to Opinion. Governing Hermeneutics, Producing Subjects The Colonial Cultivation of Character ; Immanently Modern and Uncritically Civilized ; 4 LITERATURE How Adab Became Literary ; A World in Words: Philology as Pedagogy ; Literary Institutions and the Instantiation of World Literature. Footnoting Literature, or The Literary Footnote Orientalism, or Literature for Its Own Sake ; Disciplines and Frames of Reading ; 5 CRITIQUE Debating Darwin ; Soundness and the Poetics of the Appropriate ; The Force of the Illiterate Reader.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-358
Number of pages4
JournalMiddle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Book Review: Michael Allan: In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this