The Dead Ends of Decolonization, or Faith in the Literary?

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The Dead Ends of Decolonization, or Faith in the Literary? Sarah Brouillette, UNESCO and the Fate of the Literary (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019), 175 pages, $25.00

UNESCO is widely recognized as a formidable protagonist institution in world literary culture, albeit at a remove from the day to day transactions of the contemporary literary world. Commissioning large scale translation projects, intervening over legal copyright, appointing literary and intellectual heavyweights from Claude Levi-Strauss to the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, UNESCO has been a considerable force in the modern history of letters and of reading. Its vulnerability to forces of politicization – more recently and notoriously, the threats of divestment by some member states after UNESCO decided to grant membership to Palestine in 2011 – offsets its sheer size as an international cultural organization. Given all these things, it is surprising that UNESCO rarely makes more than cameo appearances in literary studies. Sarah Brouillette, a critic who has led much of the recent debate about literature’s imbrications in the machinations and valuations of global capitalism, is thus well-positioned to respond to this odd situation. Her sociological analyses and diagnoses of contemporary literature and culture in Postcolonial Writers in the Global Literary Marketplace (2007; 2011) and Literature and the Creative Economy, among other works, explore the ways in which writerly creativity has been in service to the economy, from the production of authorship as a brand to the postcolonial culture industry’s enlisting of writers as performers of authenticity. It is appropriate, then, that her third book deals not only with a neglected global institution – UNESCO – but with what this might tell us about literature’s wider fate, and the not entirely separate question of what it means to still hold faith in the literary. From Brouillette’s vantage point, it is precisely literature’s inducement to trust and its power to convince that is part of the problem, forcing the issue of literature’s ultimate condition: what is it and why we should believe in it?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-126
Number of pages8
JournalContemporary Literature
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


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