This Introduction summarizes the historical argument of the book, draws a series of inferences from that argument, and explains the methodological assumptions that govern the project. The history of world literature from the ancient Near East to the present can be divided into five main, overlapping stages. European literature emerges from world literature, along the way undergoes a distinctive development of the various vernaculars, and beginning in the Renaissance expands in a way that ultimately creates the global literary system of the present. The ongoing relationship of European literature to other parts of the world emerges most clearly at the level not of theme or mimesis but of form—one sign of a systematicity to literary history also evident in the historical agency of literature. Such claims depend on rejecting the opposition between the general and the specific, between synthetic and local knowledge.
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