UNESCO and the Fate of the Literary
Sarah Brouillette


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The introduction provides an overview of the argument of the book, positioning it in relation to recent scholarship linking capitalism and world literature. It argues that this scholarship is inattentive to maldistribution of wealth as a determining facet of all cultural activity. The study of UNESCO provides corrective insight into the constitutive connections yoking the overall transformation of an integrative globalizing economy, institutions of cultural governance, and support for literary activity.

1 UNESCO's Collection of Representative Works
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses UNESCO's first major literary program, the Collection of Representative Works, which translates classic literatures into multiple languages, but mainly English and French. It understands the program's founding in relation to the thought of Julian Huxley, who was UNESCO's first director general. Huxley was convinced that with the help of a universal cultural storehouse organized under UNESCO's auspices, all the world's peoples could move toward a uniform standard of cultural and economic development. The standard would be set by the developed liberal capitalist democracies, or "white races," as he dubbed them. In this context, the Collection of Representative Works was to save traditional cultures from erasure, while forming part of the knowledge base grounding the ongoing dominance of the developed economies in the wake of Europe's formal empires.

2 America's Postwar Hegemony
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This chapter discusses the Japanese Series within the Collection of Representative Works, highlighting the case of Kawabata Yasunari's Snow Country. Kawabata was a key figure within a global literary community that embraced cosmopolitan liberalism. This community would, with the help of institutions like PEN, UNESCO, and the US state department, support the creation of a realm of elite aesthetic expression that actively disavowed the politicization of literature. The English translation of Snow Country, published in 1956 as part of Alfred A. Knopf's important series of translations of Japanese literature, embodied the aesthetic ideology and general worldview that united the US development establishment and UNESCO at the time.

3 Cultural Policy and the Perils of Development
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This chapter discusses what happened at UNESCO when the postcolonial nations gained a voice, when the postwar period's economic dynamism slowed, and when it became obvious that the promise of the development of postcolonial economies was hollow. It argues that the formal cultural policy discussions that took place from the 1960s through the early 1980s were a means for UNESCO's new postcolonial members to take advantage of the crises of legitimacy plaguing the developed economies. They stressed the humane capacities that had been threatened by the developed capitalist states, and they promoted their own ostensibly fairer and more "balanced" approaches to the integration of new enclaves into the global economic order. They did all of this under the banner of "culture." The chapter concludes with a discussion of Tayeb Salih's "The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid," a story that illuminates the perils of integration into capitalist modernity.

4 Book Hunger
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This chapter discusses UNESCO's interest in righting imbalances in the global communications system and addressing what it dubbed a "book hunger" in the developing world, to be addressed by programming such as the International Book Year in 1972. UNESCO's postcolonial member nations, which were fighting for a New World Information and Communications Order, argued not just for expanding publishing industries but for the right to tell their own stories and be heard. Growth in the publishing sector was yoked to a humanizing anti-imperialism and to the discourse of human rights. The chapter also discusses why these efforts were doomed to fail: the United States, which contributed 25 percent of UNESCO's budget, opposed state-based efforts to correct imbalances, while developed-world media companies actively lobbied against anything that might threaten their dominance.

5 Policy Making for the Creative Industries Today
chapter abstract

To prove its ongoing value today, UNESCO must constantly narrate the potential of culture to play a measurably generative economic role. In the developed economies, UNESCO's institutional resources tend largely to support and sustain existing metropolitan markets for culture, such as via the City of Literature program, where relatively wealthy and leisured consumers are assumed to provide the basis for creative-economy dynamism. In the developing world, in contrast, resources are sought for and directed at programs to support new creative enterprises. The hope is that these will offer much-needed employment opportunities, integrate new economic actors, and ease the social strife and discontent associated with rising rates of superfluity and underemployment. The chapter discusses Zakes Mda's 2000 novel The Heart of Redness in this context. It exemplifies the sort of fantasy of sustainable, locally directed cultural industry that UNESCO policy currently embraces.

6 Pirates and Pipe Dreams
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This chapter begins with a discussion of UNESCO's funding for ZIMCOPY, an initiative to crack down on piracy in the Zimbabwean book trades. It contrasts this initiative with efforts that UNESCO's postcolonial member nations made to correct the international copyright system in the 1960s and 1970s. It goes on to unsettle the idea that the development of a substantial literary industry in Zimbabwe, signified by paperbound books produced by incorporated commercial publishers, will simply result naturally from the penalizing of book pirates. It concludes with a discussion of how NoViolet Bulawayo's 2013 novel, We Need New Names, responds to the persistence and deepening of conditions of maldistribution in Zimbabwe. The novel assumes its readers will be unlike its characters, who are forced to sell images of their own suffering to receive charity. Bulawayo's take on the local dynamics of cultural production is more canny than that of the ZIMCOPY scheme.

chapter abstract

The conclusion reviews the argument of the book as a whole and looks to the future of UNESCO's cultural programming. The United States has largely abandoned UNESCO, while China has been increasing its involvement, lately presenting itself as the benevolent and responsible alternative to a flagrantly selfish US administration. The chapter argues that China backs cultural programs to the extent that they help to establish its influence in economic and political affairs and secure its ability to present itself as a benevolent global leader, able to aggregate, direct, and when necessary control competing global players. It looks in particular at the UNESCO programs that China backs in Africa, and how these are meant to accompany and justify its extensive economic development activities there.