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Nuruddin Farah: A pas de deux across The World Republic of Letters

F. Fiona Moolla


Nuruddin Farah’s life and work is used in Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters to exemplify the challenges of the dispossessed writer on the periphery of the hierarchical, binary, and highly agonistic world literary system she describes. However, precisely because of his unique position on the Somali literary periphery of the African periphery, Farah’s work and career represent the practice of Casanova’s theory in advance of its formulation. The Somali writer’s negotiation of entry into the dominant world literary order since the publication of his first novel in 1970 suggests an implicit understanding of the literary system Casanova outlines only towards the end of the twentieth century. In other words, Farah does not derivatively illustrate the theory, but his career and novels preempt through practice the major insights of Casanova’s theory. Farah’s career, furthermore, suggests a wider polycentrism of influence than allowed in the hierarchical binarism of Casanova’s model. Finally, the postcolonial aesthetic of “teacherliness”, clearer in the late realism of Farah’s mature work, signals a fundamental rewriting, rather than a derivative renewal, of modernist aesthetic modes privileging technique of the major cities of the global north.

Keywords: Nuruddin Farah, Pascale Casanova, world systems, literary theory, postcolonial literature, translation.