Western supremacy became the measure of critics even upon literature. This must change and there is no better revolution than evolution!
In 1827, Wolfgang von Goethe initiated the notion of "Weltliteratur" in order to describe the quantity and quality of texts, literature and poems written in arabic or sanskrit. This way, he tried to remind to european readers, not to limit their readings only to western writers. Of course, ages ago, ancient Greeks had refered to the importance of the variety and the quality of different writing styles, by motivating people to pay attention to the different spiritual origins of writers.
For example Isiodos and Irodotos, two ancient Greek epic poets, were using a common metric system and language in their writings, but their style as an outcome was not the same due to their origins and stimulus.
So this inclination to be open to different styles of writings, steming from the greek cuture and philosophy of an interactive rhetoric, even during an era when the proportion of foreign texts and writings was not similar to the greek one, created the spirit and the openess which is necessary when someone needs to have a global insight of the world we live in and not a unilateral view on things. Later on, in 1827, as i mentioned above, Goethe (my favourite german writer ever), used the notion of Weltliteratur" so as to describe that the european way of thinking should not monopolize readers, who should also be aware of the existence and importance of many writers from around the world, who should not be compared to western ones, as we usually tend to do, if one pays attention to literature magazines and their critics.
It is inevitable not to realize that this western supremacy and obsession we live in, tends to form ways of thinking, and to consider a non-western writer as equal to a western legendary one, only if his or her's work is compared to the western one. Only then we tend to think of this non-western writer as a really important one concerning how capable she or he is to arouse a spiritual stimulus and create a wave of a new thinking to readers.
But i should be more precise on that, by sharing some examples of this western censorship we can unfortunately find everywhere.
Ahmad Faris Shidyaq, was a lebanese writer who used to travel around the world and is known for contributing to the translation of the Bible into arabic. He is considered to be a cornerstone of modern arabic literature. During 1855, he wrote his widely known book "Al-Saq ala al-Saq fim a huwa al-faryaq" which is considered to be the first arabic novel, a kind of literature that Arab writers were not used to. His book displays the potential of the arab language through an autobiography written in third person and is at the same time a travel narrative. So this cornerstone of arabic literature soon started to be compared to Rambelais, as a means to categorize this famous writer through the western way of thinking and system of values.
Maqamat was a story collection from the 9th century of 400 episodic stories, which survived through time. In the "Wanderer" of Khalil Gibran, we can distinguish this unique arabic style of writing. As it is obvious, arab literature is characterized by its own style in writing something that was also observed and underlined by famous contemporary arab novelists such as Nagib Mahfouz.
As all contemporary arab writers pointed out, it would not be a good idea for arab literature to adopt the western novel without adapting it to the roots and the legacy of arabic literature. Besides, western novel is quite different by the arabic one as it was first initiated by Shidiyaq.
Back in 1988, when Nagib Mahfouz won the Nobel prize, he was described by many western (european and american ones) commentators as the Balzac or arab literature, referring mainly to his Cairo Trilogy. But Mahfouz is a legend on his own. He needs no western comparisons to european legends so as to be valued enough. Basically, and according to my views, Balzac is not an equal proportion to him. Of course i recognize Balzac's style of writing, but it is not equal for example to Emil Zola or Thomas Mann. Same as i would think for Gustav Flaumbert another western legend...yes ofcourse i liked when i read his books, and i recognize that "Sentimantal Education" or "Madam Bovary" were pioneering considering the sociopolitical context they were written in, but still, i cannot compare Flaumbert to Stendhal, who wrote novels but at the same time full of political meanings, same literary values as one can distinguish also to the american legend and one of my favourites together with Trevanian, William Faulkner.
As one can easily realize, Mahfouz needs no comparisons to western legends, that we tend to think as unique. His comparison to Balzac, according to my humble opinion, is not at all valid, as there is no comparison between them, meaning that only by a critic like this one, a reader can be misguided, considering the feelings and the way of thinking we can acquire from this non-western oriented way of viewing upon life, offered to all of us by writers so important as Mahfouz.
This need for equating literature styles, and comparing non-western legends to western ones, so as to underline their importance, through already accepted principles, has deprived societies all those years of the spiritual wealth they would have gained, and of an alternative viewing on different life aspects. Unfortunately, in some spiritual circles where literature is widely appreciated and not considered as a dreamers' hobby, this prefixed idea of comparisons, created a think tank not only in literature but also in politics. And then it became a vicious circle, a matrix, where noone can find where this malady starts and wehere it stops.
But i think it is high time for a revolution and there is not a better one as that of an evolution...Evolution in the way we think, in the way critics tend to express and finally evolution also means developing a personal opinion considering the criteria we tend to think upon writings..literally and metaphorically.
written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science