Introduction

This chapter argues that literary theory, comparative literature, and modernist poetics remain caught in a Cold War–inflected binary of commonness and strangeness, despite the momentous changes in world affairs since the 1980s. It then outlines the book’s alternative, multilateral approach to cross-cultural encounters among poetries that are neither local nor global, but that reveal the historical origins and con­tingencies of this dichotomy. The chapter considers how in turning to estrangement (including Shklovsky’s ostranenie and Brecht’s Verfremdung), these poetries underscore the historical contingencies, personal experiences, and cross-cultural encounters that complicate analysis built on the bi­nary of sameness and difference. Where Blanchot’s “common strangeness” (l’étrangeté commune) proposes an approach to literature that emphasizes encounter and direct address over description, this chapter draws on estrangement to propose a third alternative: it investigates the oscillation between collective de­scriptions—of exile, modernism, or world literature—and dialogue with the literary text and its author.

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