Pascale Casanova, 1959-2018

Tributes paid to radio host turned literary scholar

November 1, 2018

A leading figure in world literary studies has died.

Pascale Casanova was born in Tours, France in 1959 and studied for a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in literature and philosophy at the University of Tours. From 1981 to 2010, she was a central figure on the French cultural scene as a producer and presenter for the France Culture radio station. Her programmes such as Panorama, Jeudis littéraires, Mardis littéraires and L’atelier littéraire brought to public attention important and often challenging writers from all over the world, while resisting pressure from publishers to showcase more commercial authors.

A regular contributor to magazines such as La Quinzaine littéraire and Liber, Dr Casanova published her first book, Beckett l’abstracteur: anatomie d’une revolution littéraire (translated as Samuel Beckett: Anatomy of a Literary Revolution, 2006) in 1997. In the same year, she completed a PhD, supervised by the celebrated sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, exploring how literature is produced, circulated and valued across the globe.

This later formed the basis for her highly influential book, La République mondiale des Lettres (1999), later published in English as The World Republic of Letters (2004) as well as in languages including Arabic, Japanese and Korean. Writing in The New Yorker, Louis Menand described it as “[a] rather brilliant book…Literature departments are almost always organised by language and country, but Casanova’s book gives us many reasons to doubt whether this captures the way literature really works. She has an excellent account, for example, of the international influence of [William] Faulkner – once his novels had been translated into French.”

When Dr Casanova was sacked from France Culture in 2010, 30 leading writers penned an open letter in protest. Although she had never held a permanent academic post in France, she was an associate researcher at the Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage, Paris and was one of the first scholars invited to teach at Harvard University’s Institute for World Literature. She also served as a visiting professor in the department of Romance studies at Duke University (2011-14), where she presented material for her forthcoming book Kafka en colère (2011), translated as Kafka, Angry Poet (2015), although increasing ill health forced her to cut back on her activities. Her final book, La langue mondiale: traduction et domination (2015), explored translation as a tool for resisting domination by more “prestigious” languages.

Dr Casanova died on 29 September. She is survived by her partner, Didier Giner.

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