This question also has to be addressed in the context of English’s unprecedented role as global lingua franca; it appears that no previous language has had as much universal cachet as English today, though it’s possible that at times its influence may be more superficial than profound (as in the case of Chinese commercial usage, for example). In any event, the heavy shadow of a flattened international English affects the question of what enters world literature via the instrumentalities of New York. Are certain writers more amenable to translation than others — writers already plugged into a basic acceptance of neoliberal verities, or at least not overtly resistant? One might think of the international popularity of Haruki Murakami — and to a lesser extent Banana Yoshimoto — as possible instances of ease of translation.
Many of the questions raised here can be fruitfully applied with respect to the recent integration of Pakistani fiction writers in world literature in a very big way: Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Azhar Abidi, Kamila Shamsie, Nadeem Aslam, Ali Sethi, H. M. Naqvi, and most recently, Jamil Ahmad, have together created a new literary space. The cumulative weight of this writing — which portends more exciting work to come — is too much to be a coincidence. Yet why did it happen at this particular time, and how have these writers gone about making their claim to join world literature? These facts can be appreciated by contrast with the remarkable current absence of Bangladesh from world literature; in terms of political importance, and exploitation of literary capital concentrated in the world centers, the conditions simply don’t obtain for Bangladesh to attain a similar prominence.
Among the peculiar phenomena are that a large proportion of these writers have returned to Pakistan after attaining celebrity status in New York and other world literary capitals; many of them also have MFA degrees from America or Britain; and a number of them have worldly backgrounds (rare these days for literary writers) in business or law — Wall Street, in shorthand. Hanif, Hamid, Mueenuddin, Sethi, and Naqvi have returned to Pakistan, shunning the choice of remaining in New York or London; there they often contribute English-language journalism in a largely Urdu-speaking country on national politics; and they seem generally reluctant to have their works translated into Urdu!
Thus, even while winning major international awards (Hanif won the Commonwealth prize for best first book, Mueenuddin won the Commonwealth prize and was finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, Mohsin was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, etc.), yet exercising the choice to reside in Pakistan (Mueenuddin famously manages his mango farm in south Punjab), they are injecting their country into world literature for probably the first time. The issue of translation doesn’t arise in their case, but it’s interesting that as a rule their writing is generally reluctant to be formally experimental; they’re choosing to speak to the audience for world literature in a language and style not subject to the vicissitudes of translation in the broader sense of the term.
As a group, certain generalizations seem helpful: they shun grand (or grandiose!) narratives, they have little taste for magic realism, they are not given to radical views on class, and they are making intentionally limited claims to history. It is possible to tease out any number of counter-tendencies toward the growing New York international style. Hanif, as far and away the most important writer among them, is an outlier with respect to the generalizations here, the figure most given to a revolutionary rather than assimilationist tendency. Despite the far broader literary space of India, these writers have managed to carve out an autonomous literary space for Pakistan, without compromising on pure artistic standards. If world literature has any validity as a concept, the new wave of Pakistani fiction amply illustrates it.
By way of contrast, New York is promoting an endless ream of South Asian ethnic fiction — often by young females like Preeta Samarasan, Sarita Mandanna, and Anuradha Roy — clearly geared to the international marketplace, and widely translated. Even if such writing sometimes originates in India, it fits perfectly with the New York international style, with its faux epic dimensions, realism that for all its insistence only scratches the surface of emotion, and all the bells and whistles of a postcolonial exuberance that betrays an underlying insecurity. In the wider Indian sphere, however, a new generation of supremely confident writers like Manu Joseph, Murzban Shroff, and Rana Dasgupta are charting an independent literary space that clearly does not take hints from New York.
The eternal conflict in understanding this concept is that language is national, whereas world literature is international. In the case of Pakistan, as we have seen, the most popular language of modernity happens to coincide with the language of educated Pakistanis; for writers not so lucky, the road to inclusion in world literature is a little harder. Even as the diversity of Pakistani life is being brought to a world audience, the essentialist notions of Pakistan, especially for its own citizenry, are being dissolved. This is the kind of paradox world literature revels in.
As both Goethe and Herder understood, world literature is inseparable from world history; recall that Herder understood folk poetry from around the world as Humanitat (the universal language of humanity).  There is great respect for diversity in these formulations, and despite some of these ideas being hijacked later by romantic nationalisms, their core concern with citizenship of the world is undeniable. How we define the growing possibilities of international literary exchange is inextricably bound up with the notion of world literature — the technology is in need of revived liberal ideals.
For Goethe, the writer of any nation must think beyond national bounds, regardless of the state of dominance of his own literary space at any point in time. Where these spaces merge, for various institutional reasons, not the least having to do with language and translation, is where world literature resides. It is something constantly in fluid motion, the most exciting territory for both “provincial” and “metropolitan” writers to lose their fixed identities, the shining hard core of the cosmopolitan enlightenment project for which Goethe was a late proselytizer. And it is an entirely more rewarding way to approach the question of literary value than the distorted perspective offered by multicultural stylizations tending toward obscure nationalisms.
Auerbach’s concern that standardization would be both the realization and termination of world literature, because it would represent the end of multiplicity, remains relevant. But world literature is an ever-growing reality, as standardization and differentiation both proceed apace. World literature in the end is tantamount to enlightenment or cosmopolitan values; there is fairness to the extent that countries moving toward enlightenment join world literature. The concern with major and minor literatures, consistent from Goethe to Casanova, evokes hierarchy, but world literature’s special province is to dissolve these hierarchies for new configurations. As Goethe trenchantly brought out the paradox: “What does it mean to love one’s country and to be active as a patriot? If a poet has spent his life in the endeavor to vanquish harmful prejudices, to abolish narrow attitudes, to enlighten the spirit of his people, to purify its taste, and to ennoble it morally and intellectually, what more is there for him to do? What else can he do to prove his patriotism?” 
The utopian dimension of world literature, which Goethe clearly recognized, provides hope even today: eventually culture will win over politics, as world history (freedom) is superior to national biases. This analysis also suggests the utopian promise of a return to comparative literature over postcolonialism, the field that has unfortunately taken precedence.
Anis Shivani is the author of ‘My Tranquil War and Other Poems’ (2012), ‘The Fifth Lash and Other Stories’ (2012), ‘Against the Workshop’ (2011), ‘Anatolia and Other Stories’ (2009), and the forthcoming novel ‘Karachi Raj’ (2013). Other books recently finished or in progress include two books of poetry; a novel; and two books of criticism, ‘Literature at the Global Crossroads’ and ‘Plastic Realism: Neoliberal Discourse in the New American Novel’. Anis’s work appears in the Boston Review, Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, London Magazine, Cambridge Quarterly, Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals.
‘What is World Literature’ is taken from Anis Shivani’s forthcoming book of criticism, ‘Literature at the Global Crossroads’, and previously appeared in Boulevard. Reprinted here with kind permission of the author.