Multimodal Worlding and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being



In The World, the Text, and the Critic, Edward Said defines a text’s “worldliness” as its existence as a form “always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society,” and he further defines the reader’s positioning of the text within these bounds as an act of “worlding.” While not used as a way of categorizing world literature, Said’s concept of worlding and textual worldliness accords well with César Domínguez, Haun Saussy, and Darío Villanueva’s recent call for a definition of world literature that “answer[s] social and cognitive needs” by taking into account the content in a text – rather than merely its circulation and consumption – whereby it positions itself as a work of global scope. Yet even as they gesture toward the text’s social and cultural engagement as a fundamental feature of world literature, these scholars gloss over the print technologies that are the necessary material platforms upon which every text is constructed. Indeed, current studies of multimodal literature – literature that incorporates a range of literacies, including linguistic, visual, and topographical – has attempted to address both the design of such multimodal texts and the ways in which such texts both enable and resist readerly constructions of their storyworlds. Drawing upon theories of multimodal literature, I argue for a reassessment of world literature that takes into account the material platforms of print through a process that I call “multimodal worlding.” Ultimately, I show how the global reach of a text is dependent upon the material, printed platforms in which its storyworld is manifest. I use Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being as exemplary text, analyzing it in relation to the logical, psychological, ontological, and extensional implications of multimodal worlding.