Some forms of literature interfere with the workings of the literate brain, posing a challenge to readers of all kinds, including professional literary critics. In Artefacts of Writing, Peter D. McDonald argues they pose as much of a challenge to the way states conceptualise language, culture, and community. Drawing on a wealth of evidence, from Victorian scholarly disputes over the identity of the English language to the constitutional debates about its
future in Ireland, India, and South Africa, and from the quarrels over the idea of culture within the League of Nations in the interwar years to UNESCO's ongoing struggle to articulate a viable concept of diversity, McDonald brings together a large ensemble of legacy writers, including T.S. Eliot, James Joyce,
and Rabindranath Tagore, putting them in dialogue with each other and with the policy-makers who shaped the formation of modern states and the history of internationalist thought from the 1860s to the 1940s. In the second part of the book, he reflects on the continuing evolution of these dialogues, showing how a varied array of more contemporary writers from Amit Chaudhuri, J. M. Coetzee, and Salman Rushdie to Antjie Krog, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and Es'kia Mphahlele cast new light on a range
of questions concerning education, literacy, human rights, translation, indigenous knowledge, and cultural diversity that have preoccupied UNESCO since 1945.
At once a novel contribution to institutional and intellectual history and an innovative exercise in literary and philosophical analysis, Artefacts of Writing affords a unique perspective on literature's place at the centre of some of the most fraught, often lethal public controversies that defined the long-twentieth century and that continue to haunt us today