We might be tempted to think of the “world” in “world literature” as a spatial category. This “world” would designate the vast space beyond national borders, beyond the fiction of “Western civilization,” and even beyond empires that have reshaped power, labor, and language across the planet. “World literature” would be all the written and spoken stories, plays, and poems generated within that huge geographical expanse.
World literature’s most outspoken critics, such as Gayatri Spivak, Emily Apter, and Aamir Mufti, have warned that any attempt to take on such an immense array of cultures and texts will always flatten and homogenize them, smoothing a rich array of particularities into a Eurocentric monoculture. This is a fair concern. But lately the strongest work in the field of world literature has done the opposite. Scholars have been deliberately interrupting familiar models of lineage and tradition, especially those that treat Europe as a powerful center of influence.
The media industry has struggled to classify Ferro in the taxonomy of rich guys who buy newspapers: He’s not as despised as Sam Zell, the real estate magnate and ex-owner of Tribune, and certainly not as respected as Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com founder and Washington Post owner. The consensus seems to be that Ferro is ridiculous—a model-train-loving, celebrity-obsessed, self-described technologist who’s semi-fluent in Silicon Valley disrupter-speak. On HBO, John Oliver skewered him. On CNBC, Jim Cramer placed him on his Wall of Shame. His corporate renaming ignited extended spasms of #tronc mockery on social media. Sample tweet: “WHAT YOU GONNA DO WITH ALL THAT JONC ALL THAT JONC INSIDE YOUR TRONC.”
And yet, until recently, Ferro was on the verge of laughing all the way to the bonc, as it were. In October, Ferro reached a handshake agreement to sell tronc to Gannett for about $18.75 a share. Ferro and his investors were about to make more than $50 million in profit. But the deal fell apart, a source told Bloomberg News, when the banks financing the takeover backed out over concerns that the price was too high. On Nov. 1, after weeks of delay, Gannett announced it was officially ending its pursuit, sending tronc’s and Gannett’s shares tumbling.
So now the spotlight is back on Ferro and his vision for saving journalism. His supporters think he’s up to it. Fiasco points out that distressed companies often require radical thinking. “When he’s bringing companies back from the brink, Michael does some things, like, holy shit,” Fiasco says. “But there’s a method to his madness.”