Comparative Literature / Studies
What is it?
How to Compare?
What to Compare?
14 November 2013
ASC, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad
M.K. Bhavnagar University, Gujarat
Let us discuss ‘definitions’ (?)
• Firstly, let us identify the ‘centre’: is it
literature or comparison?
Cultural Studies /
Film / Media
• Comparative literature (sometimes abbreviated "Comp. lit.," or
referred to as Global or World Literature) is an academic field
dealing with the literature of two or more
different linguistic, cultural or nation groups.
• While most frequently practiced with works of different
languages, comparative literature may also be performed on
works of the same language if the works originate from
different nations or cultures among which that language is
• Also included in the range of inquiry are comparisons of
different types of art; for example, a relationship
of film to literature.
• Additionally, the characteristically intercultural and
transnational field of comparative literature concerns itself with
the relation between literature, broadly defined, and other spheres
of human activity, including history, politics, philosophy, and
• Wikipedia contributors. "Comparative literature." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1
Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Henry Remak (1916-2009)
• “Comparative Literature is the study of literature
beyond the confines of one particular country, and the
study of the relationships between literature on one
hand and other areas of knowledge and belief, such as
the arts (e.g.
painting, sculpture, architecture, music), philosophy, hi
story, the social sciences, (e.g.
politics, economics, sociology), the
sciences, religion, etc., on the other.
• In brief it is the comparison of one literature with
another or others, and the comparison of literature
with other spheres of human expression.”
• Remak, Henry Comparative Literature: Method and Perspective (1961)
Nelson Lowry (1924-1994)
• "Comparative Literature is … the whole study
of the whole of literature as far as one’s mind
and life can stretch. By its very scope
Comparative Literature … is a presumptuous
• Nelson, Lowry. Poetic Configurations (1988)
Haun Saussy (1960 - )
• “The premises and protocols characteristic of
[comparative literature] are now the daily currency of
coursework, publishing, hiring, and coffee-shop
• The ‘transnational’ dimension of literature and culture
is universally recognized even by the specialists who
not long ago suspected comparatists of dilettantism. ..
• Comparative teaching and reading take institutional
form in an ever-lengthening list of places. …
• Comparative literature … now … is the first violin that
sets the tone for the rest of the orchestra. Our
conclusions have become other people’s assumptions.”
• Haun Saussy, Comparative Literature in an Age of
Roland Greene (1957 - )
• "Comparative literature is the laboratory or
workshop of literary studies, and through
them, of the humanities.
• Comparative literature compares
literatures, not only as accumulations of
primary works, but as the
languages, cultures, histories, traditions, theo
ries, and practices with which those works
• Greene, Roland. "Their Generation," Comparative Literature in the Age of
• “A more transnational, interdisciplinary, and
responsive humanities is, I believe, poised to
• such a humanities may well contribute to a
new sort of global consciousness, one that
would bring a keener sensitivity to the
languages, cultures, and peoples of our
polyglot planet and begin to draw us all into a
broader, more responsive conversation –
• Comparative literature and translation studies –
best suitable for it. (cont)
• “Comparative literature regularly joins
literary texts from different languages and
cultures. It also regularly connects, say, a
poem with dance, a film with the
novel, photography with the essay. It even
relates different disciplinary languages and
modes of thinking.“
• Bermann, Sandra. “Working in the And Zone: Comparative Literature and
Translation,”Comparative Literature 61, no. 4 (2009):432-446
• All knowledge which is not obtained
through the simple and pure intuition of an
isolated thing is obtained by the comparison of
two or more things among themselves.
And almost all the work of human reason consists
without doubt in making this operation possible.
Descartes, Regulae ad directionem ingenii (1684)
Cited In Claudia Brodsky, “Grounds of Comparison” World Literature Today 69 (1995).
• "A rigorous definition of comparative literature should
always include the study of texts across languages; this
multilingual aspect can only become more crucial to
distinguishing comparative literature as national literature
departments also develop greater emphases on
postcolonial and interdisciplinary studies.
• In the new Millennium, I hope we will pursue the study
of Weltiliteratur in the spirit of Goethe, albeit in ways he
could never have imagined: challenging a world order that
is already very different from the one his ideas subverted
by helping to bring about a cosmopolitan community in
which national, disciplinary, and linguistic demarcations
may become less rigid."
• Alliston, April . “Looking Backward, Looking Forward: MLA
Members Speak.” PMLA. 115, no. 7 (December 2000): 1987
Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek
• “In principle, the discipline of Comparative
Literature is in toto a method in the study of
literature in at least two ways. First, Comparative
Literatures means the knowledge of more than
one national language and literature, and/or it
means the knowledge and application of other
disciplines in and for the study of literature and
second, Comparative Literature has an ideology
of inclusion of the Other, be that a marginal
literature in its several meanings of marginality, a
genre, various text types, etc. (Cont)
Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek
• Comparative Literature has intrinsically a content
and form, which facilitate the cross-cultural and
interdisciplinary study of literature . . .
• Predicated on the borrowing of methods from
other disciplines and on the application of the
appropriated method to areas of study single-
language literary study more often than tends to
neglect, the discipline is difficult to define
because thus it is fragmented and pluralistic.”
Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek, Comparative Literature:
Theory, Method, Application (1998)
• "Any two texts can be compared, but a comparison
works when there is a sufficient basis for
comparison; that is, a strong number of
similarities, which allow us to isolate particular
striking, revealing, informing, epiphanic and
ultimately untranslatable differences. …
• These untranslatable differences which are the
product of language, culture, history and
environment as well as the semi-autonomous
evolution of art forms and the talents and
experiences of individual artists invariably pronounce
themselves in what is called style."
• Gregory Reid, "A Prolegomenon to Comparative Drama in Canada : In
Defense of Binary Studies" (2005)
Why Compare? ~ David Ferris
• Problem with name of comparative literature > world literature - Goethe
• Crisis: Rene Wellek
• World and comparative = wider connotations in ‘comparison’
• Aristotle: imitation = comparison; comparison is a form of knowledge
rooted in likeness. Two types of comparison > historical ‘as it is’; possibility
‘ought to’; second is blinded by the limits of first > thus, freedom in CL has
its own limitation, lack of definition is limit not unbound horizon.
• Plato > allegory of Cave (8:00) > new, real outside world, habituation, real world in
comparison to the unreal past experience within cave creates knowledge > ridicule
> cave and world >
• “What then is really at stake in this allegory which twice
enacts comparison by curtailing its temporality into is what
Plato calls habituation?
• And, why is it that the world, in Aristotle as well, is
consistently called upon to embody a comparison that the
world is powerless to affirm?” (cont)
Why Compare? ~ David Ferris
• A reflection on comparison that is capable of
interrupting its own unfolding in a mode other
than the coercion of crisis would be a start so
that our present can make a claim on why
and avoid the endless repetitions of what and
• The natural sciences may ask about what is in
our world, the social sciences may measure
how we are in that world, we, at least, can ask
why - and that is why we compare.
Rene Wellek: Crisis of Comparative Literature
• Published in 1959, this article by René Wellek, written in strong, forceful
words,criticizes the French school of comparative literature for its confined system and
• Wellek's allusion to a crisis was not meant to refer to the discipline as practiced in
the United Statesbut he was in fact pointing an accusing finger at the “rotten” French
part of the metaphorical apple.
• Wellek spent many paragraphs criticizing Paul van Tieghem
• reminded us of the origins of comparative literature; that it arose as a reaction to
narrow-minded nationalism prevalent in 19th Century France. How ironical it is that
only half a century later (at the time of Wellek's writing), French comparative literature
was being criticized for putting lopsided emphasis on influence studies and what Wellek
labeled as “cultural book-keeping” as the French had a way of drawing attention to
high levels of achievements in their literature of the preceding centuries.
• defense of the open, multidisciplinary approach of the American school and its
emphasis on criticism sounds so prognostic, that is, as we now look back at how
comparative literature inAmerica has developed in later decades
• a crisis is an opportunity to reflect, and for reform and repositioning of one's priorities
How to Compare?
• Mechele Foucoult
• There exist two forms of comparison, and only two: the comparison
of measurement and that of order.
• One can measure sizes or multiplicities, in other words continuous
sizes or discontinuous sizes; but in both cases the use of
measurement presupposes that, unlike calculation, which proceeds
from elements towards a totality, one considers the whole first and
then divides it up into parts.
• one cannot know the order of things ‘in their isolated nature’, but
by discovering that which is the simplest, then that which is the
next simplest, one can progress inevitably to the most complex
things of all.
• University Handout for students
• Descarte and Goethe
What & How of Comparative Literature
Koelb and Noakes saw shift in CL studies
. . .the center of theoretical
concern, such as the history of
designators as romanticism or
symbolism (matters that have been
cloistered essential to the
understanding of the history of
literature as a great and unified
cultural enterprise – movements,
themes, periods, the history of
ideas . . .
. . . theoretical implications of
diverse literary phenomena
(issues that range around the
frontier – ‘emergent’ literatures,
relations to other disciplines,
women’s studies, marginalized
forms of reading: “pre-reading”,
“female-reading” - There is, by and
large, a kind of decentering in
progress, both in terms of notions
of reading and of canons
prescribing what is to be read.
• ‘National Literature’ cannot constitute an
intelligible field of study because of its arbitrarily
limited perspective: international contextualism
in literary history and criticism has become a law.
• Comparative literature represents more than an
academic discipline. It is an overall view of
literature, of the world of letters, a humanistic
ecology, a literary weltanschauung(world view), a
vision of the cultural universe, inclusive and
comprehensive … Comparative literature is the
ineluctable result of general historical
• The Comparative Perspective on Literature: Approaches to Theory and Practice by Claton Koelb and Susan
Noakes. 1988. Cornell University Press
What & How of Comparative Literature?
A Case Study: What to compare?
Always keep in mind ~‘why’
~ inter-disciplinary approach
• Let us view these ads, poems, folk lit, image and try to do Comparative
– View this lesson form the school book – study language – car ad
– Poem by Kamala Das: An Introduction
– Poem recited by poet Meena Kandasamy (2:00)
– Hindi Poem: Raavan
– Hindi poem: Prasoon Joshi : mohe lohar ke ghar dijiyo, meri zanjeere
– Women Bond
– Lok Sahitya : Beti – bahu (4:00)
– Tu hi tu – Star Ad (3:44)
– Fair and Lovely – Airhostess (1:00)
– Fair and Handsome (.37)
– Sunsilk – Malaysia (1:00)
– Tanishq – Marriage (1:37)
• Wellek, René. “The Crisis of Comparative Literature.” Comparative Literature: Proceedings of the
Second Congress of the ICLA. Ed. W. P. Friederich. 2 vols. Chapel Hill: U of Carolina P, 2:149-59.
• Saussy, Haun, ed. (2006). Comparative literature in an Age of Globalization . Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press.
• Randel, Don (2010). What about the humanities? Society for the Humanities, Invitational
Lecture, Cornell University. 30 March 2010.
• Ferris, David. (2006). Indiscipline. In Haun Saussy, ed., Comparative literature in an Age of
Globalization. pp. 78-99. Baltimore: Johns CHopkins University Press.
• Stallknecht, Newton P, Horst Frenz. OMPARATIVE LITERATURE: Method and Perspective
Ed.Southern Illinois University Press CARBONDALE Questia Media America, Inc. www.questia.com
• Dev, Amiya. Rethinking Comparative Literature
• Das, Sisir Kumar. Comparative Literature in India: A Historical Perspective
• Majumdar, Swapan. Comparative Literature: Indian Dimensions
• Bose, Buddhadeva. “Comparative Literature in India”, Yearbook of Comparative and
• General Literature, 8, 1959 also included in Contribution to Comparative Literature
• Germany and India, ed. Naresh Guha (Jadavpur 1979).
• Dev, Amiya Dev, "Comparative Literature in India" page 5 of 8 CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and
Culture 2.4 (2000): http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/clcweb/vol2/iss4/10
• Koelb, Claton and Susan Noakes. The Comparative Perspective on Literature: Approaches to Theory
and Practice. 1988. Cornell University Press.
• This presentation will be available on
• It will be followed by quiz based on this