1. Graduate Course (proposal): Materialist Comparative Literature


    The conventional model of Comparative Literature entails comparison of the literatures of two or more contexts in the original languages. This model still dominates in European (particularly) and American higher education and research, and is based on a philological approach to the Humanities. As most theorists are aware, philological principles have been intensively interrogated on ideological grounds, especially with the institutional inculcation of Theory and social constructionist identity politics. Much discussion has been devoted to anxieties about the conventional model when contemplating “remote” texts (such as Chinese, Japanese, Bengali, Tamil – remote in Eurocentric terms), and with growing apprehension of different, and also conventional, approaches to Comparative Literature elsewhere (e.g. in China and Korea the discipline has taken a broad view of contexts and used translations freely). Nevertheless, while some of the ideological underpinnings of the philological model are indeed deeply questionable, some continue to be valuable. Of the latter, the philological aspiration to universal analytical frameworks and the philological method of close attention to literary-linguistic nuances are always worth considering seriously. In many ways, the drives of Theory have been more in tune with philological perspectives than is generally acknowledged.

    More recently it has been felt that the conventional model needs to be complemented by, and put into perspective within, a considerably broader understanding of comparison. The scope of literary comparison has steadily expanded through subsequent ACLA state-of-the-discipline reports, and more effectively through several scholarly debates (especially around identity politics, Cultural Studies, Translation Studies, Globalization Theory, Postcolonial Studies, and concepts of World Literature). It is now widely accepted that comparison in Comparative Literature should address not just linguistic boundaries, but also cultural, political, disciplinary, and media boundaries. Further, the areas circumscribed by apparent boundaries should not simply be regarded as discrete and separate, but as fluid, interpenetrative, porous. Various somewhat laboured attempts to characterize literary comparison accordingly, with a view to going beyond theory and enabling the practice of scholarship and pedagogy, have been offered. Moretti’s concept of “distanced reading”, Damrosch’s focus on texts crossing boundaries, and Tötösy’s principles for comparative cultural studies (which include literature), for instance, are in that direction. The bases for comparison in relation to literature have been searchingly examined.

    These debates have examined the need to register the sociological and economic conditions which actuate literary comparison, but in practice have yet to come up with a systematic account of how that could be undertaken in scholarship and pedagogy. A philological imperative which tends to foreground literary texts and contexts at the expense of sociological and economic conditions of literary production, circulation, and reception have tended to skew the effort to develop grounded and pragmatic principles for a broad sense of literary comparison.

    This short course will: (a) outline the key recent debates that have taken place in conceptualizing a broader base for comparison in relation to Comparative Literature; and (b) address the lacunae therein by focusing particularly on the sociological and economic conditions that underlie specific areas of literary comparison, i.e. by clarifying the materialist dimensions of Comparative Literature. The idea here is to attempt to thereby bridge conceptual and pragmatic considerations that are germane to students of Comparative Literature.

    The weekly sessions will be structured in each case by raising a key question, and will be given consistency by focusing on a selection of literary and critical texts.

    Weekly programme

    May 3rd. (4 hours): What should be compared in the study of Comparative Literature?

    This space will be used to invite students to speculate on what the answers could be, and informing students of the extent to which their answers have been theorized and acted upon already. How social and economic conditions inform the choice of a comparison base (linguistic, national, cultural, disciplinary, media etc. bases), and determine the parameters of comparison, will be clarified in the process.

    May 10th (4 hours): Does literary translation inevitably involve power relations?

    This is mainly a matter of examining how the geopolitics of language may or may not play with literary translation. Particular attention will be given to the domination of English in various spheres, and to the directions in which translations take place.

    May 17th Week 3 (4 hours): How does the material form of the literary text affect production and reception of literature in different contexts?

    By “material form” I mean mainly, in this instance, printed texts and e-texts. This period will be used to consider the different ways in which literature is produced and circulated and received – the roles that corporate or self publication, distribution, retailing, posting, networking, advertising etc. play in access to and preconceptions about literary texts in different contexts.

    May 23rd (3 hours): Are we, as students and teachers, able to choose freely how we practice literary comparison? 

    Essentially, this space enables an exploration of the institutional conditions under which Comparative Literature is taught/learned and researched. This requires some sense of the sociology and economics of academic institutions and academic discourse, and the context-specific imperatives which drive the rise and fall of disciplinary practices.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Parameters of Literary Comparison


    Required Reading

    Week 1 (4 hours): What should be compared in the study of Comparative Literature?   

    ACLA Bernheimer Report (1993) http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/SyllPDF/Bernheim.pdf

    Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature” (2000). New Left Review, Jan-Feb 2000


    Ch.1: Haun Saussy, “Exquisite Cadavers Stitched from Fresh Nightmares: Of Memes, Hives, and Selfish Genes”; and Ch.2: David Damrosch, “World Literature in a Postcanonical, Hypercanonical Age”. In Saussy ed. Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization. Johns Hopkins UP, 2006.

    Week 2 (4 hours): Does literary translation inevitably involve power relations?

    Lawrence Venuti, Ch1. “Invisibility”, in The Translator’s Invisibility. Routledge, 1995. 1-42.


    Emily Apter, Ch.16: “A New Comparative Literature”, in The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature. Princeton UP, 2005.

    Susan Bassnett, “Literary Research and Translation”. In Delia DaSousa and W.R.Owens eds. The Handbook to Literary Research. Routledge, 2010. 167-83.  

    Week 3 (4 hours): How does the shift from print to electronic forms affect approaches to literature?

    Stephanie Browner, Stephen Pulsford, Richard Sears.  Ch. 9: “Literature and the Internet: Theoretical and Political Considerations”. Literature and the Internet: A Guide for Students, Teachers and Scholars. Garland, 2000. 169-186.

    N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic Literature: What is it? (2007). http://eliterature.org/pad/elp.html

    Week 4 (3 hours): Are we, as students and teachers, able to choose freely how we practice literary comparison?

    Suman Gupta. Ch. 7: The Globalization of Literature. In Globalization and Literature. Polity, 2009. 159-169.    

    Further Reading

    Bassnett, Susan (2002). Translation Studies, 3rd edition. Abingdon: Routledge.

    Crone, Rosalind, Katie Halsey and Shafquat Towheed eds. (2010). The History of Reading: A Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.

    Damrosch, David (2003). What Is World Literature? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Damrosch, David, Natalie Melas and Mbongiseni Buthelezi eds. (2009). The Princeton Sourcebook in Comparative Literature: From the European Enlightenment to the Global Present. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Eliot, Simon and Jonathan Rose eds. (2009). A Companion to the History of the Book. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Hayles, N. Katherine (2008). Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Prendergast, Christopher ed. (2004). Debating World Literature. London: Verso.

    Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven (1998). Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

    Venuti, Lawrence ed. (2004). The Translation Studies Reader, 2nd edition. Abingdon: Routledge.