Methodology in Comparative Literature: Impossibility of Writing History on Behalf of Others

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  • Topic: Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, Michel Tournier
  • Pages : 9 (3903 words )
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  • Published : May 9, 2012
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Versions of self and other vary in Foe as Susan barton says :" . But the stories he told me were so various, and so hard to reconcile one with another, that I was more and more driven to conclude age and isolation had taken their toll on his memory, and he no longer knew for sure what was truth, what fancy. (Coetzee 12) A text is made up of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation..." Roland Barthes.

The French school and the American school have been wrestling over the veracity of their methodology in the academic field of comparative literature. The French scholars consider their method the ultimate one. Americans, from another angle rebuke the French school’s presumptions and have another opinion on the matter. Both schools’ theories on comparative literature are inadequate in comparing works of literature. The efficient approach in comparing works of literature would be to oscillate between the two theories, rejecting biased ideas such as eurocentrism and the non-reference to extra textual elements. For some scholars, mainly the French ones, comparative literature must follow three parameters. First, there must be at least two cultures, the European culture being the center. Second, French literary trends must be recognized as the canons that influenced the other works of literature. Third, there is the need for at least two different languages. For instance, if one had to make a comparative literature on Jean de la Fontaine’s Les fables de la Fontaine and Ibn al Muqaffa’s ودمنة كليلة, the former must be referred to as the center and the source of influence, while the latter has to be the periphery that copied Jean la Fontaine’s style. Drama works in Arab literature is yet another argument with which French scholars support the dominance of the French canons over the others. Indeed, Drama is a recent discipline that came to existence after the French colonization of the Arab land. No one can deny that. However, this premise is not relevant for two reasons. On the one hand, the European culture is not homogeneous; it is inappropriate to consult it as a point of reference. For example, the French culture –even to a small extent– differs from the British culture; yet, both cultures are European. On the other hand, nothing comes out of nothing. The French literary schools did not, all of a sudden, start inventing literary trends. For instance, Jean de la Fontaine was himself influenced by Aesop’s fables centuries ago. It proves to be improper to take the French school’s literary trends as a source of reference, let alone the European culture. American scholars, namely New Critics, discredit the French school’s presumptions. There is no culture better than another. By analogy, the European culture can in no way be hegemonic, nor can it be centralized. New Critics also note that it possible to compare works of literature from the same culture and written in the same language. Both Robinson Crusoe and Foe are English novels, written in the same language and belong to the same culture. New critics are not wrong to point out to these errors. Nevertheless, one should note that even the New Critics’ approach is equally fallacious. New critics think that works of literature are self-sufficient. It is incorrect to say so. It is impossible, for example to fully understand Foe without having read the original book. One must read Robinson Crusoe before being able to detect criticism. In Foe there is a reference to numerous stories essential to the full understanding of the book, such as the Persian myth of The Old Man of the River. Even in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, there is intertextuality. There are passages taken from the bible. Consequently, it is a mistake to consider a text self-sufficient. In addition, new critics believe that there is no need to refer to the author’s intentions, historic facts and to the involvement of political...
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