Comparative Literature: Concepts, Its Present Status and New Territories

Topics: Literature, Cultural studies, Comparative literature Pages: 9 (2413 words) Published: September 25, 2010


Comparative Literature: Concepts, Its Present status and New Territories 3/30/2010 Government Engineering College, Surat Ankita Khanna

The main objective of this paper is to provide researchers interested in the history and evolution of “comparative literature” with a collection of references delineating the evolution of the concept and the development of academic departments dedicated to its study. The paper includes a first section describing the main issues contributing to the “identity crisis” with which studies and departments defining themselves as “comparative” were consistently confronted ever since the term was coined. The paper also offers an overview of the elements that usually confer a “comparative” quality to a literary study, such as interdisciplinarity and multiculturalism, together with a few relevant definitions describing the commonly accepted meaning of the term at a particular point in time. Further it has a sketch of the current status of the concept and of the institutions dedicated to its study. This paper primarily focuses on facts and documents from the European and North American continents. Its main purpose is not to arbitrate the multitude of trends and opinions trying to associate the term with a singular meaning. It merely attempts to provide a systematic perspective of the subject matter.

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Comparative Literature: Concepts, Its Present status and New Territories

A work of literature always makes connections. It not only reaches individual readers; but also it invokes other literary works and traditions. It is truly a mechanism that can challenge or embrace scientific or historical knowledge, can be translated into another language or can be transformed into a film. Comparative literature explores this rich tapestry of relationships. It is the study of written texts from more than one language, culture, or region. The wide variety of materials encompassed lends itself to interdisciplinary and innovative approaches. The term comparative is not restricted to the study of different national literatures. It also refers to comparative studies within a single linguistic culture, e.g. in a multicultural society or a postcolonial country. The series seeks to reassess the complex relationship between margin and center, emphasizing, whenever possible, a non-Eurocentric perspective.


During the late 19th century, comparatists purported Zeitgust or "spirit of the times" which they assumed to be embodied in the literary output of each nation. Fyodor Buslaev was one such comparatist. Going by the present day standards, it would not be incorrect to put the works of that period under the categories of Chauvinistic, Eurocentric or even racist, however, the intention of most of the scholars during that period was to enhance the understanding of other cultures, not to claim superiority over them although there works were often used by the politicians and others from outside the field, for this purpose. Some important works forming the foundation of Comparative Literature include Transylvanian Hungarian Hugo Meltzl de Lomnitz's scholarship and also Comparative Literature (1886) by H.M. Posnett, a scholar from New Zealand. However, the ideas of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his vision of

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Comparative Literature: Concepts, Its Present status and New Territories

“world literature” (Weltliteratur) and Alexander Veselovsky with laying the groundwork for the discipline, too deserve a due credit for the same. From the end of the Second World War onwards, the rise of Comparative Literature in the United States spurred, the reason for which was probably the immigration of leading European scholars in the field of humanities such as Roman Jakobson, Leo spitzer, Erich Auerbach, Rene Wellek, Theodor Adorno....

References: ö Aims & Scope of CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture (1999).
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