Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization

Topics: Literature, Literary criticism, Cultural studies Pages: 6 (2282 words) Published: March 22, 2013
Utrecht University The bylaws of the American Comparative Literature Association stipulate the writ-ing every ten years of "a report on the state of the discipline." The present collection Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization represents the latest in the series and is a follow up to Charles Bernheimer's Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism (1994). The structural similarities between the two titles, with their repetition of "Comparative Literature in the âge of " is striking, and I will corne back toit. The nineteen essays in the collection hâve been written by a team of eminent scholars and they respond not only to Bernheimer's collection and to the general thème of "globalization" but also to each other. The resuit is an interesting series of kaleidoscopic interventions, some highly readable and pulling lots of punch; others less user-friendly and, in attempting to arise to the occasion, somewhat convoluted and over-written. Granted: the "report" is a very awkward genre for which there are no rules and, given this need to improvise, the editer Haun Saussy has made a good job of providing a nuanced and multiperspectival account of the "state of the discipline". It would hâve enhanced the impact of the present volume, however, had it been at times less an inward looking colloquy among seniors and more inviting to the as-yet not initiated graduate student. As it is, it makes very interesting reading for the diehard senior member of staff (and presumably the members of the ACL A) while being less accessible to the future scholar or to those working in other disciplines and interested in finding out what Comparative Literature stands for, where it is going to, and why it might be important. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée CRCL DECEMBER 2008 DÉCEMBRE RCLC

0319-051x708/35.4/353 ©Canadian Comparative Literature Association



A survey attempting to do justice to the complexity of an academie field and what is at issue in it, almost inevitably leaves the reviewer less with a single argument than with a variety of perspectives on a variety of issues (on among other things, the importance of historical approaches, the value of study of graphie novels and other visual forms alongside texts; the nature of comparative literature as a "metadiscipline" or exploratory space). So what is really surprising about this collection, then, is the degree of convergence that it nevertheless manifests. To begin with, the majority of contributors do address some issue within the broad frame of "globalization" taking their eue from the substantial introductory essay by Saussy, himself a specialist in Chinese literature. Where the 1994 report focused on questions of the boundaries between literature and other cultural expressions, ten years later the main emphasis here is on themes that are in many ways more traditional within the multilingual field of comparative literature: the concept of world literature or "literatures of the world" and how best to teach it (David Damrosch and Katie Trumpener provide interesting solutions); the cultural rôle of translation and its status as a medium in teaching and research (Steven Ungar); the nature of comparison itself and the grounds upon which texts or movements from different cultural and linguistic traditions, even from different periods, may usefully be compared with each other and if indeed, as Emily Apter argues following Alain Badiou, if grounds for comparison are always needed; the future rôle of (East) European literature and theory within the much larger body of world literature now becoming available (Caryl Emerson). Even Marshall Brown's enthusiastic celebration of the close reading of particular texts, using the example of Effi Briest, reflects the...
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