comparative literature essay structure

comparative literature essay structure

Exploring the Foundations and Methodologies of Comparative Literature: A Comprehensive Essay Structure

1. Introduction to Comparative Literature

Although the study of the interconnection of literatures has from the very beginning been essential to the development of generalized reflections on phenomena as universal as literature and culture, one may truly state that comparative literature is a relatively recent branch. The term “comparative literature” was apparently used for the first time in 1823 by the French philologist Jean Marie Mezieres when publishing a literary periodical under its banner. The periodical lasted only one year, but the term’s birth was to serve as the prelude to the birth of a discipline. This is not, however, to say that reflections on the relationship between literature and the problem of non-literariness of literature have not occurred before that period. In the philosophical context, ages beforehand, one speaks of a form of comparison, such as one that arises in the dialogue Gorgias by Plato. In this, Socrates is able to demonstrate that oratory is the master of every art and science by comparing all of these spheres of knowledge.

This article is dedicated to a discussion of a particular aspect of comparative literature: its methodology. It is clear that in order to understand the methodology of a field of knowledge, it is essential to have an idea of its foundations. For this reason, I am going to commence with a general discussion of the foundations of the discipline. In the first chapter, I am going to explain the concept of comparative literature and make a brief historical account of its existence, so as to understand present tendencies. I shall then provide an overview of the main areas of study and the more recent branches.

2. Key Theories and Concepts in Comparative Literature

If one could look back in time a couple of centuries, one would have been able to find even attempts at comparison, albeit of a different kind. It would be absurd not to consider the work of literary thought-must metaphysicists and moralists, literary critics and estheticians such as Horace, Longinus, and even Seneca as forms of comparative literature. Between these books written by the ancient Greeks and the modern discipline that has been called comparative literary criticism, there is a difference of emphasis, if not of content. The ancient authors reflect a world view in which the problem of individuality is resolved in terms of a hierarchical conception; it is assumed that the unity of human nature and the conformity of this nature to certain objective requirements give human works and actions a relatively uniform structure and value. The existence in the world of so many different artistic expressions is thought to be resolved through a typology that classifies artistic products according to their genre, period, model, language, etc.

First, let us define what ‘Comparative Literature’ is not. It is not the mere accumulation and comparison of contents from two (or more) literatures, nor is it a collection of disparate readings on a number of literary traditions drawn from different cultural areas. Comparative Literature is neither a study of literature fulfilling purely extrinsic functions nor of translation as such; that is, it is neither the study of literature as it functions as entertainment, education, cultural instrument, etc., nor a breakdown of the scientific/aesthetic and cultural-linguistic features of original and transposed works. Comparative Literature emerges from the extended study of literary works which, though distinct, have some features in common, making their ‘comparison’ not just a juxtaposition but rather an analysis of analogies and related inter-penetrations.

3. Methodologies and Approaches in Comparative Literature

This interdisciplinary nature of Comparative Literature, far from being an obstacle, is its greatest advantage. Techniques and theories borrowed from history, sociology, psychology, art critics, hermeneutics, structuralism, function as many learning aids, the place of the original sin of every Anderson-like comparative vocation, so that its “interdisciplinarity” does not constitute an unnecessary complication. The models of reference pertain to various disciplines. The richness of their interplay and the sense that this den muy produces are the reasons, I believe, for the prosperity of comparative studies in increasingly wide range and the areas of interest that it covers, while the comparative sociologists, perhaps, rightly tend to concentrate on a much smaller and homogeneous phenomenon, so as to be able to distribute interferons more easily where the variability and complexity of social and cultural fabric involves increased fertility of problems, but also greater difficulty in the attempt of rational comprehension.

The exercise of the foreign in the constitution of a national literature has been widely documented. It has been shown, for example, how the imitation of highly revered foreign classics, accepted as canonical, guaranteed the contact with Western modernity, aroused admiration and respect, and represented the indicators around which the conflict with the provincialism of the previous cultural life revolved. On the other hand, the election of canonical national classics precipitated the decision to cut the umbilical cord with an intellectual tradition that became an irritating superstructure and an unnecessary ballast; the domineering character typical of every relationship of cultural superiority tends, in fetishism, to make slavery and rebellion coincide.

4. Case Studies and Comparative Analyses

Josef Kastein, covered by Zukowsky in Chapter 6a, was also one of the earliest Western experts on the Japanese novel. Kastein, widely seen in comparative literature as one of the principal sources of the boom in the Chinese and Japanese novels of 1922-30, was one of the first to present the Japanese novel not as a strange, oriental kind of writing, but as a prominent extension of the universal novellistic tendencies of the age. After explaining the novelistic incipience in Japan and his vision of the interrelated “cycles” that include the “decadence” and “restoration,” Zukovsky then presents a full-color gallery in her tenth chapter with detailed portraits of fifteen works by such representative modern writers as Higuchi Ichiyo, Ozaki Koyo, Tokuda Shusei, and Natsume Soseki. Providing a diachronic path into the study of the significant existent novellistic representations, Zukowsky gives more attention to the short-story tradition by delineating two peaks of activity in 1907-14 and 1922-30, which are separated by a period of quietude.

After identifying various modernist tendencies in Thailand, “The Modern Short Story in Thai and Siamese Literature” then provides a pair of contrasting cases: “Mother,” a speech translation of a European-language text, and “A Greedy Person,” an indigenous Thai story. From these two basic texts, the critical anthology leads the reader to a more generalized comparison of the “humanist-theological tradition” against “the emotional-moral tendency,” which were identified not by country, nation, region, confession, rhetoric, nationality, or civil status, but by the representation of abstract universal principles in religious and local settings, and by an indigenous tendency to “exhibit moral teachings” as “universal novellistic elements” that traditional readers “rightly insisted must be presented in new creations.”

5. Conclusion and Future Directions

Critics of world literature switch focus from the author to the text and devote considerable attention to individual phenomena in a systemic context. They study topics such as the historical genealogy of different cultures, mythological themes, specific genres and narratives, the style and technique of the text, translation difficulties at the thematic level, and, of course, the analysis and comparison of certain elements, themes, and the form of individual books. To study such diversity, we consider that the horizontal system will inevitably reference both the origin of literature as such and an expository reality capable of extending in a vertical direction all the way to a homogeneous civilization. With such vertical expansion, all observations within the horizontal framework of viewpoints and evaluations become feasible, along with new conditions and new perspectives that could not exist on this single axis of historical memory.

We notice that the forms and mechanisms of appropriation change with the cultural context. As yet, the philosophical ethos in China systematically versus Zhuangzi, cultural and aesthetic system, and ancient literature have been equally many other peripheral counterparts, some of which are inappropriately named. This is more than just a description of basic cultural reality; it is evidence that there is a higher level of excessive subjectivity, diversification, and maturity in fiction. Romanticism was founded on the basic principles, and most American and European critics mainly focus on how the actual text proves this sublime truth. The same conclusion can be drawn from Confucian optimism and the European novel, the means of social satire, and its limitations.

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