comparative literature essay

comparative literature essay

Exploring the Significance of Comparative Literature: A Comprehensive Analysis

1. Introduction to Comparative Literature

It is easy to declare that it was seeking “the ‘centripetal’ essence of comparative literature.” But is there a center, a comparative literature messing? Does it make any sense to reach around for it, when so much of that national preparation in schools and colleges that I call into question is practical, calls us to slouch forward – indeed, in a global commodious setting, to expand? Retrofitting a “‘phone’iness” onto some decades of personal practice, what can I say for the sense that it makes? And how to communicate the attractions with it that have so often bound dedicated comparatists to the world? Throughout my career as a researcher and teacher of comparative literature, both under that title and with related thematic rubrics, whether in English or in other languages, I have been called “quixotic” when I imagined that other did not find so eccentric the problems and solutions of which I felt the excitement.

Comparative Literature is a field with a long history, one that goes back at least to Dante, and has roots in many different traditions. As the name suggests, it is grounded in a number of distinct national traditions. There are, moreover, many distinct members of this international body under one name, many diverse pockets of comparative literary studies under one name, and it might very well be a problem in itself that these distinct individual members are tied together only by so thin a concept as “literature,” with all the recent debates as to whether or not literature is anything. Still, the very multiplicity of comparative literature shows that there is no common curriculum, methodology or point of departure of a discipline, and the variety of research it encompasses suggest that the center of this thematic discipline is a void. Any education in the subject will necessarily have to thread a path between the national traditions, which are after all different – are “other”; so to learn, really learn beyond the surface, of one greatly enlarges the capacity to learn of another.

2. Theoretical Frameworks in Comparative Literature

The objective of comparative literature in this context is not really to decide whether one literature is better or worse than another but to understand and appreciate the most important works of human expression of the grand literatures of the world. The comparable nature of great literature is viewed in terms of its symbolic content and emotional appeal within the specific societies it represents. An essential theoretical perspective for the quest for associational unity in comparative literature is the recognition of relationship classification of various arts and sciences. Viewing literature as an art form, it is necessary first to differentiate between two arts: mimetic arts (literature and drama) and non-mimetic arts (plastic arts, music, and dance). Literature is involved in the classification of all other arts and of science itself.

Comparative literature has as a basic theoretical premise the comparison of literature textually or contextually with other arts or sciences. The idea of comparing is inherent in the term itself – the ability to think for information concerning mankind, its world, and its creativity in all the branches of knowledge. Comparative literature is the study and comparison of literature and its relationship to the arts and other social sciences. Fundamental to the task of the comparatist is the ability to appreciate comparative literature in various cultures and to understand its forms, myth, symbols, societal organizations, and philosophies.

3. Key Concepts and Approaches in Comparative Literature

Despite such an expansion of the field of comparative literature, the term is not very easily defined. In the initial stages of the 1826 Geneva Conference, the term indicated the skills of sober judgement and magnanimity, and since then gained further definition by expanding from approaches based on historical, parallel or critical levels to stratified or complex methods. From its inception, comparative literature was connected to an institutional genesis tied to the political, ethical, and pedagogical reasons which determined the choice by men of letters to coordinate their work under academic jurisdiction. Under the influence of historical coherence with the culture of nationalities and similar dominant cultures, it became an academic version of the definition of European nations following its association with the modern languages. The instrumental perspective of adaptations of the model to languages or pseudo-academic and anti-nationalist training represents the idea of a modern Western literature whose lineage was born in antiquity. Such political and aesthetic ideas always mar the sciences of textual mediation conventions and shapes misunderstanding and opposition. The post-language and linguistic comparative literature research introduces semiological accommodation, such as appearance diversity, ideographic, symbolic, visual systems and unique connotations, arguing with the need to identify the structures responsible for literary mediation in different cultures. With the transformation of comparative literary studies, the support of classical literature has become fundamental in developing the analysis of literary backgrounds. At the same time, comparative literature has addressed a number of distinctive cases related to the different form of modifications of cultural cognitive forms which led to the innovation of literary structures.

Comparative literature has its roots in the concept of comparing literature. Literature points at creative human knowledge and understanding expressed in the form of words articulated in imagination and thoughts. Despite its fundamental objectives, the concept of comparative literature is not easily defined. The value of comparative literature and its significance in multicultural and multilingual societies are not related to the number of works which have been compared nor to the awe or authority claimed by those who assert relationships between tradition, genre, or period in one cultural structure with tradition, genre, or period in another. Nevertheless, comparative literature has been in existence for centuries, first appearing in 19th-century Europe. Comparative literature, however, was criticized immensely during the 20th century because of the lack of theoretical foundations and the need for international relief of European culture in danger. The changing history of ideas on comparative literature reflects the theoretical revisions or restructuring in the alignments exposed in political discussions primarily connected to research in the Italian and German universities. The application of these new ideas has increased in frequency and extended to European research suggesting an expansion of the original concept and a realization of new potentials.

4. Case Studies and Comparative Analysis

At the end of the fourteenth century, Islam was still the barrier, whenever it conquered, to any attraction between black Africa and Christian Europe. Nevertheless, the singular adventures of black slaves, or again free men who had contacts, whether sexual or more lasting, whether we approved of them or not, of marginalized groups of people with mixed blood, whose few descendants were secretly sheltered where the limelight could not reach them, could, over the centuries, have tangled the delicate strands of thread which connect ancient and classical Europe to the black African Africa of slaves. I will make a final point about the suppression of this indirect contact. Even before the destructive slave trade condemned them to a long and almost continual night of sorrow, since the second part of the fourteenth century, contact had been maintained between black slaves and free people of African origin living in the Greek and Italian colonies, who seemed to have retained the acephalosity of their Carthaginian ancestors and to have saved in their meager heads the time to learn a few words of the Greek language as it assimilated them and then destroyed the Roman.

Principal and relevant case studies that exclusively address Afro-European Studies are still barely available. It seems that the worlds of black Africa and white Europe have rarely had direct contact since the early contacts in the eighth century. These destinies came into indirect and frequent contact only in the second part of the fifteenth century, during a long period of fifteen centuries. This parenthesis indicates to what point Afro and Euro meet each other, having interacted with each other on the basis of parity, a capacity to face the other and to adapt, when their different cultures were marginally influenced by this rare abrasion. This direct alternation with an adjacent other, which was apparent by the fifteenth century, is characteristic of the respective cultures; the adjacent others were the various stages of a complex civilization.

5. Conclusion and Future Directions

It has often been pointed out, correctly, that in today’s age, the title seems both anachronistic and a misnomer. In a day when global business must surely mean we have a global culture, the object in Comparative Literature – that which is produced from which literature can be compared – is both taken for granted as universal yet hardly ever the focus of our discipline and anachronistic if such a thing can even theoretically exist. We overstretch the boundaries of the object when we say it is literature (especially when we have had whole critical traditions questioning this), we devalue that which is other than literature.

As it appears, as far back as Homi Bhabha in 1977, there is a very specific reason as to why Comparative Literature is often referred to as Literary Studies. Bhabha, in his very scathing criticism of Comparative Literature, suggests that a good example of such an evil might very well indeed be the genealogy of the term “Comparative Literature” as it reappears in the lexicon of American tertiary education. Comp Lit, since its inception, was outlawed from the liberal arts and university education and hence capitalized upon the method of comparison. In doing so, its name echoes an idea about method in the way Comparative Government, for example, does not.

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