Cesar Dominguez, Haun Saussy & Dario Villanueva, Introducing Comparative Literature: New Trends and Applications.
This volume is a synthetic and yet comprehensive contribution to the teaching of Comparative Literature in a wide range of situations. The three authors, Cesar Dominguez, Haun Saussy and Dario Villanueva are well-known scholars in the field, and provide different overviews of very diverse aspects of the discipline. Villanueva is the current director of the Royal Academy of Letters in Spain (Real Academia Espanola), Saussy is also a reputable scholar who has presided institutions such as the American Comparative Literature Association, and Dominguez is currently Jean Monnet Chair of European Integration, a position which has allowed him to call attention to the role of the discipline in glocal and multicentric (not just global) contexts.
The book is divided in nine chapters. Chapters 1, 8 and 9 are written by Villanueva, 2, 3, 7 by Dominguez, and 4, 5, 6 by Saussy. From the first pages, the volume establishes Comparative Literature as a process of writing, reading, and circulation (including translation, adaptation and so on). This process exhibits replicative patterns, analogical and differential structures at various spatial scales and across time-periods. As the celebrated essay by Claudio Guillen, "Literature as system" ("La literatura como sistema") stated, literature is a complex process where a work, as David Damrosch also points out, "has an effective life as world literature whenever wherever [...] beyond its original culture" (What is World Literature? 173, cited in Dominguez, Saussy and Villanueva 3) Indeed, the difficulties in defining the discipline, a topic which re-emerges again and again at each meeting of the International Comparative Association, have to do with its non-linear qualities that show correlations, variations and loops across time and space, only comparable to complexity models in dynamic systems theory.
Thus, although each chapter focuses on particular issues, the ongoing discussion which emerges in this cohesive, yet open, volume, shows the nodes, twists and turns upon which the controversies of the discipline are built. These controversies evidence that comparative literature is far from dead, and that those who enjoy doing comparatism, whether we engage in quests, puzzles or patchwork, following the dictates of convergent, divergent, problem-solving, or other types of thought processes, will be able to continue to perform both distant and close readings, and draw analogies as well as paradoxes; all the more if we are able to read in several languages and across an increasing wider range of cultural contexts.
The volume sows its 'seed values' in chapter 1, where Dario Villanueva establishes the framework upon which the complexity of the discipline is based; that is, in rhizomatic networking between poetics, literary theory, literary criticism and literary history, each of them with their own distinct traditions and methodologies. The chapter also covers the evolution of the discipline, from its beginning, in close textual scrutiny, to a growing panorama of contexts and cultures; beyond the comparison of schools, themes, motifs, symbols and national pursuits, to the natural dispersion of its anatomic sections in transnational polyglot dialogues, the natural result of the migrant and exiled perspectives of many comparatists who realized that their languages, cultures, and nations were no longer one. The 'ideological vicissitudes' of uncertainty, dissent and postmodern deconstruction have, paradoxically, grown new stolons to the "wider consideration of the literary phenomenon" (13). As Prof. Villanueva explores systemic paradigms in work by Tynyanov, Mukarovsky, Vodicka, Jauss, Lotman, Groeben, Schmidt, Totosy, Lambert, Marino, Casanova, Miner or Skwarczynska, among others, he insists that the perennial crisis of the discipline, with its runners in Bassnett's translation studies, Bernheimer's cultural turn, Chakravorty Spivak's death of Western models, or Damrosch's world literature, among others, needs to be recontextualized within the discussion of the impact of the humanities in education across distinct spatiotemporal settings.
The traditional division between the French and American schools is the object of chapter 2, which focuses on interliterary theory and the contributions coming from Slovak scholar Dionyz Durisin. Cesar Dominguez's argument stems from Jonathan Culler's view that critical theory "is not an account of the nature of literature or methods for its study [...] but a body of thinking and writing whose limits are exceedingly hard to define " (Literary Theory 3 cited in Dominguez 20). Culler bases his approach, argues Dominguez, in practical problem-solving, just as Durisin's conception of interliterary laws. Indeed, the aim of this chapter is to cultivate other structural axes, vascular parallels to the American-French core embodied by Rene Wellek (1958) and Paul Van Tieghem (1931) respectively. Durisin's proposal "aimed to trace literary growth from national literature to world literature " (25), and e did so by establishing relations not just between two elements, "but at several levels simultaneously, such as, for instance, between the source element, the target element, and their respective contexts, or between the source- and target-systems and their contexts." (25) Dominguez does an excellent job at establishing the importance of Durisin 's interliterary relationships and forms of reception, all of which enable the author to balance genetic filiations and typological affinities at the individual-psychological and sociological levels as well as at the level of representation. Interestingly, Durisin's work only became instrumental and visible to Western scholars in the 1980s, when Douwe W Fokkema responded to rumours of crisis within the discipline with his discussion on the "attitude of tolerance towards other patterns of culture " ("Cultural Relativism " 240 cited in Dominguez 31). It is in this regard that Durisin 's contribution remains significant and largely unexplored. Chapter 2 ends with a number of practical showcases intended to provide visible applications of Durisin 's teory on interlireraty communities, including aspects such as plurifunctionality, complementariness of oral tradition, and the delayed incorporation of literary items to the cultures of given communities, a factor that points to the discussion on decoloniality in the following chapter.
As Dominguez indicates, the debate on the role of postcolonial writings in canon formation (see Bernheimer Report 44) took place during the process of decolonization and the growth of new nation-states (former colonies) and national literatures (42). If as Walter Mignolo has shown, "de-colonial shift [...] is a process of de-linking, " ("Delinking" 452 cited in Dominguez 43), where should comparison be located? In order to provide some answers to this question, Dominguez approaches the field of comparative philosophy, by means of corms or internodes to the work of Raimundo Panikkar, Cao Shunqing, and Zhi Yu, as well as various Latin American scholars. The chapter goes on to show the tensions between 'delinking', which seeks mutually exclusive representations between cultures and heightens differences, and Lu Xing's idea of "ambiguous similarities " (50). All of these new shoots enlarge the project of comparative literature.
The following chapters, 4, 5, 6, authored by Prof. Saussy discuss the concept of 'world literature' in relation to comparative literature, and extend the thematic circulation of literary texts as a means to reach spaces and times no longer present. Chapter 6 introduces the problem of diverse languages, translation and untranslatables. Saussy's project is based upon three carefully differentiated and contextualized understandings which he goes on to simultaneous replicate and expand in each of his chapters: a) artistic creation balanced against the modes of perception and blindness specific to a given context; b) a sympathetic insight which transcends eras and cultures, balanced against the mediation of translation and reciprocal literary history; and c) the individuality of works and cultures, balanced against the marketplace of communication (59). The author starts from an account of world literature that relates Goethe's and Marx and Engels' contributions, and goes on to discuss Pascale Casanova's, David Damrosch's or Franco Moretti's, among others. A parenchyma of issues such as education, acculturation and transculturation, his discussion of cannon formation and the literary world system includes the provocative suggestion of contemplating words, texts and their contexts in terms of inventions, answering social and cognitive needs, where "their diffusion in space and time requires a special sharpening of the comparatist's optic", for the history of literature "should be no only of authors, works, and movements, but of the discovery and adaptive use by readers of such 'equipment for living'" (67). Along these lines, chapter 5 explores the comparison of themes and images as an ethnographer would; that is, employing different tools and techniques under different conditions of use. The discussion opens up possibilities to inter-art comparison beyond formal aesthetics, translation, as well as national and transnational intercultural reception, by including the context of authorship, distribution and circulation of literature, the conditions of close and distant readership, and the material conditions, from orality to print and digitalization. Chapter 6 provides further insights into the problems of translation, its invisibility, transduction, and occasional untranslatability. Saussy's claim that "perhaps between any two languages there is a zone of mutual borrowing, a zone where translation is superfluous or always erroneous" reminds us that those in the comparative zone should cherish the benefits of reading in various languages. Indeed, he asserts that "the existence of translations should never be an excuse for maintaining monolingualism. On the map of comparative literature, monolingualism is blank. Through attention to multilingualism, code-mixing, and creolity, comparatists can make translation something other than a connector between two blank zones." (87).
As mentioned, the fractal structure of the volume mirrors that of the discipline of comparative literature, as each chapter hints simultaneously back and forth, and at several levels. In Chapter 7, it is Dominguez again who attempts to map the lessons to be learnt from comparative literature history. In doing this, he extends notions already introduced in earlier chapters while, at the same time, he throws for a loop. The chapter presents some relevant contributions of the AILC/ICLA Committee on "comparative literary histories," with a plural that suggests the interliterary relations among communities. This part speaks of maps, nodes and marginocentric points, bringing to the fore the systemic approach used. As before, the discussion is sustained with references to the works of relevant researchers, such as Marcel Cornis Pope and John Neubauer, as well as showcases intended to make the theoretical points more visible to students and scholars alike.
The last two chapters are again by Prof. Villanueva. He provides a certain closure to the elliptical circle while simultaneously opening up to inter-artistic comparison, the history of ekphrasis, and the dialogue between literature, music, the plastic arts, cinema and so on. The book ends with "the return to literature," a chapter that replicates issues and controversies presented in the volume. However, such replicative transpositions introduce contemporary concerns on the role of hypertextual formats and digitalization: "it is important to note the extent to which the technologies of alphabetization and movable type echo and need one another in their atomizing approach to language and their centralizing mode of production and distribution. To the industrial character of European printing, one might contrast the East Asian boo, which, produced from carved wooden blocks, retain its roots in calligraphy, handicraft and domestic industry." (127; emphasis added) Thus, in the wake of the debate over the past and future of comparative literature, one of the paths opened by the volume brings us back to the present of Ithaca by a commodious vicus of recirculation. Always already we find ourselves in solitary confinement, enjoying the domestic pleasures of reading this wonderful volume and writing this review, possibly the most fundamental reasons why we do comparative literature at all. The glossary and the list of further reading provide additional strolls and twists.
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|Publication:||Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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