Haun Saussy (ed.), Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization.
The present anthology is a report on the state of the discipline of comparative literature as prepared by the editor in response to the invitation by the outgoing and incoming presidents of the American Comparative Literature Association, 2003. Unlike its predecessor, the precious ten-year report Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism (1996), the present report is of a different design, unlike any conventional form of report, very much suitable to the anti-authoritarian formlessness of the unconventional states of intellectual activities in the present century in general, it presents some reflections by the forefront practitioner of comparative literature who have vitalized the current issues in the discipline such as post colonialism, art history, literary theory, violation of discipline, terrorism, gender politics and politics of culture that defy the 'death of the discipline' that the controversial comparativist Gayatri Spivak announced simultaneously. The volume is lively and enlivening with its profound interest and energy in enlarging the scope and horizons of comparative literature for the coming decade--Long live the Discipline!
Contributors to the volume include the editor himself and sixteen others that are organized into two parts: 1. The State of the Discipline, 2004 and 2. Responses the first part covers the editor himself, David Damrosch, Emily Apter, Richard Rorty, Dielal Kadir, David Ferris, Francoise Lionnet, Gail Finney, Steven Ungar, Caroline Eckhardt, Christopher Braider and Fedwa Malti-Douglas; the second part--Katie Trumpener, Caryl Emerson, Roland Greene, Linda Hutcheon, Zhang Longxi, Jonathan Culler and Marshall Brown.
Richard Rorty's essay "Looking Back at 'Literary Theory'" reflects the loss of disciplinary barrier among disciplines at the American universities beginning already in the 1970s referring to the academic positions he held himself--from professor of Philosophy at Princeton to professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford through professor of Humanities at Virginia. This loss of barrier, Rorty observes, marks the distinction of Comparative Literature in its very flexibility of disciplinary that it was very much prone to since its foundations by literary scholars like Rene Wellek. Comparative Literature, since its birth, was not simply comparison among literatures of various nations, not the German "world literature," but a completely new mode of studying literature set upon the very foundation of interdisciplinary, a mode that was debated Leavis and Wellek in the late 1930s, literary study joined hands with philosophy as early as that period, not in the flexible academic, positions of Rorty after half a century. Wellek's History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950 reflects this interdisciplinarity of literary study on its critical path that can pick up any discipline relevant for appreciating and evaluating literary works--a mode founded by Aristotle the father of Western Literary Criticism. The medieval notion of humanities and its compartmentalization of knowledge was decompartmentalized during the postwar period, when the war broken European scholars gathered in the United States and found Comparative Literature that walked with its full vigor despite Lane Cooper's calling it "bogus." Against this background, it is not a surprise that the teachers and students of literature opted for Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and Foucault during the 1970s. The growing interest in these authors was not due to their offering a new theory about the nature of literature--"... the unhappy term 'literary theory,'" writes Rorty, it deceived some hapless graduate students thinking that they could write a worthwhile article or book just by "applying theory" to a text. This belief generated a great mass of beauty readable amazingly boring articles and books." (65) Rorty is, however, relieved that the tradition of deconstructing texts is now as absolute as spotting Christ-figures or vagina-symbols. At the same time, Rorty is .bared with the curricular inertia that compels the philosophy graduates comparing Kierkegard with Levinas, to know something about Godels' results before they clear their Ph. D. dissertation.
Rorty is also unwilling to accept Haun Saussy's suggestion that literariness is central to comparative literature, an idea that Roman Jakobson and his colleagues of the Formalist group developed by following Husserl's eidetic meaning in the 1920s. Rorty observes that this search for literariness in literature is as misguiding as the search for conceptual clarity in philosophical texts. It seems Rorty is wise in pointing out the limitations of both "disciplines" and "interdisciplinarity" that often ignore some vital, if not foundational or essential, sense of "differences"--one can not compare just anything with any other thing--"The difference between Aurbach and Spivak is as great as the difference between Heidegger and Carnap," (67) although it is impossible to identify anything central to an academic phenomenon or discipline as it is to identify the "core" of a human self.
Jonathan Culler, on the other wing of the report, seeks for the differences in disciplines following the Saussurean semiological principles of differential identity--"Their most precise characteristic is to be what others are not." But Culler feels unhappy and uncomfortable about the broadening sphere of comparative literature deviating widely and wildly from its original function of studying the sources and influence "bringing together works where there seemed to be a direct link of transmission that subtended and served to justify comparison." But comparative literature in its wild adventures has lost its commercial feasibility--"though comparative literature has triumphed, and many others are comparativists now, the jobs are still in the national language and literature departments." One might do comparative literature, but -without losing one's base in national literature, this interjection being only a commercial one without any logical ground. This commercial scepticism due to a severely uncontrolled indiscipline or multidisciplinarity in 'this discipline that has caused even the ironic announcement of suicide by a comparativist like Spivak, is not to be dispelled without a serious consideration. But, at the same time, commercial viability maybe of a pragmatic importance without telling upon the intellectual criterion of the broadening scenario of comparative literature, admitting the disadvantageous gap between Auerbach and Spivak.
The essays in the collection are so highly provocative that several other volumes might be written as notes on them. A reviewer's limitations only highlights the scope of the work under review. The essays by Damrosch, Greene and Apter focusing the issues of post colonialism and hyper cononicalism in today's comparative literature are definitely intoxicating. The geopoliticality of world literature has been attractively exhibited by Trumpener. Although Saussy has been himself the target of attack by some of the contributors, his method of stimulating ideas in them is nevertheless most innovative. Awaiting the adventure of comparative literature a decade ahead, the reviewer offers his sincere thanks, to both the editors and contributors of the volume.
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|Publication:||Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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