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Comparative Literature

A Very Short Introduction

Ben Hutchinson (Professor of European Literature, University of Kent)

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Oxford University Press
05 April 2018
Comparative Literature is both the past and the future of literary studies. Its history is intimately linked to the political upheavals of modernity: from colonial empire-building in the nineteenth century, via the Jewish diaspora of the twentieth century, to the postcolonial culture wars of the twenty-first century, attempts at 'comparison' have defined the international agenda of literature. But what is comparative literature? Ambitious readers looking to stretch themselves are usually intrigued by the concept, but uncertain of its implications. And rightly so, in many ways: even the professionals cannot agree on a single term, calling it comparative in English, compared in French, and comparing in German. The very term itself, when approached comparatively, opens up a Pandora's box of cultural differences. Yet this, in a nutshell, is the whole point of comparative literature. To look at literature comparatively is to realize just how much can be learned by looking over the horizon of one's own culture; it is to discover not only more about other literatures, but also about one's own; and it is to participate in the great utopian dream of understanding the way nations and languages interact. In an age that is paradoxically defined by migration and border crossing on the one hand, and by a retreat into monolingualism and monoculturalism on the other, the cross-cultural agenda of comparative literature has become increasingly central to the future of the Humanities. We are all, in fact, comparatists, constantly making connections across languages, cultures, and genres as we read. The question is whether we realise it.

This Very Short Introduction tells the story of Comparative Literature as an agent of international relations, from the point of view both of scholarship and of cultural history more generally. Outlining the complex history and competing theories of comparative literature, Ben Hutchinson offers an accessible means of entry into a notoriously slippery subject, and shows how comparative literature can be like a Rorschach test, where people see in it what they want to see. Ultimately, Hutchinson places comparative literature at the very heart of literary criticism, for as George Steiner once noted, 'to read is to compare'.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
By:   Ben Hutchinson (Professor of European Literature University of Kent)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 175mm,  Width: 110mm, 
Weight:   125g
ISBN:   9780198807278
ISBN 10:   0198807279
Series:   Very Short Introductions
Pages:   160
Publication Date:   05 April 2018
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Ben Hutchinson is Professor of European Literature at the University of Kent. He is a Fellow of the Academia Europaea, a Philip Leverhulme Prize winner, and a Member of the Executive Committee of the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA), as well as a regular contributor to newspapers including the TLS and the Literary Review. His publications include Rilke's Poetics of Becoming (2006), W. G. Sebald. Die dialektische Imagination (2009), Modernism and Style (2011), and Lateness and Modern European Literature (2016).

Reviews for Comparative Literature: A Very Short Introduction

This fascinating study presents an optimistic view of the state of comparative literature today, showing how the discipline has evolved and why it is so important. This book should be required reading for anyone with an interest in literature. * Susan Bassnett, President of the British Comparative Literature Association * With admirable clarity, he analyses the issues that the discipline faces, and brings back invigorating news of possibilities ahead. This eloquent and richly packed VSI puts the case for comparative literature as the most vital, enriching and valuable way of reading and studying literature at a time of colossal shifts in the prospects of the Humanities.


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