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FROM ECSTASY TO AGONY: THE RISE AND FALL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
"F_,injeder sucht sich endlich selbst was aus" Goethe ~ "Chacun n'a plus quqt retrancher [...] ce que lui paragt d~plac~ ou supcrllu pour aboutir h son propre portrait". Pichoi~Rousseau 2
Several years ago, I promised never again to go public with m y views on Comparative Literature, the scholarly and academic discipline with which I have been associated for nearly half a century and with whose fortunes I have concerned m y s e l f in an irregular series o f publications ranging from surveys o f the entire field to historical, methodological, organizational and curricular discussions o f various kinds. In addition to m y Einfiihrung in die Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, 3 an essay meant to be a supplementary chapter thereoP and a booklength Review o f Research covering a p p r o x i m a t e l y one decade, 5 these include an a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l
Faust, der Trag6die erster Teil, 1.96 ("Vorspiel auf dem Theater"). 2 ClaudePichoisandAndr~-M. Rousseau,Lalittdraturecomparde(Paris:Colin, 1967), p. 174. 3 Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1968, and the English-language version; Comparative Literature and Literary Theory: Survey and Introduction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973). The word "theory" in the title was suggested by the publisher and is not to be taken programmatically or in the sense currently attached to it. 4 "Influences and Parallels: The Place and Function of Analogy Studies in Comparative Literature" in: Teilnahme und Spiegelung: Festschdfi fOr Horst Rfidiger zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Beda Allemann and Erwin Koppen (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1975), pp. 593-609. 5 Vergleichende Literaturwissenschafl: Erster Bericht, 1968-1977 (Bern: Peter Lang, 1981). The present essay may be regarded as an implicit apology for my refusal to produce any sequels to this Forschungsbericht.
0324~1652/97/$5.00 9 Akaddmiai load6 Akad~mlai Kiodd, Budapest John Benjamins B. V., Amsterdam
sketch, 6 an anatomy,7 a pedagogical piece in a professional journal, s contributions to two F e s t s c h r i f t e n 9 and the text of a keynote address given on the occasion of the University of B o l o g n a ' s ninehundredth anniversary, l~ Today still a skeptic but mindful of the popular injunction "never say never", I return to the battlefield strewn with the corp(u)ses Of countless Introductions, handbooks, manuals, p r e c i s and prognostications issued during the Hundred Years' War waged between orthodox II and liberal factions within the institution of Comparative Literature. Especially in the final stages of this bloody struggle which, at long last, seems to be on the point of exhausting itself, some of the third- and fourth-generation rebels have loudly proclaimed the death of this great Pan and have confidently predicted that "slowly but certainly a new paradigm is coming to pree "Vergleichund Vergleichgesellt sich gem: Aus dem Leben eines Komparatisten" in: specialissue of arcadia on the occasionof Horst Rfidiger's 75th birthday, ed. Erwin Koppenand Rfidigeryon Tiedemann(Berlin:de Gruyter, 1983), pp. 147156. 7 "D'o/l venons-nous?Que sommes-nous?O6 allons-nous?:The Permanent Crisis of Comparative Literature". Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 11 (1984), pp. 167-192. s "Introductionto GraduateStudiesin ComparativeLiteratureat Indiana University: A Descriptionand an Auto-Critique".ACLAN (AmericanComparativeLiterature AssociationNewsletter) 9/1, (1979), pp. 42-53. 9 "Komparatistik: Alte Methode oderNeue Wissenschaft?:Grunds~tzlichesans Anlass einer italienischenReise" in: Literary Theory and Criticism: Festschrift for Rer~ Wellek zum 80. Geburtstag, ed. Joseph Strelka (Bern: Peter Lang, 1984), I, 631-656, and "Assessing the Assessors: An Anatomy of Comparative Literature Handbooks" in: Sensus communis: Contemporary Trends in Comparative Literature, ed. Janos Riesz et al. (Tfibingen:Narr, 1986), pp. 97-113. io "Lasciate ogni speranza: la letterature comparata alla ricerca di definizioni perdute" in: Bologna, la cultura italiana e le letterature straniere moderne, ed. Vita Fortunali (Ravenna:Longo, 1992), II, 43-57. The original English version of this piece appeared in the Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 37 (1988), pp. 98-108. " A recent confession defoi by Professor Maria Moog-Grfinewaldin a letter addressed to the membersof DGAVLcontainsthe characteristicsentence:"Ich selbst vemete nach win vor die Position, dass Allgemeineund Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaftin ersterLinieeine Philologie,im ganzeneine literaturwissenschaftliche Disziplinist".
RISEAND FALLOF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
vail in the human sciences [...] which rejects the historicism and nationalism, and even the institutions of literature, as these were envisaged by the previous paradigm". 12 And, writing in a similar vein, Susan Bassnett, author of one of the most recent Introductions, vigorously claims that "Comparative Literature [...] has had its day"./3 Given this downright anarchic situation, it makes little sense to expect, or undertake, the construction of a new edifice out of what are, by now, mere "fragments [...] shored against [the] ruins m4 of what was once a stately mansion. Is But perhaps this is just another case of "the Emperor is dead - - long live the Emperor", for, as history teaches us, while an Emperor's lifespan is clearly limited and the Emperor, as a person, will never return, institutions have a way of weathering storms. Indeed, as Wilhelm Pinder has shown seventy years ago, the historical flux is characterized, among other things, by a "Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen" (contemporaneousness of the non-contemporary)16matched, as H. P. H. Teesing has shrewdly observed, by an equivalent "Ungleichzeitigkeit des Gleichzeitigen" (non-contemporaneousness of the contemporary).17
I~ I am quotingfrom an unpublishedpositionpaper, co-anthoredby ClausChiever and CliffordFlanigan,that was read at a meetingof the ACLAheld in March 1986 at the Universityof Michigan in Ann Arbor. The paper is an advanced draft of the preface to an abortedrevisionof the collectionComparative Literature: Method and Perspective, ed. Newton P. Stallknechtand Horst Frenz (Carbondale:University of Southern Illinois Press, 1961 and 1972 respectively)that was aborted. 13 Comparative Literature: A Critical [sic] Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), p. 161. 14 This is a referenceto T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", 1. 430. It is against such defeatist notions that Ren~Wellek fulminatesin his contributionto the Festschrift for A. Owen Aldridge,"The New Nihilismin Literary Studies". See Aesthetics and the Literature ofldeas, ed. Franfois Jost and Melvin J. Friedman (Newark, Del.: The Univ. of Delaware Press, 1990), pp. 77-85. is The parallel suggested by "stately mansion" is that with Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher". 16 Das Problem der Generation in der Kunstgeschichte Europas (Berlin:Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, 1926). 17 This complementaryconcept was introducedby H. P. H. Teesing in his book Das Problem der Perioden in der Literaturgeschichte (Groningen:Wolters, 1948).
So much by way of a preamble; and now on to the pragmatics of the business at hand. When, several months ago, the editors o f this prestigious journal asked me to participate in an inquiry aimed at determining the "place of Comparative Literature in the literary scholarship of our day" by mulling over questions like "Is the distinction between literary history, theory of literature and criticism of literature continuable?", "Where is the place for the 'general' and for the 'comparative' in it?", and "do these two represent different approaches that can be effective in all three domains of literary scholarship?") 8 I initially balked at submitting m y unripe thoughts on this complex subject to public scrutiny but ultimately decided to take the bull by its horns. Though with grave mental reservations, I have, accordingly, whetted my rapier, knowing that, editorial "time's winged chariot m9 being at my back, I would have trouble doing a thorough job, especially in so far as I neither wanted to kill the animal outright nor let it roam unchecked in the arena. With all this, and much more, in mind, I finally decided to structure my argument around three central issues by 1. reconsidering the 'name and nature' of Comparative Literature 2~ by scrutinizing the diverse definitions to which the discipline had been subjected and, while doing so, plot its temporal, spatial and thematic fever charts; 2. briefly analyzing the list of " p o s t m o d e r n " and "anti-postmodern ''2~ tendencies that is provided in the opening paragraph o f the letter of invitation; and ~* The letter dates from November 15, 1996. ~9 The reference is to Andrew Marvell's poem "To My Fair Mistress", which includes the lines "But at my back I always hear / Time's winged chariot hurrying near", alluded to in 1. 196f. of"The Waste Land". The psychologicalpressure which it exerts starkly contrasts with the persona's stereotypical"There will be time" in the "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". 20 Rent Wellek's essay "The Name and Nature of ComparativeLiterature" originally appeared in Comparatistsat Work,ed. StephenNichols, Jr., and Richard Vowles (Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1968) and was reprinted in Discriminations: Further Concepts of Criticism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 1-36. 2~ What exactly the editors mean by "antipostmodem" is hard to fathom. The
RISEANDFALLOF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
3. reexamining the dialectic of theory (spelled with a lower-
case t) and methodology in the light of a specific set o f reflections which holds a very special place in the literature on Comparative Literature. In carrying out this program, I shall scrupulously avoid offering a cut-and-dried answer to the futuroIogical question, for I am no soothsayer and would hate to be accused of being a false prophet seeing through a glass darkly. Equally apprehensive of the trumpet of the Apocalypse sounded by Professors Cluever and FIanigan and of Jonathan Culler's Utopian vision of a scholarly Paradise wisely ruled by the champions of Theory (spelled with a capital T), ~2 1 shall simply speak my mind and let the chips fall where they may. What, in effect, one may ask oneself, can be done to battle the "deconstructive" chaos that threatens to cause the demise o f Comparative Literature as a self-supporting enterprise? As will shortly be seen, the problem is, if only in part, a nomenclatural one; and the question arises whether the issue could be resolved by means of the seemingly simple trick of changing the name o f the discipline without affecting its nature. Frankly, I do not think that one can safely do so, just as I am fully convinced that, in our age of increasing specialization, a super-discipline like Theory cannot serve as a cure-all. Another factor which speaks against such a pat, and inevitably fuzzy, solution is constituted by the historical consideration that Comparative Literature is a magic formula, a flag which, in the course of a century, has been unfurled all over the globe by
term does not figure in any of the reference works I have consulted but may well signify a return to Modernism or the avant-garde. 22 In their introduction to The Comparative Perspective on Literature: Approaches to Theory and Practice (Ithaca:Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), Clayton Koelb and Susan Noakes signal "Jonathan Culler's contention[...] that the whole of what the French call the human [shouldbe: the humane]sciences is more or less rapidly transformed into something called theory, which encompasses not only literary criticism but also philosophy, history, art history, musicology, architecture, psy= chology, and social and political theory as well." (6)
countless academic units, be they departments, Programs, Committees or research institutes, not to mention the countless undergraduate and graduate degrees granted, appointments made, national and international organizations founded, and books and journals launched. In short, it is hard to imagine an Academe deprived of this prominent signum. And is one altogether to ignore that there have been Chairs o f Comparative Literature since 1897 (Lyon), whereas no one has ever heard of Professors of Literary Theory, much less o f professors of Russian Formalism, French Strncturalism or German Rezeptionsiisthetik? There are, to be sure, Schools of Criticism, such as the famous Kenyon School of English, founded in 1948 but subsequently transferred to Indiana University, where it was rechristened The School of Letters. 23 Yet, from an administrative point of view these entities were never fully integrated into the University curriculum but were, and are, primarily run as summer sessions. Still speaking of names: more feasible but still cumbersome and unsatisfactory is the divisionary tactic c o m m o n in several countries, notably Germany, where, for a long time,)isthetik was a highly respected Fach attached to Philosophy, of using the double designation "general and comparative". 241 say "unsatisfactory" because the word "allgemein" as used in the name of the German Comparative Literature Association is appropriate only if one takes it to mean "pertaining to literary theory" rather than what Van Tieghem and his followers took it to mean in their Introductions. (It will be remembered that the Moses of comparatism insisted on its bifurcation into littdrature comparde as the branch concerned with "bi-
23 The New Criticism derives its name from John Crowe Ransom's book by that title, which was published in 1941. The School ceased to exist as a self-contained academic unit in 1992. (See the announcementof its disbanding in the Yearbookof Comparative and GeneralLiterature 21 (1972), p. 102. 24 One might wish to speculate about the positioning of"allgemein" (= general) and "vergleichend" (= comparative) in the names of the German Comparative Literaturr Association and of the Indiana University Yearbook...
RISE A N D FALL O F COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
nary links between two elements, whether these be individual works and men or entire literatures", and litt~rature g#n~rale as the complementary branch which investigates "facts common to several literatures, considered as such, be it in their mutual interdependence or by analogy (clans leur coincidence)", zs The other options for pouring old wine into new onomastic bottles which have been proposed over the years fall into three basic categories. Firstly, and to be rejected out of hand for both logical and methodological reasons, comes the rather eccentric position taken, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, by the Swiss-American scholar Francois Jost, who repeatedly pleaded for raising Comparative Literature to the status of a super-science analogous to but no quite as megalomaniac as Jonathan Culler's excessive claims. It probably would not be amiss to interpret Jost's pronunciamentos as an overreaction to the attempts, made in several quarters, to lower our discipline to the level of a mere Hilfswissenschaft that could not stand on its own feet. Whatever the case, Jost published an article provocatively entitled "'Komparatistik' or 'Absolutistik'?''~6 and in his booklength Introduction went so far as to assign to Comparative Literature the noble role of being neither more nor less than "a philosophy of letters, [...] an overall view of literature, [...] a humanistic ecology, a literary Weltanschauung (or even grandiloquently) a vision of the cultural universe".27 Such largesse in matters definitional is clearly out of whack; for what we need is not obfuscation but clarification of our modus vivendi et operandi. The second category is symptomatically exemplified in the writings of Renr Wellek, the final paragraph of whose essay "The Concept of Comparative Literature ''2s opens with the suggestion: "Possibly it would be best to speak simply of 'literature'" and con-
Cited from the English version,by WilliamRiggan,of my Einfiihrung..., 16. ~6 arcadia 3 (1968), pp. 229-234. 27 Introduction to Comparative Literature (Indianapolis:Bobbs Merrill, 1974), p. 29.
2s Yearbookof Comparative and General Literature 2 (1953), pp. 1-5.
cludes with the not so modest proposal: "If we have to keep the term 'comparative literature', it will simply mean the study of literature, independently of linguistic distinctions"; for in his view "literature is one, as art and humanity [sic] are one; and in this conception lies the future of literary studies" (p. 5). Wellek's call for the unity of literature and, by extension, that of literary studies as well did not go unheeded. It gave impetus, for example, to Harry Levin's presidential address on a theme suggested to him by the oneiric greeting "we are here to compare the literature" that served as its anecdotal propellant. 29 In so far as Wellek uses the term Comparative Literature not only in its primary sense N that which is inherent in the French designation littdrature comparde, where the singular, literature, has been substituted for the intended plural 3~ - - and as the label for an academic subject (Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft) but also, idiosyncratically as a synonym for World Literature, understood to be the global output of significant belletristic writings, he muddled the issue by levelling the difference between method and matter. Wellek's unification of literary science reflects a Utopian wish by taking polylingualism for granted. For, while Kunstwissenschaft and Musikwissenschaft are universally viewed as being monolithic and therefore suitably accommodated in single departments administering the study of world art and world music respectively, Literaturwissenschaft is of a different ilk, as it must come to grips with the diverse Nationalliteraturen that are entrusted to the specialized philologies? ~ The growing awareness of this split in the Romantic age of awakening nationalism explains the desire to close
59 "Comparing the Literature", Ibid. 27 (1968), pp. 74--90. 30 There are two Italian equivalents of the French term. either of them reflecting a different perspective on the subject: letteraturacomparata, on the one hand, and letterature comparate, on the other. 3~ "Language literature" (Sprachliteratur)would seem to be a better substitute for Nationalliteratur than the term Einzelliteratur (= individual literature) which Hugo Dyserinck propagates in his Koraparatistik:EineEinfiihrung(Bonn: Bouvier, 1977).
RISE AND FALL OF COMPARATIVELITERATURE
the gaps with the help of a new branch of literary science expressly created for that purpose. This, at least, is the explanation provided by Hans Robert Jauss, no friend of Comparative Literature, who regards it as a Provisorium or, as he blandly puts it, as "ein Fach, das erfunden werden musste, um das alte bequeme Paradigma der Nationalhistorie zu sichern, und das die Einzelliteraturen als Wesenheiten sieht, die unter autochthonen Entwicklungsgesetzen stehen"? 2 This is a trenchant critique which, rightly or wrongly, implies that Comparative Literature is dispensible and will sooner or later vanish from the earth. More to the point but still precarious on account of the methodological crux which results form the failure to distinguish between works produced within one language literature and those written in different tongues - - a distinction firmly rooted in Comparative Literature as originally conceived 33 - - is the shift of emphasis that results from the substitution of the label Comparative Literary Studies for the customary designation of the field, such as is documented in the title of S. S. Prawer's Introduction 34 as well as, by standard procedure, in the bulk of Marxist manuals. 3s This solution of the nomenclatural problem strikes me as being sensible and appropriate in so far as the qualifying noun, Studies, reflects an overriding concern with method, which the by now stereotypical "Comparative Literature" does not.
32 "Paradigmenwechsel in der Literaturwissenschaft", Linguistische Berichte 3 (1969), 49, and Hugo Dyserinck's rebuttal. 33 This was not the case with H.M. Posnett, author of Comparative Literature (London: Kegan Paul, 1886), the first book carrying that title. For the elective New Zealander insisted: "National literature has been developed from within as well as influenced from without; and the comparative study of this internal development is of far greater interest than that of the external, because the former is less a matter of imitation and more an evolution directly dependent on social and physical causes" (81). Comparative Literary Studies: An Introduction. London: Duckworth, 1973.
35 See, for example, Dion#z ~)urigin, Vergleichende Literaturforschung: Versuch eines methodisch-theoretischen Grundrisses, tr. Ludwig Richter (Berlin-Ost: Akademie-Verlag, 1972),Aktuelle Probleme der Vergleichenden Literaturforschung,
ed. Gerhard Ziegengeist (Berlin-Ost: Akademie-Vedag, 1968), and the collection of essays by Marxist comparatists edited by Gerhard Kaiser. Vergleichende Literaturforschung in den sozialistischen Ltindern 1963-1979 (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1980).
In taking this course, Prawer and his colleagues from behind what was then known as the Iron Curtain emulated a line of thought that originated with Benedetto Croce without, however, heeding the latter's warning. For in the face of the evidence which they themselves brought to bear on the issue, they unabashedly continued to spawn Introductions cast in the familiar mould, whereas their "patron saint" persistently refused to sanction Comparative Literature as a scholarly preserve or academic bailiwick. Thus, in an article published in his own journal, La critica, Croce stated emphatically: "Comparative Literature uses the comparative method. By its very nature as a simple research tool (comparison) cannot lay claim to delimiting an entire field of specialization". 36 And in a letter addressed to his German colleague Karl Vossler, he wondered "how a specialty [could] be made of comparative literature", considering that
jede ernsthafte literarische Untersuchung, jede ersch6pfende kritische Arbeit wit Notwendigkeit vergleichend sein mtisste, das heisst um die historische Situation des Kunstwerkes innerhalb der Weltliteratur wissen miisste. 37
Moving from the name of Comparative Literature to its nature along paths already suggested, I begin by scanning the historical evolution of our discipline, using as my model the triangular scheme by means of which the nineteenth-century German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag visualized the structure of tragedy in his once widely used book Die Technik das Dramas. 3s The "pyramidaler Bau" which he envisaged consists of five Teile or parts (a-e: Einleitung, Steigerung, Hi~hepunkt, Fall or Umkehr and Katastrophe) and three Stellen or crises (1-3: erregendes Moment, tragisches Moment and Moment der letzten Spannung) 39 arranged
36 "La litt#rature compar#e". La Critica 1 (1903), pp. 77-80. 3~ Letter of August 27, 1902, in: Briefwechsel Benedetto C r o c e - Karl Vossler (Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann, 1955), p. 30. 38 I have used the fifth, improved edition of this book (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1886), originally published in 1863. The English equivalents of these terms are given by Marvin Carlson in his
RISE A N D FALL O F COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
in such a way as to constitute an upward movement (a-I-b) rising toward the apex (c) but then quickly descending toward the catastrophe (2-d-3-e) in accordance with the following schema:
This is a graph which easily lends itself to the plotting of historical processes in many fields, whether political, social, economic or cultural, in a fixed and seemingly timeless pattern. In literature, for instance, it can be used to describe the growth of movements on their way toward becoming dominant period styles characterized by a recognizable system of norms or regulative ideas, as well as of their inevitable decline. 4~ This is also a suitable approach for marking the major stations in the life of Comparative Literature and charting the course of its progress and subsequent regression. After a very extended prehistory (= Einleitung) entailing some false starts and misguided efforts, one can easily spot the e r r e g e n d e s M o m e n t in Fernand Baldensperger's seminal essay in the first issue of the R e v u e de Litt~rature Compar~e. +~ What followed was a protracted Steigerung which, a stable platform having been reached with the appearance of Paul Van Tieghem's manual, attained its peak (Hi~hepunkt) in a lustrum mirabilis (1967-1973) that saw the publication of Introductions galore in several tongues.
survey Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present (Ithaca: CornellUniv. Press, 1984) 258f. 4o See Wellek' s definifion of a (literary) pedod in Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature (New York: HarcourtBrace, 1949), p. 277. 4~ "Litt6raturecompar~e:le mot et la chose". RLC 1 (1921), pp. 5-29.
The irreversible Fall or Umkehr, without a visible tragisches Moment, that set in approximately in the mid-seventies is closely linked to the massive appearance on the literary scene of new critical and theoretical movements, first in France and subsequently throughout Europe and the United States. It was precisely then that the solid structure erected by Van Tieghem began to crumble, after first having been weakened by the injection of foreign bodies (FremdkOrper) into its architectural substance. Thus, to adduce but two examples of such undermining: in the first edition of their Introduction, Pichois/Rousseau included a chapter, somewhat fashionably entitled "Structuralisme litttraire" but actually a hodgepodge of loosely connected features, 42 which in subsequent editions was replaced by a chapter innocuously labelled "Pottique". And, on the other shore of the Atlantic, Alan F. Nagel, reviewing the English version of my Einfiihrung .... took me to task by posing the rhetorical question: Would it be too much to expect mention of one or two [sic] of the names of Richards, Levi-Strauss, Crane, Poulet, Booth, Barthes, Sebeok and Goldmann743 These examples may well be regarded as fixating the M o m e n t der letzten Spannung in the history of Comparative Literature in its classical phase, for while Pichois/Rousseau and Nagel still seem to entertain the notion that the two paradigms, Comparative Literature and Theory, might be compatible, Peter V. Zima, writing in 1992, has moved beyond this horizon by simply ordaining, "die Komparatistik soll(t)e sich auf das Programm der frfihen Kritischen Theorie besinnen und versuchen, sozialwissenschaftliche Metho-
42 The chapter is subdivided into sections entitled th#matologie,morphologie,
esth~tique de la traduction and structures permanentes et variantes particuli}res
respectively. ,3 Nagel's reviewappearedin the Working Papers of the Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Language, Style and Literary Theory, spring, 1974.
RISE AND FALL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
dologie mit philosophischer Reflexion zu kombinieren" (italics by the author, P. V. Z.), 44 as if this were the ultima ratio.
Already in the late eighties, however, the final leg of the falling action, in which the writing of Introductions to Comparative Literature fell into disgrace among the cognoscenti, was reached. It was hardly by chance that precisely at that point a pair each of American and French scholars brought out collections of essays b y various hands and, in so doing, tacitly admitted that the time for presenting authoritative surveys of our field was, once and for all, gone. Thus, in the preface to their jointly edited volume Clayton Koelb and Susan Noakes frankly admitted their failure to find a c o m m o n denominator: It was our sense that earlier studiesdesignedto providean introductionto the discipline no longer accuratelyrepresented what people associated with the field are currentlydoing.We felt, however,that what was needed was not yet anotherprescriptivebookenumeratingthe kindsof studyin whichcomparatists engage. More interesting and useful, it seemed to us, would be a volume exemplifyingwhat comparatists actuallydo.'~ In so arguing, they put the cart before the horse; for how can one recognize a comparatist without reference to a consensus definition of his field? In a similar vein but, in the French tradition of Comparative Literature, somewhat more apologetically, Pierre Brunel and Yves Chevrel, co-editors of a Prdcis de Littdrature Comparde, defined their selection criteria as follows: Tel qu'il, est, ce Precis comportedes lacunes,dont nous sommes conscients. Nous n'avons pas eu la pr6tentionde presenter, dans des domaines oh la recherche est en pleineexpansion,tantbtdes ~tatpr~'sents,des travanxr6cents, tant6t des aper~us sur un genre, ou une ~poque, tant6t des perspectives de recherche?6
Komparatistik: Einfiihrung in die Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft
(Tiibingen:Francke, 1992), 5f.
45 The Comparative Perspectiveon Literature (fn. 2t)~ 3.
~6 Paris: Presses Universitairesde France, 1989,9. I have reviewedthis volume in Arcadia 26 (1991), pp. 322-326.
Arguing that 'Tunit6 est dans le multiple", they justified the abdication of their editorial responsibilities by stating: Chaque auteur a eu la pleine responsabilit~de son texte, et nous n'avons veill6 qu'une uniformisation[...] de la pr6sentation typographique. Oh, what a falling-off was there! Surely, if no universally accepted definition of a Fach exists, the center can no longer hold and things are likely to fall apart. 47 At the moment immediately preceding catastrophe, the scholarly G#nerdammerung of our discipline, the permanent crisis of Comparative Literature appears to have given way to total chaos. As the leftwing French scholar/critic Didier Naud discerned as early as 1971: "Elle poss~de la particularit6 d'etre dans la division des lettres la discipline ou r~gne le plus grand confusionnisme".48 These are harsh words indeed; but by a curious twist not unfamiliar to the historiographer, Comparative Literature is still alive, though perhaps not kicking, and more or less conventional Introductions are still being written. 49 What one may call the spatio-temporal thematic range of the specific areas of study admitted to the inner sanctum of Comparative Literature in its rocky and, sometimes, turbulent history might well be imaged in the form of a pulsating heart with a rhythmical beat alternating between systole (contraction) and diastole (expansion). In this particular case, however, the rhythm of these complementary movements is decidedly erratic, as the expansions far outnumber the contractions, which may be taken either as a sign of continual good health or as a token of instability. Almost in the cradle, for instance, the growth of our discipline was checked by 4~ Thisis an allusionto a famousline in W. B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" from the collectionMichael Robartes and the Dancer of 1921. 4s Quotedin Bmnel/Pichois/Rousseau,Qu'est-ce clue la littdrature compar~e? (Pads: Colin, 1983),7, fromNaud'sreviewarticle"Lia6raturecompar~e:Sur quelques contradictions d'un manuel d'orientation". In: Litt#rature/Science/Iddologie, pp. 42-48.
49 See,forexample, lVfiroslavBeker'sUvodukomparativnuknji~evnost(Zagreb:
Skolska Knjiga, 1995).
RISE AND FALL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
the resolute casting off of Folklore, its originally symbiotic partner given its full due in the earliest bibliographies. But thereafter the additions to its officially or unofficially sanctioned corpus came hard and fast until the point at which the proverbial sponge was soaked and in urgent need of being squeezed dry again was reached. This rampant Imperialism of Comparative Literature 5~ has manifested itself in more ways than can be conveniently listed, much less commented upon, in the space at my disposal. Rather than getting embroiled in yet another controversy about the applicability of Feminism, Marxism, "Comparative Literature in the PostColonial Wodd" or the "Politics of Travellers' Tales", sl I shall therefore content myself with listing some of the major accretions without dwelling on any of the numerous modifications and regurgitations. On the methodological scene, for instance, one notes an inclusionary tendency which, supplementing reception with influence in a second phase, ultimately condones, if not always approving, parallels and analogies as well. A veritable crossroads was finally reached when, subverting the notion of Beziehung, as it is popularly held, began to be supplanted by the privileging ofalterity
and relationship by contrast (Anderssein and Gegensiitzlichkeit)
as acceptable modes. 52 The chronological range of the domain to be administered by Comparative Literature gradually outgrew the narrow confines to which it was initially restricted, i.e., the Modem Age beginning with the Renaissance and, for all practical purposes, ending with thefin-de-si~cle. In due course, it began to wrench Graeco-Roman
50 Regardingthis issue, see the intertexmallyorientedessayby Ernest B. Gilman, "Interart Studies and the Imperialismof Language". PoeticsToday 10 (1989), pp. 5-30. sl The latter two formulations serve as chapter headings in Susan Bassnett's book (fn. 13). 5~ By definition, critical approachesthat are whollywerkimmanent,such as the position taken by the more dogmatic practitioners of the New Criticism, are not comparativein the acceptedsense.
literature away from the classical philologists who, for time immemorial, had been its trusted guardians, and encroached upon the territory hitherto reserved for Medievalists, s3 while extending its scholarly activities to the twentieth century as well. The corresponding spatial, i.e., geographical, widening of scope resulted, first, in the comparative treatment of Western literatures in relation to nonWestern ones - - and then, by logical extension, to the study of non-Western literatures among each other? 4 On still other fronts, the octopus which is Comparative Literature used its ever agile tentacles to hug, but hopefully not smother, oral literature ss and ultimately turned its loving attention to the most genuinely comparative of all intra-literary subjects, i.e., translation. 56 Moving beyond the borders of the already vast province of letters, it also extended its feelers to the linkages between literature and the other arts in the Musaion but, fortunately, held its breath when it came to ciaiming jurisdiction over Esthetics and the wechselseitige Erhellung der Kiinste literally understood. It further advanced to the exploration of the ties between literature and the (other) media (radio, film, TV) s7 and, at the end of its long day's journey, altogether shedding whatever modesty was left, took a crack at the sciences as well. Thus, in a highly controversial, defts3 See especially Jean Frappier's pioneering paper, "Litt&atures m6di6vales et lin6rature compar6e: Probl~mes de recherche et de m6thode" in the Proceedings of the Second ICLA Congress (Chapel Hill, N. C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1959) I, pp. 25-35. In this case the pioneer is Ren~ Efiemble, the b~te noire of French-style littdrature compar3e. A good case in point, as far as the two branches of comparative scholarship involving non-Western literatures are concerned, is the volume European Language Writing in Subsaharan Africa which Albert G~rard edited for the Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages (Budapest: Akad6miai Kiad6, 1986). s~ This happened most spectacularly at the Fifth ICLA Congress held in Belgrade (1967), that is to say, in the country where Milman Perry and Albert Lord had studied the Serbian oral epic. s6 The founders of Comparative Literature in France, beginning with Paul Van Tiegbem, had shown some interest in translators but not in translation. 5~ At the Institut ftir Anglistik of the Karl-Franzens-Universititt Graz, Professor Walter Bemhan currently heads a "Department of Literature and the (Other) Media".
RISE A N D FALL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
nition of the range of our scholarly expertise ("Comparative Literature is the study of literature beyond the confines of one particular country, and the study of the relationships between literature on the one hand and other areas of knowledge and belief, such as the arts .... philosophy, history and the social sciences, the sciences, religion, etc., on the other"Ss), Henry H. H. R e m a k overstepped the bounds and was severely criticized by R e n t Wellek, w h o m the scheme struck as one devised for purely practical purposes in an American graduate school, where you may have to justify a thesis topic as 'comparative literature' before unsympathetic colleaguesresenting incursions into their particular fields of competence .59 Regarding the next item on my agenda, namely, the promised analysis of the list of "new possibilities for literary comparatism" comprising "hermeneutics, deconstructivism, new historicism, empirical literary scholarship [sic], theory of interpretative communities, and so on", which, as the qualifier at its conclusion indicates, is distinctly of the random sort, one could well argue that, given the purpose of the editorial letter, this is an excellent tactical move in so far as it is precisely its gratuity which teases the reader's mind and arouses in him the creative spirit of contradiction. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that this minicatalogue is no microcosm in which the macrocosm of m o d e m literary theory, which lies at the heart of the whole enterprise set in motion by Professors Szabolcsi and Vajda, is fully reflected. There are two observations which suggest themselves upon closer inspection of the list: firstly, that the links which make up this fragmentary chain are, both qualitatively and quantitatively, different; and, secondly, that the list, even if it covered all the basic elements in the starry sky of m o d e m theory, would be defective
ss "Comparative Literature: Its Definition and Function" in Stallknecht/Frenz (fn. 12), p. 3. 59 "The Name and Nature of Comparative Literature" (fn. 20), p. 18.
insofar as countless combinations and recombinations of these building blocks could be envisaged, thereby enhancing its eclecticism. Concerning the first objection, it is easy to see that the five "possibilities" are by no means equivalent in significance and scale but form a hierarchy of large, medium-sized and small phenomena ranging all the way from a comprehensive Weltanschauung (deconstruction) to a notion-turned-technical term (interpretative c o m m u nities), with two Schools (New Historicism and Empirische Literaturwissenschaft) and a technique (hermeneutics) constituting an intermediary layer. As for the second point, one single example should suffice to show the relevance of my critique. In the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory, 6~the most comprehensive reference work of its kind, the description of the phenomenon covered in the entry "Empirical Literary Science/Constructivist Theory of Literature" reads, in part, as follows: [It] is related to other systemic approaches. These can be grouped into communication theories (including semiotics)and the sociology of literature. Historically, the former includes the approaches of the Russian Formalists, the Prague School and more recent polysystem theory. [...] The sociology of literature group [...] includes thechamplitt~raireapproach,[...] sociocriticism and the ~cole bibliologiqueand l'institution litt~raire approach. (37) Here the polysystem theory is presented as part of a larger polysystem; and what a nest of Babuschkas that is! Confusion abounds, but that is hardly surprising; for how can one expect a booklength summa of concepts, names, and terms 6~ arranged in alphabetical order to make do for a historical and truly critical survey in which all features are seen in relation to each other as forming a global network? Unfortunately, such an effort has not as yet
6o Edited by Irene R. Makaryk, the book was published in 1993 by the University of Toronto Press. 61 The three subdivisionsof this volumeare entitled "Approaches,Scholars (and) Terms" respectively.
RISE A N D FALL O F COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
been undertaken, whether individually or collectively .62 This poses a grave dilemma that may never be resolved; for it is futile to hope for a latterday W e l l e k writing an authoritative History o f M o d e m Theory (in how many volumes?). The difficulties to be overcome by anyone brave enough to frame an answer to the kind of editorial questions raised are further c o m pounded by the uncertainty which surrounds the meaning o f the expression "in our days". Is it meant to be synonymous with "contemporary"? A n d exactly what does "contemporary " m e a n ? This is, at best, a slippery question. Faced with it, the editor o f the Encyclopedia offers the following apology: At the core of this volume is the attempt to delineate the different kinds of approaches and schools since New Criticism, that is, the trends, tendencies and critics who have commanded attention over the past fifty years. Yet many of these approaches are grounded in earlier theoretical work. For this reason, a number of precursors appear in this volume [...] and a number of schools, such as the Neo-Aristotelians,the Russian formalists, the Prague School. (vii) Confronted with all these Gordian knots, the poor scholar expected to let his w i s d o m shine might well succumb to suicidal despondency unless, a veritable Alexander of C o m p a r a t i v e Literature, he could bring himself to cut them all, regardless o f the consequences. W h i l e we are waiting for the arrival on the scene o f such a brutal hero o f heroes we can either side with those colleagues who believe, with the administrators o f the Austrian State Lotteries, that "everything goes" or with the dogmatists who w o u l d like to legislate what we can or cannot do qua comparatists, and even whether, and at what point, we should liquidate our m o r i b u n d institution.
~2 This stricture applies to all the pertinent volumes in English which I have consulted in preparing this essay. They include D. W. Fokkema and Elrud KunneIbsch, Theories of Literature in the Twentieth Century: Structuralism, Marxism, Aesthetics of Reception, Semiotics (London: Hurst, 1977), Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982), as well as Jeremy Hawthorn's Concise Glossary of Contemporary Theory (London: Arnold, 1994 and 21996), another dictionary.
This, however, cannot be the last word regarding the matter at hand; for if one wishes to be serious in coping with the editorial inquiry about the ~tat present and the future prospects of Comparative Literature, one is bound to scan the whole spectrum of activities proper to a discipline which, like Literaturwissenschafl in general, naturally subdivides itself into History, Theory, and Criticism. 63 "Biographically", Comparative Literary History, more descriptive than evaluative and moving, at least initially, in the shadow of positivism, constituted the Urgestalt oflitt#rature compar~e as preached and practiced by Van Tieghem. In its wake, though rather belatedly, Comparative Criticism, championed by John Fletcher and Joseph Strelka, among others,64 made its entrance and enjoyed a brief vogue of popularity in scholarly circles. But it left no permanent mark on the establishment, mainly, one suspects, because its advocates failed to draw a clear line of demarcation between criticism and theory. Understood in purely pragmatic terms, however, it has been, and will be, with us for as long a time as such comparative pairings as Lessing and Diderot, A. W. Schlegel and Madame de Stall, or Matthew Arnold and Francesco De Sanctis command our scholarly attention. Like Comparative Literary Criticism, its sibling, Comparative Literary Theory, may be viewed from various perspectives. O n o n e level of discourse, for instance, it might legitimately take the form of comparisorrs between literary theories, or bodies of theory, originating in different language literatures. Such, at least, is the meaning and function w.hk:h Bernhard F. Scholz assigned to it in a brief
63 ChapterlII ofTheoryofLiterature(fn. 40)isentitled"Literary Theory, Criti-
cism, and History". See Jotm Fletcher, "The C~iticismof Comparison: The Approachthrough Comparaa~iveLiteratureand:IntellectualHistory"in: Contemporary Criticism, ed. Malcolm Bradburyand David Palmer(London:Arnold, 1970), pp. 107-129, and Joseph Stretka, Vergleichende Literaturkritik (Bern: Francke, 1970), pp. 5-34. Symptomatically,the officialorgan of the British ComparativeLiteratureAssociation is calledComparative.Criticism:A Yearbook.
RISE AND FALL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
disquisition entitled "Comparing Theories of Literature? ''65 Scholz was inspired to write this canstic piece by the "New Task Description of the ICLA" m thus its subtitle - - which the Executive Committee of the Association, having framed the text in the course of many arduous working sessions, presented to the membership at the Innsbruck Congress, where it was voted on and duly approved. In the unofficial English version, the key sentence of this fundamental declaration of intention reads as follows: The International ComparativeLiterature Association aims to develop the study of ComparativeLiterature,which includesthe study of literaryhistory, literary theory, and text interpretation [presumablyinvolving literary criticism], undertaken from an international comparativepoint of view:~6 As one who participated in the deliberations, I can verify that the wording finally arrived at was a somewhat half-hearted compromise struck between the representatives of two factions, one of them conservative and the other "progressive". As such, it is, not surprisingly, ambiguous - - quite apart from the fact that it is also incomplete, since it excludes all intermedial activities, such as the study of "Literature and the Other Arts", which, paradoxically, served as one of the major themes of the Congress. What, in scrutinizing the above statement, strikes the reader as tautological and, accordingly, as being a bone of contention is the concluding phrase, "undertaken from an international comparative point of view" with its apparently missing comma; for, semantically, "comparative" would seem to imply "international", while "international" may, but need not, imply "comparative". Whatever may have been the true aims of the Executive Committee, reading between the lines one comes away with the impression that here, at the expense of Comparative Literature in the familiar sense, a lance is being broken for Theory, whether comparative or not.
Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 28 (1979), pp. 26--30.
As quoted by Scholz (fn. 65), p. 29.
To wind up the argument here presented: there is still another relevant problem that was, unfortunately, slighted in the updated description of the ICLA's goals and purposes, namely that of methodology and its position in relation to theory and praxis. This is the topic to which the late Erwin Koppen addressed himself in a paper entitled "Hat die Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft eine eigene Theorie?" and read at the first meeting of the DGAVL. ~7 In this shrewdly argued and wholesome though conservative essay, Koppen defends Comparative Literature, as a relational but unified discipline, against all attempts to split it into two halves - - emission and reception studies - - by reassigning each of these to the academic Fach charged with administering the study of a given national literature.6s An inter-discipline like Comparative Literature, Koppen insists, must justify its existence by focusing on its role as a mediatrix within the parameter of binary, ternary, etc., relations and as an intermediary between theory and praxis. It thus has a vital, though from the standpoint of the national philologies subsidiary, function, which keeps it from constructing its own theory (meaning: a system built upon "general and abstract principles ''69 of its own).
67 Zur Theorie der Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft, ed. Horst Rtidiger (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971), p. 41, 64. See, in this regard, the following passage from Julius Petersen's lecture "Nationale oder vergleichende Literaturgeschichte?", Deutsche Vierteljahresschrift fiir Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 6 (1928): " W o e s sich um Bewegungen handelt, die jedesmal von einem produktiven zu einem rezeptiven Faktor hinfiihren, kann das Interesse der Beobachtung nur auf der rezeptiven Seite liegen. Der produktive Faktor ist bekannt und vermag durch Feststellung seiner Femwirkung kanm irgendwelche neuen Wesensziige zu enthtillen; die Art und Weise der Wirkung, die er entwickelt, muB dagegen fiir die Wesensart des aufnehmenden Teiles charakteristische Aufschliisse erbringen." (46) 69 This definition is culled from the 1949 edition of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam). Koppen's sentiment is echoed in the section "Avenir d'une discipline" of Yves Chevrel's book La littdrature compar#e (Paris: "Le comparatisme, a-t-il une th6orie qui lui soit propre? l...l U ne semble pas I.--] que les comparatistes soient en 6tat, actuellement de proposer une theorie de la litt6rature. [...] Mais s'il n'y a pas de th6orie de l'objet ~tudi6, yen a-t-il une du mode d'6tude lui-m~me? Les comparatistes pr6f6ront sans doute parler de m6thode." (119)
RISE A N D FALL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
Instead, by way of compensation, it compels its practitioners to develop flexible strategies designed in such a way as to enable them to deal successfully with the whole range of intertextual (and, by extension, intermedial) linkages. Precisely that, however, is the task of methodology, understood as a body o f techniques and procedures suited for the kind of investigation that is proper to a given science. 7~ In the case of Comparative Literature, the science here under discussion, it goes almost without saying that the privileged research tool will be comparison (Vergleich) concerned with both contactual and non-contactual relations (Beziehungen). vl If one wishes to cast our tripartite scheme o f (Vergleichende) Literaturwissenschaft into an image, the wheel would seem to be the most suitable kind of illustration, with literature, as the object of study, forming the hub, theory the rim, and methodology the spokes connecting the two and thus making it possible for the wheel to spin around and propel the vehicle forward. What is wanted, then, is not a hierarchical structure privileging any of these conceptually separate but practically interwoven parts but the realization, on the researcher's part, that neither can function without the others. Professor Koppen has therefore a point when reminding us that literary theory is kein reines Glasperlenspiel, das man aus der Freude an der Abstraktion, der Deduktion und Spekulation treibt, sondern sie wird erst dort interessant, wo sie anwendbar wird, wo sie in Methodologie iibergeht. (57) Shifting, with him, from the scholarly to the psychological track, we may wish to take into account Koppen's explanation for the intensity with which today's comparatists train their eyes on Theory:
70 This definition is a modified version of the pertinent entry in Webster'sNew
71 There is no ground for changing the opinion, which I have repeatedly voiced in the last two decades, that there exists a vast gap, if not a total vacuum, with regard to this all-important research.
Bis heute leidet die VergleichendeLiteraturwissenschaftunter dem Komplex, sie spiele, im Grunde genommen,in den PhilosophischenFakult~ten die Rolle des 'Zugroasten', den die Einheimischen mit scheelen Blicken verfolgen und (lessen Niederlassungs- und Existenzrecht sie grunds~itzlichin Frage stellen m0chten. Diese Situationzwingtnun gleichsamdie Komparatistenaller Herren Ltinder dazu, dutch sttindige theoretische Bcmtihungen und methodische Reflexionen die Autonomie und Existenzberechtigung ihrcr Disziplin immer von ncuem unter Bewcis zu stellen. (48) There is, surely, more than a grain o f truth in these remarks. To the extent that such behavior may be called pathological, it brings to mind the cruel barb which the Austrian satirist, Karl Kraus is said to have aimed at psycho-analysis: that it is the disease which it pretends to cure. But to be fair, and to redress the balance, one must admit that where the Theory freaks have done too much, the M e t h o d o l o g y freaks, few and far between, have done too little for Comparative Literature.