The Challenge of Comparative Literature

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There in Paris, in the Quai Branly Museum, I went to the exhibition Picasso primitif , where I saw again, amongst other things, the masks that inspired Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries, and this exhibition provided me with a second example of what I am talking about here.

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We know that many masks originally used in indigenous rituals in Africa, Asia and Oceania were bought by European dealers, artists and museums between the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th. Picasso made his artistic appropriation of those masks very clear in At that moment, for most people, an African mask was nothing more than an ethnographic object.

I felt so depressed that I wanted to get away from there immediately. But I was forced to stay, to examine those masks. All those objects that men had created with a sacred, magic purpose, so that they served as intermediaries between them and the unknown hostile forces that surrounded them, thus trying to overcome their fear, by giving it colour and form.

And I then understood that this was the very meaning of painting.

From Comparative Literature Today Toward Comparative Cultural Studies

It is not an aesthetic process; it is a form of magic that intervenes between the hostile universe and us, a way of taking control, by giving our fears a form, as we do to our desires. The day I understood that, I discovered that I had found my path. Le Fur, , p.

2. From Comparative Ecocriticism to Environmental Humanities

We can thus see a trajectory in which objects brought from Africa are taken from their previous location, transported to another place, to a museum in Paris, where they are looked at by European artists, who appropriate them in order to transform them into something different from what those objects were in the continent they came from. In fact, the valorisation of, and the importance attributed or not to a work, depend, to a great extent, on the dominant meanings in the places where it will circulate, and which will in some way determine if and how it will be appropriated. The very fact that it circulates in one place, but not in another, can be a consequence, for example, of the subject matter or the form of the work not being considered relevant in one place, although they are in another.

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The local, regional, national and international contexts in which the work circulates can also influence its reception. There are cases where the same work can have different evaluations, depending on where and how it circulates.

The Comparative Literature Concentration at Harvard University

Why is Scandinavian Literature characterised by the international circulation of Andersen, Ibsen, Strindberg and Hamsun? In his opinion, this is one of the problems facing Dutch literature. Those in favour of these overarching structures stress the need to create new, more wide-ranging frames of reference, the boundaries of which go beyond those of former national structures, and which are derived from forms of mutual understanding shared by all the communities involved.

We need to bear in mind, however, that it is not only in geopolitically adjacent spaces that transnational structures can be created, as the existence of the Commonwealth, an entity composed predominantly of former British colonies, proves, or the formation of blocs based on a common language, among other examples.

Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature

The construction of comparables, therefore, cannot fail to take into account this new frame of reference, in all its dimensions and contradictions. Starting from destabilizing the subject and questioning the single and stable meaning, these trends have been questioning the traditional canon and opening the literary work and its senses from different hermeneutical practices, characterized by an emphasis on textuality and on the political and performative dimension of literature.


  • The Challenge of Comparative Literature!
  • Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature.
  • Publications | Department of Comparative Literature;
  • 1. Comparative Ecocriticism and the Challenge of Nonfiction?
  • [PDF] From Comparative Literature Today Toward Comparative Cultural Studies - Semantic Scholar.

These proposals have provoked a strong reaction from conservative trends defending tradition and universal values, a reaction that in some way has contributed to a certain radicalization of the positions in the debate becoming sometimes too essentialist. Comparative Literature can be a useful tool to apply in this discussion from not overly simplistic positions. The aim of this paper is to analyze the potential contributions of the field to this debate in the specific area of Europe and European literature s.

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