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Across Literary and Linguistic Diversities

Essays on Comparative Literature

Goethe Society of India, Madhu Sahni and Mazumdar Shaswati

Comparative literary studies face new challenges today in a world marked by the migration of people, languages, ideas and texts across diverse and increasingly porous borders. The field is restricted by conventional notions of comparativism born in the era of nationalism and colonialism. However, scholars are now provoked to rethink these notions as a result of the social, economic and political forces that drive the contemporary world, which simultaneously draw it into an ever tighter global network and create new, or reassert persisting, lines of division.
What are the conceptual and methodological questions that must engage our attention if comparativism, as recent debates suggest, has to revive its critical potential and chart afresh the future of literary studies? The essays in this volume attempt to rethink comparison in this context through theoretical reflections and concrete comparative analyses. They investigate similarities and differences, connections and references, across diverse literary and linguistic cultures in Indian, German and other European literatures.
This volume is the 2014 Yearbook of the Goethe Society of India.
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Methods of analysis explicitly or implicitly premised on comparison are central to reflections on contemporary societies and cultures. This is not surprising given the increasing migration of people, along with their social and cultural practices, languages, ideas and texts, across national, continental and other borders, the social and cultural changes that such migration has generated and the political responses it has evoked. Contemporary debates about the future of literary studies, in particular, have felt compelled by this incessant process to call into question the narrow confines and dominant perspectives within which literature largely continues to be studied. But they have also raised questions about comparative literature as it has largely been practised since its formal inception as a discipline in the nineteenth century. Though conceived under the sign of Goethe’s idea of Weltliteratur, the discipline remained permeated in its practice by the zeitgeist of nationalism, colonialism and imperialism, even as it took as its point of departure the study of literature in more than one language. Comparison thus often became complicit with ideologies of conquest and domination, of power and privilege, and of establishing hierarchical taxonomies rather than engaging with linguistic and literary diversity in the universal spirit of Goethe’s idea of Weltliteratur. Today’s debates are therefore preoccupied with the question of how to free the practice of comparative literature from its inherited predilections and make it a critical tool for current times.

Rethinking comparativism necessitates rethinking its purpose,...

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