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Toward a Theory of Comparative Literature

Selected papers presented in the Division of Theory of Literature at the XIth International Comparative Literature Congress- Edited with an Introduction by Mario J. Valdés

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Mario J. Valdes

The onslaught of literary theory in the post-modernist world of letters has left no institution of learning untouched. But Comparative Literature has had a paradoxical role in this firestorm of new ideas and radical challenges to established modes of study. On the one hand it was in North American centers and departments of Comparative Literature that Russian theoreticians like Lotman and Bakhtin, Czech scholars like Mukarovsky and Dolezel, the Konstanz theoreticians Iser and Jauss and the long list of French critics Barthes, Todorov, Kristeva, Genette and the master semiotician Greimas as well as such intellectual leaders as Lacan, Derrida, Foucault and Ricoeur found an enthusiastic North American following. On the other hand the international established circle of scholars who considered themselves to be the founders of a new more rigorous comparative mode of study were almost overnight upstaged by the radical scepticism that challenged and questioned, above all questioned the very foundations of literary scholarship.
This volume is not an attempt at either compromise or surrender by either side. Our aim has been to bring together a representative selection from both sides in reasoned dialogue so that the participants and all who work in Comparative Literature will be more informed about the other side and have a clearer perception of their basis for disagreement and possible agreement. It is only through debates of this nature that the discipline will come of age and develop a coherent theory on its aims and methods.