Love Stories, or, Multispecies Ethnography, Comparative Literature, and their Entanglements

Mara de Gennaro

“Species interdependence is a well-known fact—except when it comes to humans.” When Anna Tsing writes this in one of a series of essays that look to diverse matsutake mushroom forests around the world to show that “human nature is an interspecies relationship,” she joins a small but growing number of anthropologists and artists for whom the influential interdisciplinary work of animal studies has not yet gone far enough. For these multispecies ethnographers, what is needed is not simply a recognition of nonhuman agents still on the margins of current discourse on animality, whether plants, microorganisms, or less charismatic animals belonging to “unloved species.” What most animates these scholars, from Tsing and her Matsutake Worlds Research Group, to Deborah Bird Rose studying Aboriginals and their wild dingo “kin,” to Eben Kirksey and his Multispecies Salon, is the work of understanding the intricate, continually fluctuating relationships and interdependencies of humans and nonhumans across multiple species, in cultures and ecosystems treated as highly variable.

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Ideas of the Decade

Academic Boycott

Salah D. Hassan

Since the 1990s “progressive tendencies” in literary studies have harnessed comparative methodologies to textual analysis of human rights documents, interpretations of geopolitical systems, and critiques of foreign policy. As comparative literature has increasingly engaged in world affairs, comparative critical approaches have influence critical writing on boycotts from the anti-apartheid movement to Palestine solidarity activism. The issue of academic boycott in particular has generated prolific and polarizing public debates among literary scholars, at the center of which is a general question about the place of pro-Palestinian activism in the academy.

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Comparing Structures of Knowledge

Michael Swacha

If the titles of the two most recent State of the Discipline reports (Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism, 1994; Comparative Literature in the Age of Globalization, 2006) function as a signature of anything, it is certainly that the field of Comparative Literature has now come to encompass an exponentially wider breadth than was institutionally legible only a few decades ago. This radical expansion has opened up the possibilities of comparison dramatically, and yet, the push Comparative Literature has made to expand method at a scope resembling anything close to its expansion in content has been, at best, minimal. Comparative work is still largely practiced as a traditional mode of setting one text or author in relation to another, where variation is found along the lines of critical perspective, and such perspective is itself usually varied according to the contextual emphasis of the texts at hand. Yet Comparative Literature should be part of the larger project of the humanities: to study and wrestle with the experience of being human across the multiple contexts and scales of existence.

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