Paradigms

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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Practices

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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Paradigms

Comparative Non-Literature and Everyday Digital Textuality


Scott Kushner

Digital textuality has transitioned from the novel to the banal, provoking an explosion in everyday textual culture in forms such as blogs, social networking platforms, and various genres of short messaging services. These forms of everyday digital textual culture are not literary by most conventional definitions, and this is precisely the point. The opportunity they present to literary studies is not to expand the scope of the literary, but to open the notion of literary studies to literature’s great other: non-literature.

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Futures

RGP: Hassan Melehy, University of North Carolina


Hassan Melehy

Eric Hayot’s invitation to design an entire PhD program from the ground up offered me a welcome opportunity, since one of the last things I did in the five years (2006-11) I spent as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Romance Studies at UNC–Chapel Hill was to coordinate the restructuring of the our program. We have since implemented this proposal, and the students whom we’ve just accepted for fall 2015 will be the first to enroll in it.

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Facts & Figures

Report on the Undergraduate Comparative Literature Curriculum: Update


Corinne Scheiner

This report on the national (US) state of the Comparative Literature undergraduate curriculum, updates the conclusions of a similar report done in 2005. As author Corinne Scheiner notes, early questions about whether Comparative Literautre should even have undergraduate programs (visible in the 1965 and 1975 reports) now seem to have entirely disappeared. The practical implications of the theoretical questions debated decennially in the reports on the state of the discipline, she suggests, are most evident in the structures of the undergraduate curriculum.

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Practices

The Politics of the Archive in Semi-Peripheries


Adam F. Kola

Although the first world, as seen through the lens of academia, seems to be prospering, and the third world has found its own place in the postcolonial intellectual order, the post-cold war world of semi-peripheries in East and Central Europe has largely disappeared from the discourse of Comparative Literature. It sometimes appears as a convenient intellectual counterpoint or is included in postmodernist or postcolonial narratives; in both cases, however, it doesn’t convey regional specificity or allow local voices to speak. Both strategies – core and postcolonial – expropriate the semi-peripheral realm of second-world non-places. Second-world memory has been blurred and occluded within academic neocolonialism and the politics of the archive.

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Paradigms

Comparatively Lesbian: Queer/Feminist Theory and the Sexuality of History


Susan S. Lanser

Reversing the conventional paradigm, I ask not only what history can tell us about sexuality, but what sexuality can tell us about history. My research relies for its core claims and findings on a comparative approach that has led me to queerer versions of spatiality and periodicity than those I inherited. It has also led me to privilege confluence over the more traditionally comparative project of influence, to engage in “large reading,” and to see the sign “lesbian” as itself a site for comparison. In claiming for female homoeroticism a central place in sexuality studies as an unmarked case, I argue that modernity itself can be read as the emergence of the sapphic—or what I call the logic of woman + woman—as an epistemic possibility.

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Futures

RGP: Markus Reisenleitner, York University


Markus Reisenleitner

My presentation introduces two initiatives: diploma programs in Comparative and World Literature (implemented in 2014/15); and a re-thinking of course work that substitutes topic-oriented seminars with a much smaller number of skills-oriented mandatory courses while providing supervisors with the opportunity to regularly meet with their graduate students in a group-like setting (“privatissima”; not yet implemented).

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Practices

Comparative Literature and the Public Sphere


Doris Sommer

Interpreting art, appreciating its power to shape the world, can spur and support urgently needed change. This is not a deviation from humanistic attention to the mechanisms of art production and reception. It is a corollary and a homecoming to civic education. Acknowledging art’s work makes us cultural agents: those who make, comment, buy, sell, reflect, allocate, decorate, vote, don’t vote, or otherwise lead social, culturally constructed lives. Social change begins with incremental work to change hearts and mind, what the Enlightenment called taste or aesthetic judgment.

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