I think the emphasis on languages is getting less and less important as the corporatized university goes toward globalized uniformity. Perhaps the only exception is Chinese, and there language acquisition is not often in the service of Comparative Literature. There is a good deal of seeming comparativism when hyphenated Americans declare their mother tongue as a foreign language; but the comparativist impulse is ill-served by this. We also have not yet escaped the national language and literature impulse. And here, in a dwindling job market, there is an understandable competition between the language departments and comparative literature. The coming together of comparative literary studies and the social science methodologies that we had hoped for a decade ago seems to have dissipated into various fundable directions, courting international civil society directions rather than research methods. Language learning has also become instrumental to human rights work. In this way, the focused discipline of comparative literature has undergone transformations that may not be always to the good.
At this point, I do not see ways of combating these tendencies. In the context of multi-lingual post-colonial nations, I have suggested that they might take the study of the imperial language and literature as a historically given borderlessness in the extra moral sense and develop comparative literatures of the languages native to the country by this means. This would be competitive with the tendency toward a canonical “World Literature” – often practically in translation – that is being propagated, generally from the old metropole. My own university has no campuses abroad, but it does have global centers. We are engaged in working with these centers in the interest of epistemological change in teacher and learner which might feed the comparativist impulse. I have no experience of how we could use the campuses abroad for such an effort, but my hunch is that the student body at these campuses would be less susceptible to comparativism, but I would gladly be wrong.
This is by no means as negative a picture of the discipline as it might superficially appear. I think we should publish a small volume through the MLA to show how many career choices can be strongly supported by undergraduate and graduate degrees in comparative literature; including the development of comparative literature in lesser-known languages. The use of migrant women for primary language learning seems too close to the coding activities of the first explorers and therefore I am hesitant to support it, although it has been suggested here and there as a politically useful direction.