Comparative Literature and Animal Studies
The comparative study of literature is intertwined at its origins with the comparative study of animals by virtue of the methodology used to compare members of otherwise very different sets of objects. Whether the method begets the object of study or the object of study the method is not entirely clear since the use of comparison in comparative literature is based on an analogy between literary forms (meters, figures, plots, genres) and biological forms (vertebrae, organs, species, genera) that seems to suspend their differences in “nature.” To compare animals to texts could well advance the cause of literary studies by giving a new purchase on what comparison might signify for students of literature around the world without making its practice archaic, vestigial, or, worse, extinct. We may yet learn something about the nature of the discipline of comparative literature by attending to its constitutive figuration as the literarization (the making literary) of animal comparison. Without a reconsideration of its literariness comparative literature could go the way of comparative zoology: a museum housing the fossilized remains of a discipline.