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Comparative Literature and/as Cultural History

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Organizer: Tania Gentic

Co-Organizer: José Luis Venegas

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Aldo Scaglione wrote in 1988 that “cultural history is a viable model of ‘comparative’ study and can be taken as an example of what Comparative Literature can be and do.” Interdisciplinary approaches to literature from a comparative perspective have thrived in recent decades, but the question remains: what is the place of the linguistic and formal features that Roman Jakobson called “literariness” in the study of culture and its historical development? Culture, Raymond Williams explained, can be an artistic activity, a way of life, and a process of change (history). This seminar revisits Scaglione’s proposal to explore the ways in which traditional tools of literary analysis (e.g., close reading, genre theory) may be used to develop new ways of thinking about culture as history. Beyond the theoretical eclecticism of cultural studies and its focus on power relations, the interface of literary and historiographic analysis can push the boundaries of what Comparative Literature “can be and do” as a mode of critical inquiry and a form of academic writing. We therefore invite papers that can integrate the scholarly practices and methodologies of literary comparativism with those of cultural historiography.

Some questions panelists may consider include:

How would renewed attention to history as a methodological tool change our understanding of comparative literature as a field?

What is the role of the archive in producing or understanding literariness?

How are close readings and/or distant readings shaped by the technologies employed by artists or their readers? What are the implications of technology for a comparative literature field informed by cultural historiography?

What role(s) do or should media, or media studies, play in comparative literature as it attempts to engage in a wider cultural milieu? How might visual and acoustic artifacts reshape our ideas of literature and literariness in a comparative frame?

What are the challenges for a cultural history understanding of comparative literature in an age of globalization?

What temporalities or geographies obtain in the kind of work comparative literature as cultural history “can be and do”?

What definitions or methods of performing cultural history would be most appropriate for the comparative literature field?

While keeping our focus on “literariness,” we welcome interdisciplinary approaches that engage with a variety of media (literature, film, music, social media, television, visual art, historiography).

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