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Rescaling Time: New Modes of Comparison across Temporal Distance

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Organizer: Jane Mikkelson

Co-Organizer: Sarah Kunjummen

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In recent years, literary studies has increasingly taken up horizon-broadening frameworks: from “world literature” to “global studies” to the “planetary turn” (as Amy Elias and Christian Moraru call it), these new structures encourage scholars to work in conversation with ever-expanding archives. One result is a new sense of freedom to pursue comparison in ways that are not tethered to more conventional forms of historicism, influence, reception, and filiation. For instance, Wai Chee Dimock’s repositioning of American literature in relation to diverse and distant human pasts (“across deep time”) is an urgent call to rethink assumptions about whether comparative thinking should be primarily anchored in neat linear timelines and proximate temporal distances. Yet, new approaches may risk being perceived as being “too unsecured, undisciplined by method,” in David Palumbo-Liu’s words, if not accompanied by robust justification and critical reflection.
This seminar brings together scholars who practice and theorize forms of against-the-grain comparison across significant temporal distance. We invite papers that share the following two features: (1) While there is no minimal time-gap for materials being compared, the distance between them should feel consequential and striking. We are especially interested in forms of comparison where one tradition is palpably proximate to our time, while the other is not (or at least this would be the surface impression). (2) The mode of comparison should be self-consciously unconventional. This could include, for instance, examples of comparison not structured by filiation (i.e., where materials are not linked by direct imitation or conscious participation in a shared tradition); comparison across filiated traditions that are marginal in the context of the American university; or resistant pairings where the more recent text appropriates, reworks, or overcomes some form of friction in articulating its relation to a predecessor. 
We welcome papers that model acts of reading across temporal, historical, spatial, and genealogical ruptures; that reflect on methods for teaching texts from sharply separated historical moments alongside each other; that think about the place of comparison in cultural studies and the humanities more broadly. What new practices and pedagogies of reading emerge when comparison is not bound by familiar temporal parameters? How do form and formalisms mediate across historical distance, and what alternatives to form might come to light as organizing principles (affect, mode, theme, performativity, etc.)? Do these modes of comparison across time allow us to rethink key concepts of cultural study (period, context, canon, tradition, etc.)? What insights might they yield for comparative literature and for literary studies as such? Please send a proposal of ~300 words to Jane Mikkelson ( and Sarah Kunjummen (

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