"Comparatively Speaking" March 12-13, 2010. Cornell University Comparative Literature conference

full name / name of organization: 
Cornell University Comparative Literature

Graduate Conference
Comparative Literature Department of Cornell University


"Comparatively Speaking"
Plenary speaker: Professor Natalie Melas
Keynote Speaker TBD

March 12-13, 2010

Is comparison a method, or is it always in need of a method? Has comparison of specific languages and literatures become the big unthought of literary and cultural analysis– supposed but unquestioned? In light of recent scholarly debate on the demands and consequences of the global scope of what comparison means, this conference seeks to discuss methodological questions that pose themselves in comparative research projects and in the constitution of inter-literary and cultural in the study of multiple national, philosophic, and linguistic spaces as well as historical time periods from Antiquity and the Middle Ages to the present.


In terms of methodology, Jonathan Culler has recently argued that in the age of area studies, comparatists who tackle differing literary and cultural traditions should distinguish themselves by focusing on a strict boundary, on poetics. It can also be contended that comparative studies should
serve as a meeting point of not only languages and literatures but of
disciplines. The methodological questions that the discipline faces
today abound: the status of close textual analysis, multilingualism,
translation, theory, interdisciplinarity, or the politics of cultural
comparison. How can we go beyond "internationalism" and create methods
for the transnational study of literature or cultures?


In terms of practice, the study of comparative literary traditions was first established in the United States by European emigrants, which continues to influence the field's
constitution in America both through the choice of the theory
privileged and literatures analyzed in pivotal comparative studies.
Should this tradition inform our own comparative practices? How can our disciplinary practices
be compared to other forms of interdisciplinary, translingual and
transcultural study of texts, in the US and abroad? Does it make a
difference where in the world comparisons are made? Does one have to
posit a unity or equivalence in order for comparison to be possible? If
there is an added freedom in comparative literature, is there also an
added responsibility? Are there thus particular ethics and politics in comparative literature and studies that do not impose themselves in the same way to scholars of a single language and literature?


We invite proposals that study the methodology and practice of comparison in literary and cultural studies of different cultures, linguistic traditions, and time periods. We also welcome comparative case studies that situate themselves in the methodological discussions of the field as such.


The politics of literary and cultural value

History as comparison

Contextualization, comparative formalism

Methodology of "global poetics"


"World literature"

Transnational study of literature

Status of "small" languages and literatures in comparative literature and the humanities

Center and the periphery

Race and comparison

Evolutionary models, developmental models


Gender and Sexuality as comparison


History and origins of comparative literature

Time and Space in comparison

Incommensurability and equivalence (Glissant: "equivalences that do not unify")

Comparison as com-paraison (co-appearance, Jean-Luc Nancy)

Status of close reading – "distant reading" (Franco Moretti)

Figurations of comparison in literary texts

Methods of comparative literature in the US – outside of the US

Comparing comparative literatures

Status of inter-disciplinarity in comparative literature and the humanities

The limits of comparison in comparative literature and the humanities

Comparative Literature as the "multiple poetics of the world" (Edouard Glissant)

Comparison as such in cultural studies and in comparative literature

Comparative Literature as systematic thought about literature

Theory and methodology of comparison


Abstracts (300 words) due to comparativelyspeaking@gmail.com by Friday, Dec. 4 2009.