What is Comparative Literature?

Qu'est-ce que la littérature comparée

Brunel P., Pichois C., Rousseau A-M. (1983), What is comparative literature?, Athens: Pataki
Introduction-Translation-Notes by Dimitris  Aggelatos

Literature, besides being an excellent means for everyone to broaden their knowledge and trigger their imagination, has been the object of cultural studies for centuries. Questions concerning style, types of narration, themes and literary movements have been raised multiple times. So, today, I am launching a new series in my blog, in which I am going to talk about books and studies that concern the theoretical side of literature and belong, specifically, to the field of Comparative Literature.

Although I wanted to focus mainly on literary texts, seeing how much time I spend reading scientific writings I decided to incorporate them in my posts, in the hope that they will turn out to be helpful to the researcher and interesting for the bookworms.

The first book that I chose to introduce myself in the field of comparative literature was “Qu’est-ce que la littérature comparée” by French authors Pierre Brunel, Claude Pichois and André-Michel Rousseau, translated into Greek by Dimitris Aggelatos. While the Greek translation is superb, unfortunately the book hasn’t been translated into English yet.

The writers thoroughly examine every aspect of comparative literature, such as when and how it evolved, how it spread to the world, how it relates to the History of Literature and where it derives its themes from. Let’s revisit some extracts (translated form French to Greek and from Greek to English, so be tolerant):

Defining Comparative Literature:

Comparative literature is based on analytical description, methodical and differential comparison, complete interpretation of interlingual or intercultural literary phenomena by means of history, criticism and philosophy, with the intention of gaining a better understanding of Literature, a special function of human spirit. (p.240-241)

Conditions for becoming a comparatist:

Passive and, if possible, active knowledge of more than one foreign language is the sina qua non of becoming a comparatist. […] Bilingualism, studies abroad, cosmopolitan family: behold so many excellent advantages. (p.241-242)

The role of the translator:

While creative writers recreate the original text, professional translators, unassertive as they are, treat it with caution. We shall benefit from both translations of every literary masterpiece. (p.80)

Numerous references throughout the book aim to orient the future researcher, but end up being extremely tiring. This is an essential reference work for every student but I would never recommend it to someone who just now begins his journey in comparative literature.

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3 thoughts on “What is Comparative Literature?

    1. Indeed, I was a little confused when I saw that it was never translated into English.

      Excuse me for not approving your comment any sooner, but it went straight to the spam folder. Luckily I saw it before it got automatically deleted. 🙂

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