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comparative literature


Subject Literature » Comparative Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


The study of literatures across frontiers. Originally coined in the early nineteenth century, the term became highly controversial in the twentieth century owing to differing usages and interpretations. Some scholars have seen it as essentially literary history, following Goethe's concept of Weltliteratur ; some have seen it as a field of study comparing the “soul” or “spirit” of different C ultures ; others have sought to demonstrate the certainty or otherwise of “influence” between writers. The so-called French school promoted binary study between two authors or literary S ystems , in contrast to the American school which argued for wide cross-disciplinary comparison. These two approaches were often reflected in a terminological distinction that sought to demonstrate a difference between “comparative” and “general” literature. Emphasis on the relationship between literature and national culture in the nineteenth century led to reaction in the twentieth century when comparative literature came under the dominance of F ormalism , and the focus was on belief in the myth of the universal civilizing power of literature regardless of cultural context. Since the 1970s comparative literature has moved away from the debates on what or how to compare that had so concerned formalist scholars. There has also been a move away from the earlier focus on canonical T exts and prioritization ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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