Toward a Transcontinental Theory of Modern Comparative Literature


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature


For residence at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress during academic year 2016-2017


As a discipline, comparative literature often ascribes its origins to Europe and the United States, overlooking other histories. Through the prism of Arab-European comparison, this project develops one possible transcontinental theory of the field. It traces the rise of modern comparative literature to a new regime of language—emerging in the shadows of empire and of modern scientific method, specifically empiricism—in which words increasingly were expected to be life-like, to visualize matter and to echo the actually spoken. Languages that once styled themselves larger than life—incomparable—came to share a new, modern sense—relativist and positivist—that language must mirror or echo life. This turn to nature, bonding word to world, redefined Arabic, European, and other literatures as comparable quantities.