Vol. 6 No. 1 June 2022

Comparativism or What We Talk about When We Talk about Comparing
Author:Ben Hutchinson    Time:2022-06-20    Click:

Comparativism or What We Talk about When We Talk about Comparing

Ben Hutchinson

Page 015-025

Abstract: In this essay, I suggest that the study of comparative literature is subject to the same distorting pressures as the study of the Orient. “Comparativism,” as I call it, is like orientalism: both a description and a distortion. Constructing its critique in the process of comparing, it inherits deep foundations of historical, cultural, and geographical prejudgment. As with Said’s orientalism, the cornerstone of this construction is West-Eastern (and North-Southern) paternalism, but it is far from the only building block: other obstacles include predetermined views of genre, medium, and even language. There is little, in fact, that is not grist to the will of Western-educated critics. Eastern comparative methodologies, however, are no more innocent of power struggles than their Western counterparts; for one thing, the structural role of empire is shared by both West and East. Simply replacing one hemisphere with another will hardly recalibrate our critical compasses; wherever we are looking from, partiality of perspective is inevitable. The question, then, is whether comparativism constructs itself diversely in diverse circumstances, or whether its prejudices remain essentially the same despite the changing details of time and place. It is a matter, in other words, of the old comparative contest between similarity and difference. What do we talk about when we talk about comparing?

Keywords: comparativism, orientalism, comparative methodology, world literature

Doi: 10.53397/hunnu.jflc.202201002

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