Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Comparative Scholarship/worldly Teaching

By Foster, John Burt | The Comparatist, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Comparative Scholarship/worldly Teaching


Foster, John Burt, The Comparatist


Early in our careers, I suspect, many comparatists have had to ask, "What are we supposed to teach?" For me this issue first surfaced during a job interview with a university that was building comparative literature by piggy-backing new hires partly in established departments and partly in the new program. Somehow, in the confused weeks before the MLA, I learned that I was to interview with English but not that I should also do so with Russian. So there I was, just one step past graduate school (where we were able to move quite freely among the languages, philosophy, and history) and already entangled in the uncertainties concerning where I belonged, at least in the university's day-to-day role as a teaching institution.

Does this story strike a chord? In my case, I soon found that unlike my research in French, German, and Russian, the two-fifths of me assigned to comparative teaching had to rely largely on translations. This situation even prevailed at an overseas campus in France, where students on a junior-year study abroad were generally taking third-year language courses and still not ready for much reading in French. Of course, issues of language and culture were directly relevant there, unlike at the home campus where they could seem vaguely pedantic. For comparatists in the U.S., I found, teaching and scholarship often had to exist in two separate compartments, even after the federally funded language programs of the 1960s.

So, several decades after that initiation, with world literature now on our agenda, how much has the situation changed? Here I need to distinguish between comparatists like myself, trained when the English, French, and German triad reigned supreme, so that even my Russian seemed exotic in comparison, and those comparatists I admire as interregionalists. These are the scholars with a knowledge (say) of Arabic, Bengali, or Chinese (people in the mold of Said, Spivak, or Eoyang). I like to imagine that these comparatists, with their more-or-less equal command of a Western literature alongside their knowledge of another geocultural tradition, are better suited to teach world literature with our field's ideal of even-handedness. Yet if world literature as a subject for undergraduates must also mean, at its most basic level, the literature from a worldwide sweep of regions, even these comparatists must accept the challenge of moving out into a larger variety of traditions. Obviously, a good world literature course does not have to be that inclusive, and a well-focused case study that explores a smaller number of traditions at greater depth can do a lot to expand horizons. Nonetheless, "world literature" is a label that promises a breadth of coverage that students need to encounter in some form, somewhere.

Lacking the interregional expertise just mentioned, I have still gradually edged my way from comparative to world literature. The first step in this direction was to accept the value of teaching works I knew only in translation. For several decades I have taught in an English department with established courses on Continental Fiction for majors and on World Masterpieces for the general student body. Both of them boiled down to the same thing: works from the Western tradition not originally written in English and hence taught in translation. These were ideal courses for someone with my training, given the power of the French and Russian traditions in the novel, the importance of some striking achievements in German, and the rise of modern drama. In time, however, I compromised my conscience as a comparatist by adding other figures to fill out the picture: Verga, Pirandello, and Calvino despite my limited Italian, and Ibsen, Garcia Marquez, and Kundera though I lacked meaningful Norwegian, Spanish, and Czech.

The significance of this urge to "fill out the picture" in taking me beyond "knowing what you teach in the original" finally dawned on me several years ago.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Comparative Scholarship/worldly Teaching
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.