Literary Geography and Comparative Literature

By Dominguez, Cesar | CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Literary Geography and Comparative Literature


Dominguez, Cesar, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture


In 1966 Rene Wellek argued that literary historiography is the daughter of political historiography, a fact that can be seen when one surveys so-called universal literary histories, which, in spite of their supposed supranational intentions, are no more than a list of the literatures of nation states. Nevertheless, in more recent English-language scholarship there is a tendency towards the elaboration of multi- and intercultural historiographic models we find, for example, in the Columbia History of the United States (Elliot, Banta, Martin, Minter, Perloff, Shea), The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature (Shell and Sollors), or in the The Cambridge Companion to Comparative Literature and Comparative Cultural Studies (Totosy de Zepetnek and Mukherjee) where emphasis is placed on language rather than the nation state and "national" literature and culture (see also Cabo Aseguinolaza).

In the present study I examine here the importance of political and linguistic boundaries for comparative literary historiography. Concepts such as the postnational in accordance with both political (the European Union) and economic (the neoliberal economic system and the behavior of multinational corporations) are relevant aspects to analyze and my study is based on the notion of geoculture and its initial theorization from an economic perspective by Immanuel Wallerstein. I postulate that Wallerstein's macro-systemic approach is relevant for comparative literature and thus I analyze the idea of literary geography as a unit which can describe diverse stages of the interliterary process (with regard to "interliterariness," see Durisin; see also Dominguez, "Dionyz Durisin"). My discussion is with reference to European geographies: Francophone, Anglophone, Lusophone, and Hispanophone. Further, I consider--within the framework of the current renaissance of Goethe's concept of Weltliteratur--phenomena such as the literatures of (im)migration, exile, literatures in contact, and literary diglossia (for recent work on Weltliteratur in English, see, e.g., Damrosch; D'haen; D'haen, Damrosch, Kadir; D'haen, Dominguez, Rosendahl Thomsen).

Erika Fischer-Lichte argues that poetological reflection was undergoing a reorientation in its methodological procedures in both temporal and spatial categories: such a reorientation is reflected in the deconstrucive questioning of the Enlightenment conception of continuous and linear historical time in the skeptical postmodern attitude towards universalizing metanarratives constructed around a dominant and autolegitimating "us" in the indissolubility of the temporal and spatial dimensions in the Bakhtian notion of the chronotope, in the notion of intertextuality, and in the abundant spatial metaphors of narratology (profound structure as opposed to superficial, interior as opposed to exterior, linearity, intersection, distance, perspective, etc.). According to Fischer-Lichte, the substitution of a temporal aesthetic for a spatial one is not at issue here; rather, what is at stake is a redefinition of the relation between both categories in terms of the fourth dimension (Raumzeit) theorized by modern physics. Despite of the centrality of space, in comparative literature in particular and in literary studies in general, scholars appear to be removed from the use of the basic spatial tools used by other humanities disciplines such as history, geography, sociology, ethnography, anthropology, and linguistics. This indifference is even more glaring when one notes how some primary comparatist notions reveal an evident spatial character: litterature europeenne, commonwealth literature, Nationalliteratur, etc.

In my opinion, it would be preferable to avoid talk of cartographic indifference and to focus, rather, on an a priori approach: if the type of maps used in literary studies are investigated, it becomes obvious that they are almost exclusively political and that global organization is represented with regard to nation states with additional attention given to political groupings in regional alliances (the concept of litterature europeenne, for example) and to subdivisions in their respective political-administrative unities (e. …

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