Comparative Literature – Open Day 2014

so my name is professor Javed Majeed and I'm head of the comparative Department and I teach comparative literature and English so I'm here really to talk to you about the program what we teach how we work with our students and of course most importantly what comparative literature is and what its aims are as a discipline but before I start I should say that to do this degree you need an A in a modern or ancient language at GCSE so if you don't have that then you might not want to sit around wasting your time so is everyone everyone hears clear about that yeah okay so well the first thing you I'm going to talk about is all what is comparative literature because it's not a kind of familiar discipline like English or French and so and contrary to what people think actually comparative literature is not a new discipline this is what the German poet Goethe said in 1827 at the beginning of the 19th century he said I am more and more convinced that poetry is the universal possession of mankind it reveals itself everywhere and at all times in hundreds and hundreds of men sorry about that it should be women too but any I'm not good but I'm apologizing for him I therefore like to look about me in foreign nations and advise everyone to do the same and then he ends with quite a strong statement he says national literature is now a rather unmeaning term the epoch of world literature is at hand and everyone must strive to hasten its approach so that's Goethe in 1827 and I think what's interesting really about that citation is that really for Goethe modernity means being modern means recognizing that there is such a thing as world literature that literature can no longer be confined to national literature alone it can't be compartmentalized and more than that he's actually saying that in the age of global communication and exchange it's not just that national literature doesn't make sense anymore but it's also that a writer and a poet are no longer writing just for a national audience they're actually writing for a world audience and I think we see that we're kind of familiar with that idea already if you think about the Nobel Prize for Literature and just to give you a few examples for example in in the past writers who've been well writers who had the Nobel Prize for Literature come from Europe North America last year well in 2012 the Chinese writer mo Yan was awarded a prize and three years ago it was the Peruvian writer Maria Vargas Llosa so in a fact in fact we're kind of already familiar with the idea of world literature and also through translation that you know you don't have to through translation di we are familiar with the idea that poets and writers write for a world audience and that really national literature is quite a kind of confining category so that's I we thought we'd start with that citation and just to kind of build on what Goethe said eighteen in 1827 so like a hundred and twenty years later we're just saying well what do we think comparative literature is and building on what he said with our definition of comparative literature is that it is the study of literature beyond the borders of one particular country or one particular cultural group and it's the study of the interaction between literature and other kinds of art for example film painting so we have a degree in comparative literature and film studies we do modules or which deal with literature and painting but it we also you can also compare literature with the sciences and other cultural artifacts to so the key there two key words here one is literature as well literature and the other is comparing which I'm going to talk about a little more I'll talk a little bit more about that so what do we do just to kind of boil it down what do we do when we teach our students I mean we have three main aims because comparative literature as you can imagine comparing literature's across nations and across cultures is actually quite a sophisticated intellectual and critical operation so what we do is the first thing is that we familiarize students with the theories and the methodologies of comparative literature we give them the skills the methods the intellectual skills and methods to compare literature across nations to compare literature across cultures and we also do a do a module in the first year about how people since Goethe beginning with Goethe have theorized how they reflected upon the category comparative literature what have they thought about it the second thing we do is and I'll go through this in more detail as well dr. Barnard my colleague is that we study literature across linguistic and national boundaries and across media so across media means literature and film for example and we cover 12 languages six continents and over 2,500 years of history so really this is a not just a course about world literature but also world history okay so I think that's something we'd I'd like to stress and that the third thing we do is we develop skills we liked we teach our students we develop their skills in independent study and research so it's not just that you know when you that you're just writing essays and interacting in seminars in your third year you have to do a 10,000 word dissertation it's compulsory and that really gives you very important skills in independent study and research as well as the time management and it really is an opportunity for you at the end of your three years to develop finally the four you know the defining characteristics of your own intellectual identity because nothing can beat defining your own intellectual identity than doing a dissertation of ten thousand words so those are the three kind of broad aims of how we actually teach comparative literature and now I'll say something a little bit about how well how do you compare literature and basically in our modules when we compare literature we do it in four ways the first is by scene so for example we might take by theme or idea for example we might take the theme of the nation and come and I'll come back to that so we compare literature's in different languages in terms of the theme of the nation for example or we might take a journal like the short story or the novel and compare the novel and the short story in different languages with each other and again I'll come back to that or we might take us a historical period say the 18th century in Europe and compare literature within that historical period rather than comparing literature across historical periods ok so that's the third way we look at it and the fourth way we look at it is by following what I call intertextual links so many of you have already done literature and you'll know that well intertextual links you'll know already that somebody who writes a text in literature might in English for example an English novel might still be influenced by literature that's been written in German or Spanish or French so we look at intertextual links how different texts refer to texts from other literary traditions in other languages us and how they're and and how that's an important part of their artistic expression okay so that's the fourth way we look at we compare literature so an example of comparing by theme so we have a module in the first year called the writer in the text okay so this is a compulsory module and what we do here is look at texts from different literary traditions ranging from ancient Greek and Latin literature right up to James Joyce and what the focus here is on is the figure of the author the figure of the artist and how the author and the artist in these texts is expressing their mission so for example is the author central or marginal to the text so is the figure of the author central or marginal to the text is the author assertive in the text or as or his he or she defensive in the text do they fade into the background or do they always put themselves in the foreground of the text they always call attention to themselves in the text so that's an example of the writer in the text and comparing by theme and there those are just three of the texts that we do because each module is you know a it's ten weeks long so you'll be doing 10 texts ok I don't mean to scare you but that's how many you'll be doing so that's just an example of three three modules sorry three texts that we do then the other way we compare text is we compare by genre so we also have a year one module called forms of shorter narrative now what this module does is to look at the short story in English Russian French and German and compare them with each other and the kind of questions we ask is well why do these writers write short stories and not novels so what is it what's distinctive about the short story as opposed to the novel and we look at that question and we try to answer that question by looking at these texts from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds we look at the relationship between the form of the short story and the content of the short story in other words is there something because of the distinctive form of the short story is there's something that it can do with content that the novel can't do okay so that's the the kind of questions that this module deals with and of course it deals with other issues but by the end of the module what students have gained is a historical understanding of how the short story as a kind of literature has developed in the nineteen then twentieth-century across the world so not just in in Britain or France or Russia but across the world how is it historically developed as a genre of world literature so that's what that module focuses on and then just to give you an example of comparing within a historical period we also do a module called the novel in 18th century Europe and this looks at a very crucial phase in the historical development of the novel as a European form of literature which is the 18th century and we what students do a study a selection of English French and German novels and by studying that selection that retrace the development of the novel form in Europe as a whole we look at the themes the structures and the stylistic aspects of the novel as a European form and we look at you know what are the things that these novels share with each other but also what are they that what are the things that they don't share with each other so we look at overlaps as well as differences in in that module and then the next module then the other module or the other example of comparing by of kind of is genres of world literature which is comparing across nations and this is an example of a world literature course which actually Anna teaches so she's going to talk to you about that yeah I should say as well if you're if you're worried about the the breadth of languages we've been talking about we are reading in translation in all of the classes if you have a language of one of the texts you know if you want to read Kafka and German you're absolutely invited to I'll talk more a little bit about how the language requirement works later but don't don't worry right so the final the final module I just wanted to we wanted to talk about again just to give you a sense of the range of ways in which we think of comparative literature is this module genres of world literature and it focuses on literature published in non European countries in the 20th and 21st century so I've said this to some of you already earlier today but it's what I think about as a horizontal module and that it's going across space within a certain time as opposed to some of our other modules which are vertical and compare things over over historical period so this is world literature that comes from countries outside of what you might think is the traditional English literary canon but is circulated among english-language readers among a global readership and you can see this I mean Javed mentioned the Nobel Prize earlier also the Booker Prize you can see how international the list of winners of those prizes are so in this module we aim to get students comfortable in the very first year reading and thinking about this very international body of writing and then that gives you the opportunity to pursue that if you like as you go along alongside of comparative European approach so the the four sort of areas that we study in this module are texts from Africa the Caribbean the Pacific and the Middle East looking specifically at Nigeria Jamaica Papua New Guinea and Palestine in Israel within that we examine a wide range of genres the other part of the title there from the widely circulated like film and song to the more specialized like poetry the graphic novel Human Rights report and the idea is that by the end of the course students become familiar with a really exciting range of new writers that seems to be the feedback that we get that students appreciate being exposed to writers they might not have come across before and that also your thinking about how the short story has changed for example the short story has changed not just across time as in forms of shorter narrative that Java was discussing but also across space how has it been particularly adapted by Nigerian writers buying their bacon writers how his film been particularly used in an Israeli context or a Nigerian context so thank you that gives you a sense of the range of contexts and contexts that comparative literature students at Kings encounter and actually all those examples you might have noticed we're just from the first year so it keeps going after that I just want to give you a tiny example of what reading comparatively might look like in practice so I've chosen three passages from three different texts that talk about the idea of the city so this is reading by theme here and the passages focus especially on the first arrival to the city and the impression that it gives to the character who's entering the city for the first time I don't know if that squares if some of your experience are coming to London today or not might be true for some of you not for others but right ok here is the first the first passage from Dickens great expectations the journey from our town to the metropolis was a journey of about five hours it was a little past midday when the four horse stagecoach by which I was a passenger got into the Ravel of traffic frayed out about the Cross Keys Wood Street Cheapside London we Britons had at that time particularly settled that it was treasonable to doubt our having and our being the best of everything otherwise while I was scared by the immensity of London I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly crooked narrow and dirty so here you have pip protagonists of Great Expectations coming into London on a stagecoach he's coming from the East of England he's entering the city via the East End the London that he sees is different in some ways from today's London's you have to imagine the busy Docklands with ships coming in from all the four corners of the world and the East End which of course today is very fashionable and expensive at that time being kind of more of a giant slum for workers and poor people coming to the city in search of a better life so that's where some of this anxiety is coming about is actually seeing these workers this poverty this the scene laid out in front of him another thing I think to notice about this passage is the feelings that are being articulated here in a way that literature might articulate differently to other forms and the city there's his anxiety there's this fear of the immense city but there's also this kind of disappointment or sense of being underwhelmed so you see here you see a sense of his preformed expectations we're here inside his head seeing how these expectations are disappointed and of course there's you know if you know the novel is expectations well in many ways remain unfulfilled okay so that's the first example second example first impressions – this is a very different rendering of the arrival in the city scene we're now in Paris and we're following Frederick Moreau the protagonist of flow bares novel sentimental education as he makes his way also by stagecoach through the suburbs into the center of Paris a dull rattle of planks woke him up they were crossing the Pont de Charenton it was Paris the sin which was a yellowish color had risen almost to the level of the bridges it was giving off a chilly breath Frederic filled his lungs with it savoring that wonderful air of love and intelligence that Paris seems to exhale London is dirty and Paris's intelligence has a comparison there at the site of the first cab he nearly cried he felt that he loved even the straw covered doorsteps of the wine shops the shoe blacks with their boxes the grocer's voice shaking their coffee roasters so here we get a totally different emotional kind of caliber to the passage even though it's the same kind of thing the arrival in the city from from a more rural place we feel the protagonists enthusiasm for the big city the enthusiasm of a young man who's tired of living in the provinces and longs for the excitement and opportunities offered by the metropolis again that may or may not be true some people coming to London everything even the most trivial common objects and places acquires a special fascination for the protagonists so strong contrast with pip even though the the period of these novels is quite close to one another but you still see here an ambivalence between an idealized vision of the city and a reality that is more dull and unpleasant than the way he imagines it only we as the reader perceive it and the character doesn't they're sort of and I think that comes in the yellowish Nisour the sin the fact that what we're seeing or shoe blacks and grocers boys not necessarily a glamorous scene there's a little clues there that there's some sort of separation between us and the protagonists that there's a bit of dramatic irony a bit of distancing going on so you can see the sort of subtle irony that is flow bears signature style here and finally obviously if you were doing this yourself in a seminar you do it a little more slowly this is kind of a little taste a twentieth century text it's Italo Calvino's invisible cities from 1972 so we've moved forward here a century and this is again reflecting on the moment of seeing a city for the first time and how first impressions change as you get to know the city better for a Calvino that's not always a positive thing when you've arrived at Phyllis you rejoice in observing all the bridges over the canals each different from the others cambered covered on pillars on barges suspended with tracery ballast trades and what a variety of windows looks down on the streets mullion Moorish Lancet pointed surmounted by Lynette's or stained-glass roses Calvino likes lists but it also happens that instead you must stay in Phyllis soon the city spades before your eyes the Rose windows are expunged the statues and the corbels the domes like all of Phyllis's inhabitants you follow zigzag lines from one street to another you distinguish a door here a stairway there a bench where you can put down your basket a hole where your foot stumbles if you're not careful all the rest of the city is invisible there's possibly a recommendation coming out here on Calvino's part that we need to preserve the wonder and curiosity about the city we live in as if we were seeing it for the first time it was talking about the danger of letting the force of habit or routine or daily worries make our city before us into an invisible City so I think there is a real kind of cautionary tale going on here even as at the same time he's giving us these lists of words and these lists of adjectives and nouns that are resisting the invisible city that are trying to make it visible before before our eyes while we're reading now so there's a lot so you could do I think in here in each of these passages and pulling out the details of the language of the emotions of the way in which the city is being imagined as a space as an idea as a place in which the individual moves around and lives their life there's also something interesting historically going on I think there's three representations here that help us think about the ways that European cities have changed in the minds of their observers over the 19th and 20th centuries as well as the ways in which they've stayed the same this kind of ambivalence or anxiety does seem to persist even into the more recent texts and in each case the relationship between the individual and the city is foregrounded how will the protagonist fit into the city emotionally economically or socially again something you might be thinking about if you're contemplating a move to London what kind of language do writers use to describe the city to try to answer these pressing questions and to create a mood of the city of the future of the sort of I don't know a larger sense of the of the state of society and how we see that through the city so that's a very a very brief kind of sense of the kind of thing you might be doing when you're reading by theme and also in each of these cases you're reading the novel form across different from different countries and across different points in history so expose that brings together a number of the things we were talking about reading by genre reading across historical periods and also reading for a theme I'm going to move now just to a little bit of sort of finishing information about the degree and then as I said if you have any questions please do ask them now or come back up to the to the hub and ask us there there's also a current student at the table so you can ask him questions as well that might be specific to the student experience so this is write the language requirement the entry the entry requirement in general what we're looking for is predicted a levels of of three a's and of those needs to be English literature or English language in literature so that you're prepared to do the kind of high level literary study you'd be doing here and then there is also a language requirement for entry which Javad already mentioned the a and a GCSE in a modern or ancient language then the next thing to know about the language requirement is that it's different for each of our three programs so we have comparative literature comparative literature with film and classics classical studies in comparative literature comparative literature with film you're very welcome to do modules in the Modern Languages departments or modules that use another language but it's not required it's optional the BA in comparative literature we require that 15 credits a year out of 120 another way of thinking of that is one module a year out of the eight that you take will use a language in some way and there's different ways to do that you could start a new language from scratch in the Modern Language Center if it's one of the ones that we we teach in the in the department you could continue to work on a language that you've already studied at GCSE or a level and then within a module say the shorter narrative module for example the idea would be that you would work with text in the original language in one of the modules that you're doing it could also be a module and in one of the Modern Languages Department in French and Spanish in the German departments if you like so that's the main thing to think about there that we encourage you to continue on with the language it's particularly I think suited to people who have enjoyed language study but don't necessarily want to do a modern languages degree you want to keep it up along there literary study as well as people who are interested in this kind of international approach to literature and then yeah the BA if you're interested in classics and comparative literature the language requirement during the degree degree is in the first year a quarter of your work is in classical languages right this is the structure there's also a version of this handout on the table so some of you might have this already but essentially in the first year half of your modules are the set core modules in different introductions into introduction to comparative literature methods and theories the writer and the text and of world literature which we've already talked about those are the compulsory ones then from beyond that you choose from a range of optional modules in comparative literature but also in other departments year two there are three core modules you take literature of Empire ideas of nation then you have a choice between the Canon or the book in the modern world and then five of those are from a range of optional modules and then the final year the only core required thing is the dissertation which job had already mentioned and then beyond that six more optional modules just to give you an idea of what one of these core modules might look like ideas of nation is a module which this year I think will be taking on India China Italy and Israel Palestine and we're doing again a both a thematic a thematic comparison of how literary text imagined the idea of the nation in each of these European and non-european contexts in the modern period and that's a module in which lectures are given by Javed by myself by a couple other members of the department so it's really a module that brings together European and non-european specialist members of staff in the department these are there's more on the website there's also more on the handouts in the table in the hub but a range of some of the possible optional modules including modern fiction in 1920 century China in the first year the ancient and medieval book which looks at sort of anglo-saxon adaptations of Roman culture in the second year surrealism in the third year which looks at French English Spanish articulations in visual art and literature of surrealist ideas literature and partition which looks at places which have been politically partitioned – as a response to ethnic conflict and how that shows up in literature and surprisingly similar ways and places is different as Pakistan and Northern Ireland and yes so those are all modules based on comparative literature and then plus you're also able to choose some modules from depart all of these other departments including classics English the Modern Languages theology and religious studies and more

3 thoughts on “Comparative Literature – Open Day 2014

  1. Thank you madam comparative literature taught well with examples

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