Centre for Modern European Literature and Culture

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25-27 June 2018, University of Kent


In June 2018, the Centre for Modern European Literature ran a summer school comprising intensive training in the underlying principles, the variant practices, and the latest perspectives of comparative literature. The summer school was generously funded by the Consortium for the Humanities in South-East England (CHASE). The programme is archived below and  a report on the summer school (PDF) is available.

Programme directors

  • Ben Hutchinson: Professor of European Literature at the University of Kent, member of the Executive Committee of the BCLA, and author of Comparative Literature: A Very Short Introduction (2018)
  • Duncan Large: Professor of European Literature and Translation at the University of East Anglia, member of the Executive Committee of the BCLA, and Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation
  • Francesca Orsini: Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS, member of the Executive Committee of the BCLA, Editor of Comparative Critical Studies, and PI of ERC project ‘Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies’

Keynote speakers

  • Marcel Lepper: Director of Research, German Literature Archive, Marbach
  • Wen-chin Ouyang: Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, SOAS


Monday 25 June

Seminar 1: The Origins and History of Comparative Literature (Ben Hutchinson)

Where does comparative literature come from? When does it begin? Examining the origins of the discipline enables us to understand how it has always been contingent and contextually specific: from British and German philologists in India to French savants in North Africa, from colonial empire building in the nineteenth century to the Jewish diaspora of the twentieth century, the development of comparative literature is intimately tied to the political upheavals of modernity. For better or for worse, the origins of the modern discipline within Europe cannot be disassociated from the post-Westphalian framework of nation-states out of which it evolved. If comparative literature has become ever more politicized over the course of its history, it is only through exploring this history that its present state – and possible future status – can be fully appreciated. A copy of the Power Point presentation is available.

Seminar 2: ‘Doing’ World Literature (Francesca Orsini)

World literature has re-emerged in the last two decades as comparative literature for the globalised age. No longer envisioned as a canon of great works by dead white men, it has reinvented itself as the study of literature in the world from three main critical perspectives: (a) the study of world literature as a system, with centres and peripheries, hierarchies and positions marked on a global map (Moretti, Casanova, Warwick Collective); (b) the study of the circulation of works in the world ‘outside their culture of origin’ and the dynamics of reception and reading (Damrosch); (c) literary works as ‘worlds’ in themselves (Hayot). If, as Franco Moretti has argued, ‘world literature is not an object, it’s a problem, and a problem that asks for a new critical method’ (2000), this session will ask: how appropriate and useful have these approaches been? How can we ‘do’ world literature in ways that do not flatten the world and take its multilingualism seriously, and that factor our location and the location of our objects of study seriously? A copy of the presentation (PDF, 5MB) for this seminar is available.

Francesa Orsini is Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. A Fellow of the British Academy, she is a member of the Executive Committee of the BCLA, Editor of Comparative Critical Studies, and PI of the ERC project ‘Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies’.

Keynote Lecture 1: ‘1968 from a Global Perspective’ (Marcel Lepper)

Tuesday 26 June

Seminar three: The Pragmatics of Comp Lit: publishing and applying for jobs

Surviving and thriving in the world of comparative literature can be a fraught business. How best to go about publishing books and journal articles? How to give oneself the best possible chance on the job market? How to think strategically as well as intellectually? This seminar will consider these and related questions in an attempt to give students practical as well as theoretical guidance on how to begin a career in comparative literature. Students are welcome to raise any such issues they would like to address, either before or during the seminar.

Seminar four: Comparative Literature and Translation Studies (Duncan Large)

Comparative literature and translation studies are close cousins – after all, comparatists have to rely on translations when they reach the limits of their linguistic competence, and translation serves as a model for the act of comparison itself.  But historically there have been tensions between the two, especially in the late twentieth century when comparative literature was increasingly viewed as but a branch of translation studies. More recently, Emily Apter has problematised the reliance of world literature on translations, and invoked untranslatability ‘as a deflationary gesture toward the expansionism and gargantuan scale of world-literary endeavours’ (2013). In this seminar, we will consider not only whether comparative literature has a problem with translation – and (if so) what can be done about it – but also the ways in which translation studies as a discipline can contribute to comparative literary study. A copy of the PowerPoint presentation is available.

Duncan Large is Professor of European Literature and Translation at the University of East Anglia (Norwich) and Academic Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the BCLA and chairs the PETRA-E Network of European literary translator training institutions. He is General Editor (with Alan D. Schrift) of The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (Stanford University Press), and co-editor of Untranslatability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Routledge, 2018).

Keynote Lecture 2:  ‘The Silk Road and World Literature’ (Wen-Chin Ouyang)

Wednesday 27 June

Student presentations