Contemporary literary comparatists in Ukraine have entered a new phase of academic development, emerging from the shadows of their politically invasive past. They are no longer struggling with the central issues of the Ukrainian independence decade, a time when literary studies in general tried to override and eliminate Soviet quasi-scholarly approaches and legacies. From the mid-twentieth century, Soviet-led comparative literature in Ukraine was part of a political project to prove genetic and typological connections between the fraternal literatures of Soviet peoples led by the headmost Russian brother. At the same time, Ukrainian comparative literature developed by émigré scholars looked completely different. In the postwar period, Ukrainian comparatists throughout the world explored questions of Ukrainian motifs in European literatures, the foreign sources of Taras Shevchenko’s poetics (Leonid Biletskiy), concepts of nationalism and provincialism in comparative studies of Shevchenko and Robert Burns, the romantic poems of Byron, the aesthetics of Shakespeare and Dante (Yuriy Boyko), etc. The greatest mid-century émigré comparatist was Dmitrij Tschižewskij, author of Outline of Comparative Slavic Literatures, who introduced the concept of interchanging style-epochs into comparative literature.
The abrupt political emancipation of the continental Ukraine in the 1990s led to some instances of hurried and often superficial integration of Western theories and comparative approaches. However, due to institutional inertia and the slow influx of new scholars in high-ranking institutional positions, the theoretical revolution did not critically influence comparative literature proper, even though comparatists dealing with Western literatures and languages were much more inclined to apply theory that stemmed from associated national contexts. The situation was further complicated by the fact that departments of comparative literature did not exist until the late 1990s; comparative research was part of modern literature departments, while all theoretical problems remained within special theory departments. Besides, comparatism in Slavic tertium comparationis – well-developed in Soviet times – still dominated over all other regions and literatures, including medieval literature where, for example, Latin, Italian or French influences were considered within Slavic literary relationships. Again, methodologically, all-encompassing Slavic studies did not advance far from a merely empirical accumulation of facts associated with genetic contacts and typological similarities according to the classification of Dionýz ?urišin (considered mandatory). However, probably the strongest aspect of comparative literature was still the theory of translation and translation studies, connected with the name of Viktor Koptilov.
The primary change in the 1990s was a shift from the genetic contact approach towards the typological comparison of the aesthetic phenomena and the so-called literary process. The result of this shift was the emergence of comparative literature as a distinct institution and the building of new theoretical foundations (Dmytro Nalyvayko). These changes affect comparative literature that is oriented towards Slavic, Western and Eastern literary traditions, although Ukrainian literature remains a privileged point of departure for every comparative enterprise. First and foremost, comparative studies help to locate Ukrainian literature within general world aesthetic processes and thus to better understand the inclusiveness of literary phenomena that were previously considered exclusive. For example, comparing Polish and Ukrainian modernist poetry, Volodymyr Morenets comes to the conclusion that the Ukrainian national trend should be considered as an instance of European positivism. His research also serves as a model for tracing the national peculiarities of international aesthetic trends as evolutionary important forms of literary thinking. The same goes for Igor Limborskiy’s exploration of the European Enlightenment viewed from the marginal postcolonial perspective, which uncovers earlier underestimated viewpoints on the centrist ideological positions of Western cultures. As such, scholarly investigation demonstrates the necessity of breaking the regional closure of the aesthetic systems in the history of Ukrainian literature and points out that typological similarities lie also in differences. The entrance of American and Canadian studies into the realm of comparative literature is connected with Professor Tamara Denissova most notably in relation to her research in “Roman ‘Poshtovoyi Marky’ (Sproba Porivnialnoho Analizu Vyrishennia Temy Zemli v Ukrayinskiy i Amerykanskiy Literaturakh” (“American and Ukrainian literatures: biblical and national mythologems of the American south and Ukrainian Cossack lands”). Important theoretical innovations have been contributed to Ukrainian comparative studies by the Ternopil comparative school with its emphasis on narratology and the aesthetics of reception (Roman Gromiak). Yevhen Nakhlik makes a major contribution to comparative literature by introducing his concepts of mythocentrism and historycentrism into the tertium comparationis of Ukrainian and Polish literatures.
In the twenty-first century, comparative literature in Ukraine and throughout the world is now distinguished by various theoretical and historical perspectives as a distinct discipline within literary studies as a whole. In Ukraine, a recent University guide entitled Porivnialne Literaturoznavstvo: Navchalniy Posibnyk(Comparative Literature) by Vasyl Budniy and Mykola Ilnytskiy outlines methodologies not traditional for Eastern comparatism, including intertextuality, ethnic imagology, postcolonial studies, phenomenology and narratology, thereby distinguishing itself from previous texts, such as the slightly outdated Leksykon Zahalnoho ta Porivnialnoho Literaturoznavstva (Guide to General and Comparative Literature) or the theoretically disorganized collection of essays Literaturoznavcha Komparatyvistyka (Comparative Literature). Inclusion in Natsionalni Varianty Literaturnoyi Komparatyvistyky (National Instances of Comparative literature), a historical compendium of comparative literature worldwide, further demonstrates the contemporary status of comparative literature in Ukrainian humanities. With the entrance into the realm of theory and transdisciplinarity at the dawn of the new century, Ukrainian comparative literature is starting to break with the standard approaches and institutional schemata of traditional literary studies in Ukraine, triggering changes within literary academic programs as well.
Budniy, Vasyl and Ilnytskiy, Mykola. Porivnialne Literaturoznavstvo: Navchalniy Posibnyk. Lviv: Vydavnytstvo LNU imeni Ivana Franka, 2007. Print.
Denissova, Tamara. “Roman ‘Poshtovoyi Marky’ (Sproba Porivnialnoho Analizu Vyrishennia Temy Zemli v Ukrayinskiy i Amerykanskiy Literaturakh.” Ukrayinska Literatura v Systemi Literatur Yevropy i Ameryky (XIX-XX st.) Kyiv, 1997. Print.
Hromyak, Roman, ed. Literaturoznavcha Komparatyvistyka. Ternopil, 2002. Print.
Nalyvayko, Dmytro, ed. Natsionalni Varianty Literaturnoyi Komparatyvistyky. Kyiv: Stylos, 2009. Print.
Tschižewskij, Dmitrij. Outline of Comparative Slavic Literatures. Survey of Slavic Civilization, v.1. Boston:American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1952. Print.
Volkov, A., ed. Leksykon Zahalnoho ta Porivnialnoho Literaturoznavstva. Chernivtsi: Zoloti Lytavry, 2001. Print.
Sergiy Yakovenko is a PhD student in the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Alberta. He is the author of Romantics, Aesthetes, Nietzscheans: Ukrainian and Polish Literary Criticism of the Early Modernist Period (Kyiv 2006) and Poetics and Anthropology: Essays on Ukrainian and Polish Prose in the 20th Century (Kyiv 2007).