Global Dialogues

Issue 2.1: January 2012


Global Dialogues

David Buchanan


Inquire 2.1 ‘Global Dialogues’ includes 21 new reports, articles, reviews and works that speak to the diversity of global dialogues taking place across the arts and the commitment to comparative approaches by emerging and established scholars in various departments and around the world, including editors, reviewers and contributors from Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, India, Iran, Spain, Ukraine and the United States.

In the In Every Issue section, ‘State of the Discipline’ by Dr. Subha Chakraborty Dasgupta (Joint Director of the School of Cultural Texts and Records, Editor of Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University) provides a concise history of Comparative Literature in India and a description of “The Indian Context” that considers a disjuncture not uncommon in other countries. On the one hand, there is “a dynamic transnational perspective, with the constant flow of people to and from the country to the outside world, and then, a moving caravan of thoughts, religions, myths and stories, and later, texts and translations.” On the other hand, there is “very little significant dialogue between Indian comparatists and the rest of the world.” As such, this much needed voice from beyond academic circles in the West brings unique and valuable perspective, and her suggestion that “more is required” should remind us that Comparative Literature must do better to recognize and enhance global dialogue.

Following upon contributions to the ‘CL History’ section of Inquire dealing with Canada (1.1) and Eastern Europe (1.2), Dr. Jonathan Hart (Editor of Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, former Director of Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) takes us back to Canada by focusing on two eminent comparatists with international backgrounds and global impact – Northrop Frye and Milan Dimic. Hart’s consideration of these two scholars in particular – both were key to the founding of Comparative Literature in Canada, at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta, respectively – points to the importance of disciplinary and institutional history during a period of stress and change in the arts. To be able to place our own work within that history – nationally and globally – strengthens the real and perceived value of comparative scholarship by creating a network of comparatists with a shared history in which to understand both the contemporary shifts within and the continuing value of Comparative Literature.

In the ‘U Views’ section, Dr. Ken Seigneurie (Director of the Program in World Literature, Simon Fraser University - Surrey) asks, “How can World Literature promote civic virtue?” Following upon ‘CL History,’ it is appropriate that Seigneurie’s discussion of the social role of World Literature analyzes the nature and value of comparison in the modern world, notably making references to contemporary popular media. Further, it is no coincidence that at a time when Comparative Literature faces institutional challenges this section invites views from the director of a program in World Literature who in turn argues convincingly for comparatism in an article titled “World and Comparative Literatures in Winter,” effectively highlighting ongoing disciplinary and methodological questions of relevance to Comparative Literature and the arts generally.  

In ‘Media X,’ Dr. Laura Mandell (Director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture, Texas A&M University) offers a timely and informative “Report on the Digital Humanities from MLA 2012.” In light of Dasgupta’s call for more international dialogue, Hart’s look at the global history of Comparative Literature as it took shape in Canada and Seigneurie’s use of online media to explore key issues relevant to pedagogy and research, Mandell describes how “the digital humanities are indeed revitalizing literary scholarship as well as our educational mission.” In the midst of the doom and gloom that pervades most discussions of the future of the humanities, it is refreshing to read an enthusiastic view of at least one growth area, which also suggests that more scholars should pay closer attention to the current role and future possibilities afforded by the development of digital tools.

The call for papers for ‘Global Dialogues’ aimed to provide the widest scope possible for emerging comparative scholars. The result is two unique research articles from graduate students engaged with the challenge of analyzing literature in global contexts, past and present. “A Tale of the Rise of Law: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain” by Allen Mendenhall (English, Auburn University) uses the linguistic jurisprudence of John Austin to examine the role of law and sovereignty in The History of the Kings of Britain, and suggests that precedents of sovereignty have both a written and oral claim to authority, especially in English law, and that The History provides enabling myths that inspire the polis to consolidate rules and regulations on the basis of cultural solidarity. In “Partial Translation, Affect and Reception: the case of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” Nicole Nolette (English, McGill University) is interested in how partial translation is defined, as well as the mechanisms by which this practice posits different film audiences, and she argues that the exploration of partial translation in Atanarjuat may hold the first hints of an affective turn in translation studies. The range and depth of knowledge represented in these two articles is indicative of the scope and importance of new comparative scholarship to contemporary issues. Just as Mendenhall’s focus on medieval law and nation formation is directly relevant to current discussions of globalization and international law, Nolette provides a film-based understanding of texts immediately in line with the dynamic multimedia reading dominant today.

In the Reviews section, edited by Lisa Ann Robertson (English & Film Studies, University of Alberta), six books of direct relevance to comparative scholars working in the arts are considered. The range of topics is impressive, including contemporary Chinese Comparative Literature, national identity and periodicals in Great Britain and British North America, credit rating agencies and global financial governance, African American literature, the history of words in global context, and social critique of humour. Moreover, reviewers not only summarize the main points of each work, but challenge arguments and assumptions, add critical perspective and situate the work within current academic discussions and disciplinary contexts. Perhaps more than in any previous issue of Inquire, the Review section takes up the call for papers and contributes significantly to the internal dialogue that emerges between authors and articles.   

CL Hub, edited by Mike Perschon (Comparative Literature, University of Alberta), offers some of Inquire’s most interesting and valuable work. At the founding of Inquire in 2010, CL Hub was envisioned as a means to compile resources and communicate perspectives relevant to the work and life of students, teachers and scholars of Comparative Literature and the arts. With this third issue, the word ‘compile’ is starting to seem appropriate as the resource lists grow and improve; the list of ‘Cool Courses’ by Perschon (incl., Canada, France, Germany, South Korea and the United States) and Lisa Ann Robertson’s international list of ‘New Pubs’ provide valuable resources to teachers and researchers. Short reports like Perschon’s contribution to ‘In the Field,’ “Juggle, Drop, Retrieve, Repeat,” provide a perfect example of how the vision and the reality of CL Hub are meeting in productive ways; Perschon offers an honest and personal account of the relationship between work and life that will hit home for many readers and raises larger questions about what we are doing, how we do it and to what end.

From the beginning, CL Hub has also aimed to promote and enable global and innovative scholarship by giving people the space to report on their work and work experiences. Under the editorship of Linda J. Van Netten (English & Film Studies, University of Alberta), ‘Project Room’ continues to endorse and describe cutting-edge work in the humanities, often through digital scholarship. “Open Access to US Slavery: the Antislavery Literature Project” by Dr. Joe Lockard (English, Arizona State University), for example, is not only a concise description of a great online project, but a revealing discussion of the application process and funding model that supports such work, thus providing a practical take on one aspect of the growth area described by Mandell. In ‘CL World,’ D. A. Porter (Clare College, University of Cambridge)’s “Comparative Literature in the United Kingdom of Great Britain” adds to our growing collection of reports on Comparative Literature in the world, supplementing ‘CL History’ with contemporary views of the discipline.

In ‘New Trans,’ edited by Samantha Cook (Modern Languages & Cultural Studies, University of Alberta), Cynthia Marks (Modern Languages & Cultural Studies, University of Alberta) provides a new English translation of the poem La jeune mère mourante by Amable Tastu, as well as a concise introduction to this largely unknown mid-nineteenth-century French poet and translator. ‘New Trans’ was added for the June 2011 issue, but this is the first contribution. It marks a slightly new turn for CL Hub – from compiling resources and reporting on scholarship to the publication of new work by emerging scholars that brings to light lesser-known or unknown authors and works from the past. It is an exciting development that will hopefully encourage more submissions of similar work.   

As this introduction demonstrates, the scholars and works collected under various sections and sub-sections in this issue often address similar or related issues from different starting points or by different means. The result is twofold: first, meaningful dialogue between diverse peoples and cultures facilitated by a comparative approach to the history of literature and the arts; and second, the sense that such dialogue may in fact go some way to building a collective history and addressing shared interests of importance to the continued vitality of Comparative Literature.




David Buchanan (PhD, Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. 



Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature

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