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EWS 375 Readings - Said - Ch. 5

EWS 375 Readings - Said - Ch. 5 - wa-éqy-1-“ Crimes-ring...

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Unformatted text preview: .. wa--éqy-1--“--: : . _ Crimes-ring Empire to Secular Interpretation 43 be humanistic. in standing up so and challenging their power, we should try to enlist what we can truly comprehend of other cultures and periods. For the trained scholar of comparative literature, a field whose origin and purpose is to move beyond 'insularity and provincialism and to see several cultures and literarures together, contrapuntally, there is an already consid— erable investment in precisely this kind of antidote to reductive nationalism and uncritical dogma: after all, the constitution and early aims ofcompara- tive literature were to get a perspective beyond one’s own nation, to see some sort of whole instead of the defensive little patch ofered by one's own culture, literature, and history. I suggest that we look first at what compara- tive literature originally was, as vision and as practice ironically, as we shall see, the study of “comparative literature” originated in the period of high European imperialism and is irrecusably linked to it. Then we can draw out of comparative literature’s subsequent trajectory a better sense of what it can do in modern culture and politics, which imperialism continues to influence. ( V ) Connecting Empire to Secular Interpretation torn long before World War Two until the early 1970s, the main tradition of comparative-literature studies in Europe and the United States was heavily dominated by a style of scholarship that has now almost disappeared The main feature of this older style was that it was scholarship principally, and not what we have come to call criticism. No one today is trained as were Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzet, two of the great Gennan comparatists who found refugein the Unimd Statesas a result offascisnuthis is as much a quantitative as a qualitative fact. Whereas today's comparatist will present his or her qualifications in Romanticism between 1195 and 183:: If in France, England, and Germany, yesterday's comparatist was more likely, first, to have studied an earlier period; second, to have done a long appren- .- tiaaship with various philological and scholarly experts in various universi- , -' ties in various fields over many years; third, to have a secure grounding in all or most of the classical languages, the early European vernaculars, and - their literatures. The early-twentieth—century cornparatist was a m -_ who, as Francis Fergusson put it in a review of Auerbach' 5 Miami}, was so ' ' learned and had so much stamina as to make “our most intransigent ‘schol- 44 OVERLAI'PING TERRITORIES ars’—those who pretend with the straighten faces to scientific rigor and eahaustiveness—[appear to be] timid and relaxed.” Behind such scholars was an even longer tradition of humanistic learning that derived from that eflloresoence of secular anthropology—which in- cluded a revolution in the philological disciplines—we associate with the late eighteenth century and with such figures as Vice, Herder, Rousseau, and the brothers Schlegel. And underlying theirwork was the belief that mankind formed a marvelous, almost symphonic whole whose progress and fhrma- tions, again as a whole, could be studied exclusively as a concerted and secular historical experience, not as an exemplification of the divine. Be- cause “man” has made history, there was a special herrneneutical way of studying history that differed in intent as well as method from the natural sciences. These great Enlightenment insights became widespread, and were accepted in Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, and subsequently, England. It is not a vulgarization of history to remark that a major reason why such a view of human culture became current in Europe and America in several difi'erent forms during the two centuries between :74; and 194.; was the striking rise of nationalism during the same period The interrelationships berween scholarship (or literature, for that matter) and the institutions of nationalism have not been as seriously studied as they should, but it is nevertheless evident that when most European thinkers celebrated human- ity or culture they were principally celebrating ideas and values they as- cribed to their own national culture, or to Europe as distinct from the Orient, Africa, and even the Americas What partly animated my study ofOriental- ism was my critique of the way in which the alleged universalism of fields such as the classics (not to mention historiography, anthropology, and tori-4 ology) was Eurocentric in the extreme, as if Other literatures and societies had either an inferior or a transcended value. (Even the comparatists trained in the dignified tradition that produced Curtius and nuerbach showed little interest in Asian, African, or Latin American texts.) And as the national and international competition between European countries increased during the nineteenth century, so too did the level of intensity in competition between one national scholarly interpretative tradition and mother. Ernest Renan's polemics on Germany and thejewish tradition are a well-known example of this. Yet this narrow, often strident nationalism was in fact counteracted by a more generous cultural vision rcptesented by the intellectual-ancestors of Curtius and Auerbach, scholars whose ideas emerged in pro-imperial Ger- many (perhaps as compensation for the political unification eluding the country), and, a little later, in France. These thinkers took nationalism to ”- ,._._.-.. O. eras—=5: n-‘u n—D-ra Inna-hutch“ CWg Eatpr'n to Secular Interpretation 4.; be a transitory, finally secondary matter. what mannered far more was the concert of peoples and spirits that transcended the shabby political realm ofhureaucracy, armies, customs barriers, and xenophobia. Out of this catho- lic tradition, to which European (as opposed to national) thinkers appealed in times of severe conflict, came the idea that the comparative study of literature could filmish a trans—national, even trans-human perspective on literary performance. Thus the idea of comparative literature not only expressed universality and the kind of understanding gained by philologists about language families, but also symbolized the crisis-free serenity of an almost ideal realm Standing above small-minded political affairs were both a kind of anthropological Eden in which men and women happily produced something called literature, and a world that Matthew Arnold and his disciples designated as that of "culture:I where only “the best that is thought and known” could be admitted Goethe‘s idea of Wdtlimrsr-a concept that waflied between the notion of “great books” and a vague synthesis of all the world's literatures—was very important to professional scholars of comparative literature in the early twentieth century. But still, as I have suggested, its practical meaning and Operating ideology were that, so far as literature and culture were con- cerned, Europe led the way and was the main subiect of interest In the world of great scholars such as Karl Vossler and De Sanctis, it is most specifically Romania that makes intelligible and provides a center for the enormous grouping of literatures produced world-wide; Romania underpins Europe, just as (in a curiously regressive way) the Church and the Holy Roman Empire guarantee the integrity of the core European literatures. At a still deeper level, it is from the Christian Incarnation that Western realistic literature as we know it emerges. This tenaciously advanced thesis ex- plained Dante's supreme importance to Auerbach, Curtius, Vossler, and Spitzer. To speak of comparative literature therefore was to speak of the interac- tion of world literatures with one another, but the field was epistemologi- cally organized as a sort of hierarchy, with Europe and its Latin Christian literatures at its center and top. When Auerhach1 in a justly famous essay entitled “Philologie der WW5" written after World War Two, takes note of how many “other’I literary languages and literatum seemed to have emerged (as if from nowhere: he makes no mention of either colonialism or decolonization), he expresses more anguish and fear than pleasure at the prospecr of what he seems so reluctant to acknowledge. Romania is under threat.‘'5 Certainly American practitioners and academic departments found this European pattern a congenial one to emulate. The first American depart- ! 2 =4; 11' a: '13. y 1 E 'i i '_.-r 1- .,‘E'It. un.‘ . v. .L—rw L'M-Jr F. __.. a. . .-‘_ 's."-—.+r'_ .‘_._ __ - __ a. "'. -c:.a-._. .“zv _'._ _ _..-_.._'.-__. .. _ 46 ovaatanmo raaat'roarss ment of comparative literature was established in 1891 at Columbia Univer- ; 5:; were tht airy, as was the first journal of comparative literature. Consider what George , ' when tl’l Edward Woodberry—the department’s first chaired professor—had to say l who can about his field: ' them. xv Europe: The parts of the world draw together, and with them the parts of [if he says: knowledge, slowly knitting into that one intellecrual state which, above é" survival the sphere of politics and with no more institutional machinery than 1 presenu tribunals of iurists and congresses of gentlemen, will be at last the true . literatm bond of all the world. The modern scholar shares more than other the Lat! citizens in the benefits of this enlargement and intercommunication, - little of: this age equally of expansion and concentration on the vast scale, this 5 who an infinitely extended and intimate commiegling of nations with one f remark: another and with the past; his ordinary mental experience includes often tr. more of race-memory and of race-imagination than belonged to his and run predecessors, and his nation]: before and after is on greater horizons; he cure—i6 lives in a larger world—is, in fast, horn no longer to the freedom of a 4-; Educan city merely, however noble, but to that new citizenship in the rising t, cent 61" state which-4h: obscurer or brighter dream of all great scholars from have in Plato to Goethe—is without fi'ontiers or race or force, but there is 3" As If reason supreme The emergence and growth of the new study known tore th' as Comparative Literature are incidental to the coming of this larger draman world and the entrance of scholars upon its work: the study will run its : obscure course, and together with other converging elements goes to its goal in that idi the unity of mankind found in the spiritual unities of science, art and and the love.“ “ tie and.‘ _ meat in: Such rhetoric uncomplicatedly and naively resonates with the influence of and SW Croce and De Sanctis, and also with the earlier ideas of Wilhelm von and elt Humboldt But there is a certain quaintness in Woodberry's “tribunals of {I teentlH jurists and congrmes of gentlemen,” more than a little belied by the acmali- .__ Dicker: ties of life in the “larger world” he speaks of In a time of the greatest {1 probler Western imperial hegemony in history, Woodherry manages to overlook laid on that dominating form of political unity in order to celebrate a still higher, ;_- pattern strictly ideal unity. He is unclear about how “the spiritual unities of science, ‘ Cervar. art and love” are to deal with less pleasant realities, much less how “spiritual , enfoldi unities“ can be expected to overcome the facts of materiality, power, and -' them a: political division. 3] The: Academic work in comparative literature carried with it the notion that .. W Europe and the United States together were the center of the world, not i. geograi simply by virtue of their political positions, but also because their literatures I (311380“ Connecting Empire to Secular Interpretation 47 er— were the ones most worth studying. When Europe succumbed to fascism and tge _ .._ when the United States benefitted so richly from the many emigre scholars my ' who came to it, understandably little of their sense of crisis took root with them. Mines-t3; for example, writtenwhile Auerbach was in exile from Nazi Europe in Istanbul, was not simply an exercise in textual explication, but— f he says in his 1952 essay to which l have just referred—1n act of civilizations] :- a survival. It had seemed to him that his mission as a comparatist was to a present, perhaps for the last time, the complex evolution of European e literature in all its variety from Homer to Virginia Woolf. Curtius's book on r 1 the Latin Middle Ages was composed out of the same driven fear. Yet how 1,, little of that spirit survived in the thousands of academic literary scholars 5 l who were influenced by these two books! Mimerir was praised for being a e 3— remarkable work of rich analysis, but the sense of its mission died in the .5 ': often trivial uses made of it." Finally in the late :95os Spam} came along, '1, ‘,_ and transformed the study of foreign languages—and of comparative litera- e ; tore—into fields directly affecting national security. The National Defense a ' Education Act“ promoted the field and, with it, alas, an even more compla- 1g '- cent ethnocentrism and covert Cold Warriorism than Woodberry could a, :. have imagined. is '_. - As Miami: immediately reveals, however, the notion of Western litera— rn , nut that lies at the very core of comparative study centrally highlights, fl . _ dramatizes, and celebrates a certain idea of history, and at the same time t: F obscures the fundamental geographical and political reality empowering in that idea. The idea of European or Western literary history contained in it 1d ' and the other scholarly works of comparative literature is essentially idealis- _: tit and, in an unsystematic way, Hegelian. Thus the principle of deveIOp- ment by which Romania is said to have acquired dominance is incorporative cc of _,1' and synthetic. More and more reality is included in a literature that expands yon and elaborates from the medieval chronicles to the great edifices of nine— ds of moth-century narrative fiction-viii the works of Stendhal, Balzac, Zola, uali- 'Dickens, Proust Each work in the progression represents a synthesis of 1m ' . ljfioblematic elements that disturb the basic Christian order so memorably rlook laid out in the Divine Comedy. Class, political upheavals, shifts in economic gher, :patterns and organization, war. all these subjects, for great authors like ence, iCetvantes, Shakespeare, Montaigne, as well as for a host of lesser writers, are ritual .j- " lded within recurringly renewed structures, visions, stabilities, all of 1, and '. _ «than: attesting to the abiding dialectical order represented by Europe itself. ' C The salutary vision of a “world literature" that acquired a redemptive , that? 1.1 in the twentieth cenmry coincides with what theorists of colonial 1, not "é' geography also articulated. In the writings of Halford Mackinder, George 91.501131. Georges Hardy, Leroy-Beaulieu, and Lucien Fevre, a much 4.8 OVERLAI’PING TERRITORIES franker appraisal of the world system appears, equally metrocentric and imperial; but instead of history alone, now both empire and actual geograph- ical space collaborate to produce a “world-empire” commanded by Europe. But in this geographically articulated vision (much of it based, as Paul Carter shows in The Read a: Benny} Bay, on the cartographic results ofactual geo- graphical exploracion and conquest) there is no less strong a commitment to the belief that European pore-eminence is natural, the culmination of what Chisolrn calls various “historical advantages” that allowed Europe to over- ride the “natural advantages” of the more fertile, wealthy, and accessible regions it controlled.“I Fevre‘s Ln Tme trim mm (192.2), a vigorous and integral encyclopedia. matches Woodherry for its scope and utopianism. To their audience in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the great geographical synthesizers offered technical explanations for ready political actualities. Eur-0pc did command the world; the imperial map did license the cultural vision. To us, a century later, the coincidence or similarity between one vision of a world system and the other, herween geography and literary history. seems interesting but problematic. What should we do with this similarity? First of all, I believe, it needs may and mm which can only come about if we take serious account of the present, and notably of the dismantling of the classical empires and the new independence of dozens of formerly colonized peoples and territories. We need to see that the contem- porary global setting—overlapping territories, intertwined histories—was already preligured and inscribed in the coincidences and convergence: among geography, culture, and history that were so important to the pic- neers of comparative literature. Then we can grasp in a new and more dynamic way both the idealist historicism which fiielled the comparatist “world literature” scheme and the concretely imperial world map of the same moment. But that cannot be done without accepting that what is common to both is an elaboration of power. The genuinely profound scholarship of the peeple who believed in and practiced mam: implied the extraordinary privilege of an observer located in the West who could actually survey the world's literary output with a kind of sovereign detachment. Orientalists and Other specialists about the non-European world—anthropologins, histori- ans, philoiogisrs—had that power, and, as l have tried to show elsewhere, it often went hand in glove with a consciously undertaken imperial enterprise. We must articulate these various sovereign dispositions and see their com- mon methodology. An explicitly geographical model is provided in Gramsci’s essay Sam I W oft!» Seaman W Under-read and under-analyzed, this study is ' the only (althoug posed fo' for, and l ineompt Italian [1 I916 ant: towering Lukas Vichiam his main for Gm nate. lnl division challeng ment In toP05“.1 ’._-(.--..'._.' .' cm'ug Empire m Secular [W] 49 the only sustained piece of political and cultural analysis Gramsci wrote (although he never finished it); it addresses the geographical conundrum posed for action and analysis by his comrades as to how to think about, plan for, and study southern Italy, given that its social disintegration made it seem incomprehensible yet paradoxically crucial to an understanding of the north. Gramsci's brilliant analysis goes, I think, beyond its tactical relevance to Italian politics in 1916, for it provides a culmination to his journalism before 1926 and also a prelude to Tie Pusan Nutrients, in which he gave, as his towering counterpart Lukacs did not, paramount focus to the territorial, spatial, geographical foundations of social life. Lukacs belongs to the Hegelian tradition of Marxism, Gramsci to a Vichian, Crooean departure from it. For Lukacs the central problematic in his major work through Hilton and Class Cma'aansm (1923) is temporality; for Gtamsci, as even a cursory examination of his conceptual vocabulary immediately reveals, social hissory and actuality are grasped in geographical terms—such words as “terrain," “territory,” “blocks,” and “region" predomi- nate. In T6: Southern Question. Gramsci not only is at pains to show that the division between the northern and southern regions of Italy is basic to the challenge of what to do politically about the national working-class move- ment at a moment of impasse, but also is fastidious in describing the peculiar topography of the south, remarkable, as he says, for the striking contrast between the large undiil'erentiated mass of peasants on the one hand, and the presence of “big” landowners, important publishing houses, and distin- guished cultural formations on the other. Croce himself, a most impressive and notable figure in Italy, is seen by Gramsci with characteristic shrewdneas as a southern philosopher who finds it easier to relate to EurOpe and to Plato than to his own crumbling meridional environment. Mani- he consi...
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