Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern
The Comparative Literary Studies (CLS) Program is an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary program for the study of literature across national and linguistic lines. As its name indicates, its area of study encompasses literature, but unlike other literary disciplines the objects it investigates are not situated in any one national tradition or any one natural language. Rather, its boundary is defined by the plurality and diversity of differing cultural and linguistic traditions. In respect to such differences, the comparisons pursued in CLS do not primarily strive to establish parity between what is being compared, but rather explore problems that develop across different language-traditions and emerge out of their interaction.
Since such problems encompass the literatures of diverse cultures and traditions, they are determined first and foremost not simply by language, but by linguistic diversity. Moreover, the literary dimension of this diversity defines it as not just inter-linguistic but also and perhaps above all as intra-linguistic. Thus, for CLS, "natural" or "national" languages are never homogeneous or self-identical: beyond their divisions into dialects and idiolects of all sorts, they are divided intrinsically and constitutively by their signifying function, which at the same time also opens them to interaction with other signifying media.
Its tradition of close textual reading places comparative literary studies in a unique position to interact with developing studies of non-verbal media. What CLS has to contribute to media studies generally is its accumulated experience in the interpretation of signifying processes as they operate discursively. What it has to learn from non-literary media studies and other disciplines is how these processes operate in other discursive contexts and in non-discursive media.
Since the subject-matter of comparative literary studies is not defined in terms of linguistic, national or cultural homogeneity, the discipline of comparative literature demands constant reflection, reevaluation and redefinition; hence its constitutive attention to questions of theory and method, which however should never be isolated from the many and variegated practices of language and its interpretation.
As a result, CLS seeks to collaborate closely with other literature programs and with disciplines such as philosophy, political theory and media studies (such as music, film, theater, art history). This collaboration is in the first instance intra-university, but can, in certain cases, involve exchanges with other local universities, whose special competence is of particular relevance to CLS.