Ben Hutchinson, Professor of European Literature in the Department of Modern Languages, has given an online lecture on the study of Comparative Literature for the University of Kent’s Think Kent series, which is now available on YouTube.
Building on his recent book Comparative Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018), Professor Hutchinson suggests that Comparative Literature is both the past and the future of literary studies. Its history is intimately linked to the political upheavals of modernity: from colonial empire-building in the 19th century, via the Jewish diaspora of the 20th century, to the postcolonial culture wars of the 21st century, attempts at ‘comparison’ have defined the international agenda of literature. But what is comparative literature? Professor Hutchinson’s talk introduces Comparative Literature as an agent of international and interlinguistic relations.
By briefly considering the history of the discipline – and the metaphors through which it is generally understood – the lecture offers an accessible means of entry into a notoriously slippery subject, and shows how comparative literature tends to be like a Rorschach test, where people see in it what they want to see in it. Ultimately, comparative literature emerges at the very heart of literary criticism – for as George Steiner once noted, ‘to read is to compare’.
The Think Kent lectures are a series of TED talk-style lectures produced with the intention of raising awareness of the research and teaching expertise of Kent academics and the international impact of their work.
The talk may be viewed below or on YouTube via the link: