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郭建:Book review:Allegoresis: Reading Canonical Literature East and West.

更新时间:2009-06-29 12:36:28
作者: 郭建 (进入专栏)  

  

  Comparative literature has won its battles at a cost of identity, writes Haun Saussy in a decennial report on the state of the discipline he prepared on behalf of the American Comparative Literature Association which appears as a lead article in Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). On the one hand, the teaching, and the study, of literature has been steadily going comparative in the past decade; or rather, in the past fifty years since the Second Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association held at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in September 1958, a defining moment in which a group of prominent North American scholars, some of them polyglot émigrés from Europe, argued forcefully for a comparative study of literature embracing transnational categories and interdisciplinary approaches in reaction to what they saw as rigidly historicist, positivistic, and culturally nationalistic tendencies of traditional comparativism represented by contributors to the French journal Revue de littérature comparée. Today, literary and critical works originally written in foreign languages are taught in departments of English; the transnational dimension of literature and culture is universally recognized; theoretical analysis is something that everyone more or less engages in; and cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspectives are widely respected. The triumph of comparative literature is such that, in Saussy’s words, “Our conclusions have become other people’s assumptions” (p. 3). On the other hand, however, the subtle and quietly transformative influence thus achieved has also contributed to an identity crisis of the discipline. While those in the humanities adopting theories and methodologies pioneered by comparatists rarely identify themselves as primarily comparatists, literary scholars, including practitioners of comparative literature itself, move so far into a space of interdisplinarity called “cultural studies” that they almost give up literature itself. In the meantime, comparative literature programs on college campuses, usually of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary formation, remain small; they are actually shrinking in correlation with a host of shortages: jobs in the field, and hence students, and hence institutional support. As a result, comparative literature has increasingly become marginal and phantom-like.

  There has been no lack of speculation and prophesies about comparative literature’s supposed decline, and even demise, in recent years, to which Saussy’s more substantive and cautious assessment is a welcome corrective. For the health of the discipline, so, too, is his patient articulation of the centrality of literariness in the tradition of comparative literature to the urge for going cultural as reflected in the previous decennial report (Charles Bernheimer, ed., Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995). As for the discipline’s widely perceived loss of identity, one may differ a little by pointing out that, one, the problem could be innate in the first place due to the difficulty of feeling at home complacent and content with a national literature for someone already well-versed in several languages and literatures and, as Saussy himself observes, to the comparatist’s being identified with the “processes of interchange” and more invested in methods than in subject matter (p. 11). Two, there has been a slow though steady output of solid works of scholarship that not only most fittingly belong to but also continue to set new standards and mark new territories for comparative literature. One such work is Zhang Longxi’s recent book entitled Allegoresis: Reading Canonical Literature East and West (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2005).

  A comparative study of allegorical interpretations of canonical texts East and West, most notably the ancient Chinese Book of Poetry (Shi jing 詩經—the Confucian classic more popularly known in English translation, to Arthur Waley’s credit, as the Book of Songs) and the Biblical Song of Songs, Allegoresis exemplifies what Claudio Guillén defines as a third model of supranationality in The Challenge of Comparative Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), an examination of phenomena “genetically independent”—that is, beyond historical contacts, linguistic affinities, and shared socio-cultural conditions—that may lead to most interesting and most significant theoretical conclusions (Guillén, p. 70). With possible theoretical affinities, rather than positively traceable evidence of reception and influence, as grounds for comparison, Guillén sees in today’s East-West studies “especially valuable and promising opportunities” for the “dialogue between unity and diversity that stimulates comparativism to focus on the open confrontation of criticism/history with theory; or .(点击此处阅读下一页)


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