This book is about culture and comparison. Starting with the history of the discipline of comparative literature and its forgotten relation to the positivist comparative method, it inquires into the idea of comparison in a postcolonial world. Comparison was Eurocentric by exclusion when it applied only to European literature, and Eurocentric by discrimination when it adapted evolutionary models to place European literature at the forefront of human development. This book argues that inclusiveness is not a sufficient response to postcolonial and multiculturalist challenges because it leaves the basis of equivalence unquestioned. The point is not simply to bring more objects under comparison, but rather to examine the process of comparison. The book offers a new approach to the either/or of relativism and universalism, in which comparison is either impossible or assimilatory, by focusing instead on various forms of “incommensurability”—comparisons in which there is a ground for comparison but no basis for equivalence. Each chapter develops a particular form of such cultural comparison from readings of important novelists (Joseph Conrad, Simone Schwartz-Bart), poets (Aimé Césaire, Derek Walcott), and theorists (Edouard Glissant, Jean-Luc Nancy).
About the Author
Natalie Melas is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University.
Table of Contents
Grounds for Comparison 1
Ungrounding Comparison: Conrad and Colonial Narration 44
Empire's Loose Ends: Dissimilated Reading 84
Ruined Metaphor: Epic Similitude and the Pedagogy of Poetic Space in Derek Walcott's Omeros 113
The Gift of Belittling All Things: Catastrophic Miniaturization in Aime Cesaire and Simone Schwarz-Bart 170