Comparative Literature As a Discipline in the Universities of Yemen [Archives:2000/02/Governance]

January 10 2000

Dr. Siya Ram Rai
Faculty of Arts
University of Ibb
A couple of months ago, when I came to join the university of Ibb as a professor of English, I was, besides many other topics, assigned Comparative Literature which took me, it seemed, into untrodden paths. Comparison and analysis are the two major tools of criticism. And an alert university teacher of Literature always sees the opportunities of comparison. The more we study literatures, the greater opportunities we have for comparison. A university teacher who ignores viable comparisons can not train the mind or the sensibility of young students. 

But a comparative approach to literature can not create a new discipline of literature called Comparative Literature. Perhaps this is the reason why a distinguished comports like Rene Wellek wishes to drop the word comparative altogether. While teaching a tragedy of Shakespeare, we discuss not only all major tragedies of Shakespeare but also Greek tragedies as well as the concept of modern tragedy. While dealing with Shakespearean comedies, a teacher has to talk about the great comedies of Kalidas, a great poet of Sanski. While discussing epic poetry, a teacher discusses Homer, Virgil, Dante Goethe Vyas, Valmiki, Tulsi and also other great epics of the world. Similarly, while analyzing a love poem, one compares it with other love poems in other languages. This is the case with all other aspects of literature. If this is not comparative literature, what else then is Comparative Literature? One must remember that for some of the developed countries like America and England, Comparative Literature as a discipline is an academic luxury like all other luxuries.
Comparative Literature as a discipline is a different thing altogether. It is rather a recent concept based on the view of Western Literature. Comparative Literature is the study of literature beyond the confines of one particular country. It is the study of the relationships between literature as well as the other areas of knowledge and belief. In brief it is the history of international literary relations. It also surveys the exchange of themes, ideas and feelings between two or many literatures. It is the comparison of one literature with another.
One must know about the literatures of different countries in the modern times, more so because the science has brought the whole world is now like a family. We must exchange our views and knowledge. It is a fact that a truly great writer transcends his time and national prejudices their message from a certain height which we find almost identical. There is certainly a height of knowledge or wisdom where prejudices of all kinds an we enjoy the beatitude.
Comparative Literature aims at evolving a better world with better people. nowadays no country can afford to live in isolation. Goethe rightly suggests to wage a war against all national prejudices and narrow views to enlighten the minds of the people, to purify their taste and to make their thoughts and feelings noble.
There are five approaches to study two different literatures of two different countries: the study of themes and myths; the study of genres and forms; the study of Movements and ages; the study of interrelations of literature with other arts and disciplines, and finally the study of literatures embracing literary theory and criticism. In fact, there are as many areas of Competitive studies as are the aspects of literature itself. It studies not only similarities but difference but also. We can thereby benefit each other by knowing their points of view. But there is also a danger of introducing a wide sea without much depth and inwardness in any part. And thus it may become too ponderous.
One finds three major dimensions of Comparative Literature in practice today. The Western Heritage is the narrowest dimension in which we find French-English or Latin-English or German-French comparisons. The second dimension is East-West encounter is World Literature, a much-abused term in America. However, in future, there may grow other dimensions which can contribute a lot to the world of literary knowledge. Folk literature and folklore, criticism, aesthetic features ..etc can be studied as inter-disciplinary subjects and their backgrounds sources usually include history, the social sciences, philosophy, religion, technology and the natural sciences, for literature has a historical dimension as well.
In deducing a theory of Comparative Studies, one faces the problem of method and not of material. Such studies may dismiss the possible validity of judgement. To me, as it seems, Comparative Literature is just for the correction of taste and the refinement of sensibility, and not for value judgement, for that will create unnecessary confrontation in certain quarters. But study of Comparative Literature as a discipline requires a sense of patience and appreciation from the readers. Readers of Comparative Literature will have to open their windows for fresh air to come in from all directions.
I hold that Comparative Literature should be taught only at the Post-Graduate level in the universities. Rather it is a Research discipline. Research scholars can work in this field write scholarly theses or dissertations on international and cultural relations, especially on the problems of comparative method in literary studies, the forces of contemporary literature and research techniques in Comparative Literature. This will make Comparative Literature an academic discipline throughout the world. One must also remember that the syllabus of Comparative Literature will differ from country to country. Because the vertical has a meaning only in relation to the horizontal. But it is also equally true that without comparison, the literary pills do not relate to each other and are without roofs. We are at the threshold of a new era and it is a fact of life and we have to live with it. Indeed, it has achieved a rank of distinction quarters.
A new vision of global literature is emerging, embracing all the verbal creativity during the history of our planet. Moreover, World Literature is the logical third step of Comparative Literature. It is a fact that Comparative Literature often departs from similarities to the examination of meaningful diversities.
English is a unifying means of communication, otherwise, language problem is a big hurdle in the study of Comparative Literature. We read foreign literatures in translation and in the transit. Translation is not transference but substitution and no two languages have identical structures. Besides, we can not begin to absorb the wealth of exotic literature before firming possessing our own literature.