Comparative & World Literature

What is Comparative Literature?

Clarice Lispector
Clarice Lispector, Brazilian novelist and short-story writer

Comparative literature is the discipline of studying literature internationally:

  • across national borders
  • across time periods
  • across languages
  • across genres
  • across boundaries between literature and the other arts (music, painting, dance, film, etc.)
  • across disciplines: literature and psychology, philosophy, science, history, architecture, politics, etc.

Defined most broadly, comparative literature is the study of “literature without walls.”

Comparatists include, for example, people who are:

  • studying literacy and social status in the Americas
  • studying medieval epic and romance
  • studying the links of literature to folklore and mythology
  • studying colonial and postcolonial writings in different parts of the world
  • asking fundamental questions about definitions of literature itself

What they share in common is a desire to study literature beyond national boundaries and an interest in languages so that they can read foreign texts in their original form. Many comparatists also share the desire to integrate literary experience with other cultural phenomena such as historical change, philosophical concepts, and social movements.