- BCLA President's Letter
It is a pleasure to be able to make contact with our members and our wider readership through our thriving new journal, Comparative Critical Studies. This letter is a small innovation in a wider range of initiatives to bring the British Comparative Literature Association into close contact with all those in the field of Comparative Literature. At present there is renewed enthusiasm in Britain for the study of literatures across languages and embedded in different cultures. The move to interdisciplinary studies has shed light on what can be achieved as soon as we begin to set texts and writers in new relationships. The sophistication now evident in translation studies has also raised fresh questions about the nature of Comparative Literature. How important is the ability to read and think in more than one language? How far can comparative studies be pursued through translated texts? These questions have immediate impact in the education of undergraduates at our universities. The government's decision not to make the study of languages compulsory past the age of fourteen has had a quite alarming effect on the number of students approaching the subject in higher education. The current move to broaden the availability of the International Baccalaureate may perhaps improve the linguistic competence of secondary school students. The growth in Comparative Literature departments in a number of our universities at the same time is certainly encouraging. We must hope that these and other developments will bring a fuller understanding of how much experience is opened up by the knowledge of languages and their literatures: experience intellectual, social, emotional, and of real practical help in interpreting the current world.
Our previous President, Professor Malcolm Bowie (1943–2007), is a wonderful example of such openness; his skills as a literary analyst and his knowledge of music and the visual arts together made available to a wide readership the insights to be gained by comparative and interdisciplinary studies. We mourn his recent premature death, we remember him with affection, and we hope to be able to mark his continuing presence by [End Page 7] initiating a Lecture in his name. Comparative Literature suffered another great loss during those weeks through the death of Professor Wolfgang Iser (1926–2007) who had done so much to plant and make grow the study of diverse literatures.
The BCLA is taking an active role in fostering work in Comparative Literature. We have had for a number of years an annual one-day conference organised and directed by our student representatives with a call for papers from postgraduate students. This year the topic is 'Confrontation' and Marco Wan and his colleagues are hard at work preparing for the event on 30 March. Recently, Marco contacted students in a considerable number of undergraduate and graduate courses and we had a most interesting evening of papers in London, ranging from book history across the publication of Zola's work in English to Chinese contemporary drama. Subsequently we have been thinking about ways of opening our discussions more fully to languages beyond Europe. Elinor Shaffer most kindly provided the forum as a special meeting in her ongoing seminar series related to her major project 'The Reception of British and Irish Writers in Europe'. About fifty students attended.
This Autumn we celebrated the Presidency of Malcolm Bowie at an intimate symposium at the University of East Anglia called 'Listening to Sing' that investigated the interactions of music and literature. More than one paper explored the effects of new media on poetry and on the relation of the semantic to the auditory. As one would expect for any event involving Malcolm Bowie, the meeting was innovative and inspiring, and I am happy to see that some of these papers will be appearing in one of the next issues of Comparative Critical Studies. 24–25 March 2007 will see a workshop conference on proto- and pre- cinema called 'Cinematicity: 1895, before and after' at the University of Essex, again offering a cross-disciplinary analysis. Then on 2–5 July 2007 we shall have our big triennial conference, this time at Goldsmiths College, University of London, on the fundamental topic of 'Folly...