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BOOK NOTES VIRGIL NEMOIANU, ed. Multicomparative Theory, Definitions, Realities. Whitestone NY: Council on National Literatures, 1996. 141 pp. This recent volume ofcollected essays encompasses a range ofdiscussions on the changing face ofcomparative literary study. In particular, the debate focuses on the problematic differences between traditional comparative literature, as represented by me Western canon model, and the more globally-oriented multicultural approach. The essays collected here provide a counter-argument to Comparative Literature in theAge ofMulticulturalism (reviewed in the 1996 issue of TAe Comparatist ), which was edited by Charles Bernheimer as an outgrowth ofthe official report on standards commissioned by the American Comparative Literature Association . That the globalization and politicization ofcomparative literary study is the primary focus ofthis Council on National Literatures world report becomes clear in "Globalism, Multiculturalism, and Comparative Literature," an essay by Virgil Nemoianu, me Council's executive director and editor. Nemoianu states from the outset that he does not claim "a unique or absolute mediating role for literature" since for him other things such as "religious energies and impulses . . . can be more important" (43). He grounds his critique ofEurocentric versions ofComparative Literature by stressing the field's more expansive characteristics: its possession of a "unique equipment ofself-contradiction and self-criticism," its tendency towards "innovation in all spheres," and its ability "to assimilate and to establish osmotic relationships with alternative civilizational models" (46-7). Similarly, Gerald Gillespie criticizes certain positions taken in Bernheimer's volume, notably those ofMichael Riffaterre and Peter Brooks, for not focusing on more "politically inflected cultural studies" (37). Though Nemoianu does point out die dangers and defects ofmulticulturalism, and calls attention to the inherent threat that national literatures may degenerate into exclusionary, anti-historical, static fields ofstudy, or may be debased into arbitrary "social constructs" (54-5), he does not provide an approach for resisting diese tendencies. Ultimately he argues rather lamely for comparative literary study on die basis ofits ability "to disarm our slothful inclination toward lack ofdistinctions and blanket levelling," particularly since "a true fostering of diversity must involve a cultivation of the history ofthe humanities " (62-3). Thus, while the conclusion calls attention to the dangers ofmulticultural theories and their tendency to respond to literature dogmatically along lines ofrace, gender, or class, an appeal to humanistic values seems to be the only solution that emerges in the course ofthis extended essay. One sees from these essays several problematic tensions that have marked die debate on globalizing literary studies, among them the influence ofpostcolonial studies on emerging national literatures. As new literatures attempt to enter the canon, tiiey eitiier redefine or reinvent tiieir literary past; and their internal conflicts reveal not only the problem ofpolemical definitions ofwhat is meant by "cultural tradition," but also ofseparating such a tradition from socio-political intent. This redefinition seems frequently to entail ascribing superiority to one cultural tradition over another, as for example in Quan Zhongwen's essay, "Re-establishing Value and Spirit in the Period ofCultural Change: Neo-Rationalism." This essay relies on the exhausted argument mat infusing traditional Chinese humanism into comparative literary study would temper the "irrationalism" of Western approaches and Vol. 21 (1997): 174 THE COMPAKATIST their declaration of"the death ofeverydiing" (7), as well as meir indulgence (by way ofcritical theory) in "meaningless intellectual games" (8). Otiier proposals for bringing comparative literary study into a broader multicultural perspective include "refounding die humanities on die sciences," developing a semiotic metiiod for cross-cultural study, and using an intertextual approach to contextualize the heterogeneity ofvarious Latin American literatures. The theoretical and methodological differences between the essays in this volume and the ACLA report edited by Bernheimer reveal that defining me current status of comparative literature is fraught with many polemical negations and contestations. The subject clearly needs furtherjudicious study and discussion. Christine Kiebuzinska Virginia Polytechnic andState University YVES CHEVREL. Comparative Literature Today: Methods andPerspectives . Trans. Faruda Elizabeth Dahab. Introd. Gerald Gillespie. Kirksville MO: The Thomas Jefferson UP, 1995. xv + 111 pp. Yves Chevrel intended this work to be a follow-up to a volume ofthe same title written by M.-F. Guyard in 195 1. The Guyard text went through six different editions and for many years was a major reference. Chevrel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 174-175
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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