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  • Introduction
  • Shuangyi Li

The initial proposal for this special issue was largely inspired by the seminar series organized by the relatively newly established research group Komplitt: Forum for Comparative Literature (, at the Centre for Languages and Literature (SOL) of Lund University, Sweden. Colleagues from different language sections at the Centre came together with the aim to re-address the disciplinary raison d’être of Comparative Literature, particularly in the context of Swedish higher education. Very quickly, we realized that what truly unifies and complements our different expertise and areas of focus is the hermeneutic and transformative act of crosscultural reading and, indeed, misreading. What was repeatedly attested through the various literary examples discussed in those seminars is that reading comparatively and crossculturally can dramatically change our perception of each compared text, sometimes in utterly unexpected ways, giving us an enhanced understanding of the resistance, interference, manipulation, and transformation that intrinsically characterize world literary relations. Doing Comparative Literature is, therefore, much more than gathering a set of literary texts delimited by particular nationhood or languages; rather, it signals many ways of dealing with textual relations transnationally and across communities, histories, and languages, and, increasingly, of putting word in relation with other artistic or media forms.

Our followup intellectual endeavour, which motivates this special issue, is to challenge, expand, and reconfigure the established notion of reading literature as [End Page 399] a primarily ocular activity. Such an assumption persists partly because our relation to language nowadays is implicitly yet hegemonically defined through written, visual signs, which impose themselves even when we intend to talk about its sound. However, the eye has not always been the primary bodily gatherer of information throughout history, not even in the Western tradition, which has been routinely criticized as “ocularcentric.” For instance, R. Murray Schafer makes the following telling remark:

In the West the ear gave way to the eye as the most important gatherer of information about the time of the Renaissance, with the development of the printing press and perspective painting [....]

Before the days of writing, in the days of prophets and epics, the sense of hearing was more vital than the sense of sight. The word of God, the history of the tribe, and all other important information was heard, not seen. In parts of the world [such as rural Africa], the aural sense still tends to predominate.


In this respect, our special issue shares a key motivation in literary and sound studies to rebalance “ocularcentrism in conceptualizations of modernity.” As Anna Snaith summarizes, “Hearing is associated with interiority, subjectivity, affect, temporality, and passivity, whereas sight is harnessed to distance, reason, spatiality, and control. This sensory hierarchy binds vision to knowledge” (7). Yet, it is not our purpose here to set up any critical opposition between the ocular and the sonic; rather, we would like to explore the latter as an alternative, and, in many ways, a complementary mode and analogy of reading. In other words, attention to the physical qualities of sound, its mechanics of transmission, sound-inspired metaphors, and the processes of listening and hearing, can help us rethink and revitalize what we mean by reading and reading literature comparatively.

Three of the nine contributions in this special issue deal explicitly with physical sound in literature-that is, literary representations of sound-and the sound of literature-for instance, audiobooks. Sara Tanderup Linkis’s opening essay on born-audio narratives, texts written to be heard and conceived specifically for an auditory literary experience, tackles precisely the question of how we can qualify “listening to literature” as “reading.” Drawing on Jean-Luc Nancy’s À l’écoute (2002; translated in 2007 as Listening) and Lutz Koepnick’s formulation of “resonant reading,” Linkis advances the concept of “resonant listening,” which describes the quasi-synesthetic literary experience of carrying out “reading” in the real world of mobility, situatedness, and relatedness. In a similar vein, Karin Nykvist’s article on contemporary Scandinavian multilingual sound poetry highlights the metalanguage experience through vocal performances. In her case study of the Icelandic poet Eiríkur Örn Nor∂dahl, she not only inquires into the ontological properties of poetic language, but also exposes the ideological and...


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pp. 399-406
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