Comparative literature scholars from across the country gathered at Binghamton University to share their insight and research on world literature.
The inaugural colloquium, which took place on Friday and Saturday, was hosted by the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations and the department of comparative literature at BU. Focused on addressing “World Literature: Premises and Problems,” the event facilitated discussions on works from diverse perspectives, and each speaker had a different one based on their background and current discipline.
The speakers were comparative literature scholars coming from institutions such as Harvard University, Duke University and the University of Michigan. In addition to those visiting, three BU professors and several graduate students attended the event.
Throughout the course of the two days, the speakers gave individual presentations on their studies in the field. A Q&A session followed each presentation and graduate students and other professors asked questions about the speakers’ work. At the end of the colloquium on Saturday, there was a round-table discussion in which the subject of how to better present comparative literature in the classroom was discussed.
The topics of the panels reflected the interests of the respective speakers, ranging from new world literature, translation and world literature and world film. David Damrosch, chair of the department of comparative literature at Harvard University, discussed his topic, “The Politics of World Literature.” He discussed how writers in Europe’s colonies have struggled with using European languages in their creative work, which he argued had far-reaching, global effects.
Brett Levinson, a professor of comparative literature at BU, said that Damrosch is a pioneer in his field and the work he does is important to the discipline of comparative literature.
“[He] has created a whole institution around global literature,” Levinson said. “There is a practical element of becoming part of that institution because comparative literature is about global literature in general, and through the event today, we try to understand what global literature means and try to understand whether or not we can fit it in by contributing something special to global literature.”
During the roundtable discussion, some graduate students asked questions regarding how to present world literature in the classroom. The questions were aimed at helping the graduate students get an understanding of teaching methods within the discipline, such as what to and what not to put on a class syllabus.
“The graduate roundtable is a way to talk about pedagogy specifically on how to teach world literature,” said Rebecca Forney, a second-year graduate student studying comparative literature. “The conference as a whole tries to identify what world literature is, how we approach it and it questions how much we have to contextualize it with comparative translation. Finishing off with the roundtable elucidates how we translate those translations to our students.”
Diviani Chaudhuri, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying comparative literature, explained that getting insight from professionals and renowned scholars in the field of world literature is an invaluable experience.
“It’s useful to have big names come to the University and speak about their different iterations of what world literature means to them,” Chaudhuri said. “To be able to extract their views and perhaps to be able to use it in our own classes is not only advantageous, but also lucky given their status in their field of study.”