Cross-cultural Comparison and Questions of Temporality: France and East-Asia
Although comparative literature is already a recognised discipline with significant contributions to the scope and methodology of literary studies, there is neither one method of doing comparative literature nor one understanding of the nature of comparison. In this talk, I will discuss some theoretical questions about the 'comparative' aspect in comparative literary studies by focusing on the specific problem of cross-cultural comparison. One main issue that is highlighted by the cross-cultural comparison of different literary works is, I argue, the understanding of temporality and the comparative historicisation of literary works. For instance, the meaning of terms such as 'classical', 'modern', or 'avant-garde' that provide historical and stylistic indicators for European literatures become much more fluid and questionable when applied to non-European literatures. To address this issue, my discussion firstly examines how our understanding of temporality and literary history shapes our choice of literary works for comparison. Secondly, I draw on three examples of comparisons between French and East Asian literatures, i.e. literary traditions and cultures that have radically different views and experiences of historical time, as well as less shared history and mutual influence (e.g. the relative absence of French colonial power in East Asia): a) the example of 'modernity' for French and Chinese literatures; b) the case of postwar Japanese surrealism, heavily influenced by the French interwar avant-garde; c) a comparison between the playful literary techniques of early medieval Chinese poetry and Oulipo writers. Through these examples, I reflect on how cross-cultural comparison transforms our understanding of literary texts as well as their historical time and context, and argue that cross-cultural perspectives should have a more central place in comparative literature.
Xiaofan Amy Li
University of Kent, UK
Amy is Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent in the UK. Her research spans comparisons between France and China/East-Asia in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, French avant-garde and neo-avant-garde movements, the French reception of Chinese literature and culture, Chinese literature and poetics. After studying French and Art History at Edinburgh University and Ecole du Louvre, my interests turned to comparative literature and she completed her MPhil and PhD at Queens' College, Cambridge University. She then did post-doctoral research at St Anne's College, Oxford, as Junior research fellow in Comparative Literature & Translation, during which time she published her first book: Comparative Encounters between Artaud, Michaux and the Zhuangzi (Oxford: Legenda, 2015). Currently she is working on her second monograph, provisionally entitled 'The Aesthetics of Play: Imagination and experimentation in French literature and culture since 1918'. Amy has a keen interest in comparative methodology, word and image studies, ethnographic fiction, multilingual writers, and translation in East-Asia.