Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY – City University of New York
The discipline of comparative literature has been defined in a myriad of ways. What, in your view, is Comp Lit?
Comparative Literature is at its core an interdisciplinary field that studies the interactions among literary works arising from different geographical, historical, and linguistic contexts. Through our knowledge of literary history and our application of critical theory, our goal is to understand the relationships that exist among the literatures arising from diverse cultures. We examine how different literatures have influenced one another, we seek to better understand one society’s literature through the lens of another, and we endeavor to determine the commonalities inherent to all literary works, regardless of socio-political context.
What would you like to achieve in your work?
We hope to foster cross-cultural dialogue as we examine literatures arising from multiple civilizations, deriving better understanding of these societies through the examination of their artistic output. We also work to promote the Comparative Literature department’s collaboration with other disciplines originating in both the Humanities and Social Sciences in order to better comprehend literature’s intersections with ethical, historical, philosophical, and political frameworks.
Of the projects that see you involved, which are the ones you care about most?
The Comparative Literature department is very proud of its recent creation of a certificate program in Critical Theory. Critical Theory provides a framework with which one is able to read any text, whether a work of literature, an ethical code, or a sociopolitical construct. It therefore serves as a universal language to promote cross-disciplinary dialogue. The certificate is comprised of courses offered by multiple departments and is available to all doctoral candidates at the Graduate Center, so it has provided students and faculty from different programs across the Humanities and Social Sciences with an opportunity for collaboration. As part of this initiative, we created the “Critical Theory Today Lecture Series,” which has brought influential theorists such as Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek to the Graduate Center.
We also hold two conferences each year, which bring scholars from all over the world to the Graduate Center to exchange their ideas. We are in the process of creating a concentration in Translation Studies, which will help us continue in our efforts to improve our understanding of language, literature, and cultural exchange.
In what way CompLit@CUNY does it contribute to the understanding and promotion of intercultural communication?
Comparative Literature cannot exist without intercultural communication, as it is built upon the interactions of different languages, geographies, and time periods. In addition to the courses our department offers, as well as the aforementioned Critical Theory certificate, Translation concentration, and conferences, the Comparative Literature program’s diverse student body prompts intercultural communication. Our students hail from over 25 different countries and speak as many languages, so the everyday interactions they have with their colleagues, both in and out of the classroom, provide them with a window into a separate and distinct culture.
Do you think that the perception that common people have of Africa is correct or do they need to be made more aware of it?
Africa is a continent with a rich literary heritage. Its many encounters with other cultures (including those of North America and Europe) have contributed to a diverse and vibrant tradition that have preserved African literature and thought while still incorporating elements of the cultures and languages that have influenced its history. Its literature reflects its unique historical tapestry and allows us to better understand Africa’s culture and philosophy.
What do you think of our mission to share the cultural vibrancy of African countries with people in Europe, America and elsewhere in the world?
We are very happy to see an initiative that seeks to stimulate the exchange of ideas and to promote a better understanding of a culture through its artistic and literary creations.