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Unit information: Comparative Literature: What is it and how can we practise it? in 2020/21

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Unit name Comparative Literature: What is it and how can we practise it?
Unit code MODL10016
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Vilain
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit is a comprehensive introduction to the discipline and methods of comparative literature. It introduces some of the key concepts and practical issues via literary works of major significance from the classical age to the present day, using one or more such works (in a variety of genres) as practical examples in each teaching session. In its modern understanding comparative literature is a wide-ranging discipline that explores the ways in which literature (both canonical and popular) interacts with its contexts, literary, historical, philosophical, intermedial and others.

All works and background material will be available in English so a knowledge of a classical or modern foreign language is not necessary for this unit. However, students with foreign language skills will be encouraged to read in the original languages where appropriate and be given opportunities to deploy these skills in their assessed work.

The precise topics chosen for lectures and seminars will vary year on year depending on staff availability, but it is envisaged that the course will always cover national literatures vs. comparative / world literature; transcultural perspectives (postcolonial, global Anglophone, hemispheric studies); gender and literature (comparative literature and women’s writing / queer studies, etc.); influence; intertextuality; translation and transmediality (film / illustration / music / adaptation).

Unit aims:

  • To develop students’ understanding of a body of knowledge that is complex, sophisticated and of lasting significance in world culture
  • To facilitate students' engagement with a body of literary texts and their intellectual, historical, and cultural contexts as a basis for their own analysis and development
  • To develop skills of synthesis, analysis, and independent study
  • To develop an understanding of how literary study is of its nature almost always comparative and interdisciplinary.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate critical knowledge and understanding of a significant body of world literature
  2. show an appreciation of the concept and techniques of comparative literature
  3. deploy effectively skills in the selection and synthesis of relevant source and secondary material appropriate for level 4
  4. apply skills of independent research and analysis appropriate for level 4
  5. respond to questions or problems by presenting independent arguments in an appropriate written style and at a level of complexity appropriate for level 4.

Teaching Information

  • Interactive lecture: 2 hours weekly
  • Seminars: 2 hours weekly, in groups of 15-18, including presentations, class discussions and small group work
  • Single-honour students will have an additional fortnightly one-hour tutorial on material related to the unit, but not assessed

Assessment Information

There will be two forms of assessment:

  • 1 x mid-term written exercise of a comparative nature, 1000 words (= 30%) – testing ILOS 1-3.
  • 1 x end-of-term essay on a comparative topic, 2000 words (= 70%) – testing ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Each lecture and seminar topic will have its own dedicated reading list, but general works of importance include:

  • Apter, Emily, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006)
  • Bassnett, Susan, Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993)
  • Booker, Christopher, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (London: Continuum, 2005)
  • Figueira, Dorothy M, ‘Comparative Literature versus World Literature’, The Comparatist, 34 (2010), 29-36
  • Hutchinson, Ben, Comparative Literature. A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2018)
  • Prawer, Siegbert Salomon, Comparative Literary Studies: An Introduction (London: Duckworth, 1973)
  • Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven, Comparative Literature and Comparative Cultural Studies (West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2003).