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World Modernisms, World Literature, and Comparativity

Abstract and Keywords

What should modernist studies do to adapt to the growing globalization of the field? This article reviews the new paradigms for studying world literature and the debates about comparativity that are most relevant to modernist studies, suggesting some different comparative strategies for reading modernism on a planetary scale. To attain a fully planetary reach, however, modernist studies must break out of the Eurocentric center/periphery and diffusionist models of reading that have dominated the field. To foster both deep contextualization and global breadth, a comparative modernist studies on a planetary scale requires a collaborative effort on the part of many scholars working in different ways.

Keywords: global modernism, globalization, Eurocentric models, comparative modernist studies

The spatial turn across the disciplines—predicted in Michel Foucault’s prescient observations in “Of Other Spaces” and urgently called for in Edward Soja’s Postmodern Geographies—is rapidly reconfiguring modernist studies. Given that modernity has been predominantly a temporal concept, emphasizing a rupture separating the present and future from the past, the question of how to spatialize modernism faces particular challenges. The special issue of PMLA on Globalizing Literary Studies in 2001 issued a call for literary studies to move beyond the national model that has dominated the institutional structure of the discipline by creating modes of analysis suited to the interconnections of the planet, both in regard to past eras and with respect to the present intensified phase of globalization. To this end, national models of literary study have to a lesser or greater degree undergone a sea change in the direction of transnationalism. Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone studies have gained new prominence, while interdisciplinary fields like postcolonial studies and diaspora studies have examined the cultural legacies of transcontinental encounters centered in slavery, conquest, colonialism, and the emergence of non-Western nation-states.

How has, or, for that matter, how should, modernist studies participate in this shift in literary studies toward the planetary? Cosmopolitan internationalism is nothing new to modernist studies, which as a field cut its teeth on assertions of exile, expatriatism, and displacement as preconditions of modernist subjectivity and aesthetics in the metropolitan culture capitals of the West. This internationalist (p. 500) framework functioned as site of critique for the parochialisms of the local and monolingual/monocultural. But it was profoundly caught up in the logic of Western colonialism in locating the sites of modernist cultural production exclusively in Western metropoles and in regarding non-Western cultures primarily as the raw material to be transformed into modernism’s avant-garde rupture of Western bourgeois conventions and art. Standard histories of modernism in literature and the arts have assumed the primacy of Western creative agencies, not only marginalizing the gendered and racial “others” within their midst but also erasing almost entirely modernist cultural production outside the West, especially among the colonized “others” of European and American imperialism (e.g., Bradbury and McFarlane; Kenner; Marshall Berman; Perloff; Nicholls; Lewis).

The tide is beginning to turn, however, as this volume demonstrates. Scholars have begun to reconfigure modernism’s parochial internationalism in the light of a newly globalized and interdisciplinary study of culture that often blends cultural theory gleaned from anthropology, geography, postcolonial studies, diaspora studies, and media studies with studies in modernist literatures and the arts.1 A new map of modernism is emerging, one in which Europe and the United States remain important, but not exclusive, sites of cultural production. Spatializing modernism requires a newly configured history as well, a history made up of many genealogies that crisscross the globe. Within this planetary frame, the spaces and times of modernism move colonialism, postcolonialism, and transnationalism to the center of modernist studies. This move in turn makes modernist studies a branch of what is often referred to as the “new world literature,” a field that implies substantial engagement with comparative studies of culture and the multilingual landscape of literatures worldwide.2

What, then, should modernist studies do to adapt to the growing globalization of the field? Although many of the field’s ongoing methodologies will continue to be useful, we need to reflect upon and engage with debates within the new world literature, not only by experimenting with various modes of comparison but also by examining the nature and politics of comparison itself. To these ends, I propose to review the new paradigms for studying world literature and the debates about comparativity that are most relevant to modernist studies and then to suggest some different comparative strategies for reading modernism on a planetary scale.

The New World Literature

The efforts to spatialize modernist studies parallel developments in the newly revitalized and reconfigured field of world literature. Globalization has impacted the study of world literatures by foregrounding issues of cosmopolitan and diasporic (p. 501) literatures, national and comparative models for literary studies, colonialism and postcolonialism, and theories of contact zones, borders, interculturalism, hybridity, cultural traffic, and transculturation. These new approaches to world literature often intersect with reflections on the discipline of comparative literature—its (possible) origins in Goethe’s concept of a cosmopolitan Weltliteratur, the early formulations of the field in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, its institutionalization in the United States in the aftermath of World War II, and the successive reinventions that can be found reflected in the “reports” issued by the discipline about every ten years since 1965.3 But these debates expand well beyond comparative literature into translation studies, anthropology (another discipline founded upon comparison), postcolonial studies, and comparative cultural studies more generally.

Like the globalizing of modernist studies, these new approaches to world and comparative literature often begin in a critique of the Eurocentrism of Weltliteratur in its theory and practice. The problem with “world literature” is that it has not been sufficiently global, but has instead replicated the imperial power of the West for the past three hundred or so years by asserting Western culture as the measure of all cultures, Western literature as the universal world literature, Western culture capitals as the origin points of innovation, and Western consciousness as the defining essence of modernity. As Fernando Cabo Aseguinolaza suggests, world literature has been European literature (419), to which I would add that literature of the United States has typically been folded into the category of “European” as a supplementary site.

As in modernist studies, the new world literature’s efforts to move beyond the privileging of Western literature often work within two main interpretative frameworks. Broadly defined, the first is a center/periphery model based in world-system theory (e.g., Wallerstein), and the second is a circulation model based in current cultural theories of traveling cultures (e.g., Clifford; Tsing), transnational cultural traffic (e.g., Appadurai), and cultural hybridity (e.g., Rosaldo; Bhabha). These paradigms at times overlaps, but they remain nonetheless distinctive, with different implications for discussions of power in the cultural sphere.4

The center/periphery paradigm operates fundamentally within a binary system of power relations, one that frequently draws explicitly or implicitly on the world-system theory of Immanuel Wallerstein.5 Wallerstein’s influential neo-Marxist work (first appearing in the 1970s) posits the rise of the West since 1500 as the result of its development and dominance of a capitalist world-system he divides into center, periphery, and semi-periphery (World-Systems Analysis). He further argues that Western dominance from the imperial center has functioned as a kind of “virus” spreading its power and modernity to every part of the globe (“Eurocentrism”). In literary terms, this world-systems approach began to influence the fields of comparative literature, world literature, and postcolonial studies in the 1980s and 1990s. Abdul JanMohammed and David Lloyd’s Nature and Context of Minority Discourse (1990), for example, implicitly adapts Deleuze and Guittari’s category of “minor literature” in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature as a framework (p. 502) for the study of literatures that resist Western hegemonies. Although often deployed in critique of the canon, the category “minor literature” reifies its opposite—“major literature”—leaving intact the center/periphery framework it opposes, a problem evident in the title of Shuh-mei Shih and Françoise Lionnet’s Minor Transnationalism (2005), a collection whose essays frequently move beyond the binary that the book’s name reinstates.

The world-system, along with its emphasis on the sharp inequities of power, is at the heart of two highly influential practitioners of the new world/comparative literature: Pascale Casanova and Franco Moretti.6 They regard the literary world-system as independent of the economic and geopolitical world-system, whose rhetorics of nationalism, capitalism, and (less directly) Social Darwinism they borrow to describe the inequalities that make some literatures central and the others peripheral. Both articulate the patterns and forces underlying literary history decontextualized from any other historical conditions.7

In The World Republic of Letters (published in French in 1999; in English, 2004), Casanova argues that the worldwide literary sphere is highly, even violently, competitive and governed by “laws” based on “rivalry, struggle, and inequality” (4). World literatures are either dominant and powerful or “deprived,” “destitute,” “poor,” or “small” in a ruthless sea of competition for attention and visibility (175–81). Writers from the periphery compete in two ways—either by assimilation to the more powerful literary forms or by differentiation against it (179). In both cases, the dominant core remains the reference point for comparison. For her, “the Greenwich meridian of literature” is Paris, with French literature occupying the place of center for four centuries (until the 1960s), with all other literatures struggling to compete in a market defined and controlled in Paris. Although her sympathies clearly lie with the “peripheral writers,” Casanova’s model itself is profoundly “Gallocentric,” to use her own term (46).8

Moretti’s use of economic and geopolitical metaphors to describe the planetary system of world literature is more muted, but he also envisions an interlocking literary system made up of the strong and the weak (“Conjectures on World Literature”; Graphs). It is “one world literary system (of interrelated literatures); but a system which is different from what Goethe and Marx had hoped for, because it’s profoundly unequal” (“Conjectures” 56). Through his method of “distant reading,” dependent upon translation and the local knowledge of specialists, he claims to have discovered an abstract “law of literary evolution” governing the novel: “in cultures that belong to the periphery of the literary system (which means: almost all cultures, inside and outside Europe), the modern novel first arises not as an autonomous development but as a compromise between a Western form of influence (usually French and English) and local materials” (“Conjectures” 58). The West, for Moretti, is the site of discursive creation, while the non-West is “local materials,” a center/periphery binary that ignores the often long histories of aesthetic production among the colonized.

The danger for modernist studies of the center/periphery model of world literature should be self-evident: at its heart lies the reassertion of the “old” (p. 503) internationalism. To render visible the creative agencies, long histories (including aesthetic ones), and modernist ruptures of artists and writers outside Western frameworks, we must find alternative ways of talking about the world systems of modern aesthetic expressivity. Broadly speaking, the circulation model for world literatures is much more promising for modernist studies. Homi Bhabha calls for a “new internationalism” in The Location of Culture that would accomplish “the worlding” of literature (12). The promise of moving outside the national paradigm for literary study is that “perhaps we can now suggest that transnational histories of migrants, the colonized, or political refugees—these border and frontier conditions—may be the terrain of world literature” (12). While Bhabha would collapse world literature into the migratory subjectivity of modernity itself, others, such as David Damrosch and Emily Apter, focus more on the circulation of texts than on the nomadic movements of writers in formulating their perspectives on the new world literature. What interests them is what happens when texts move beyond their place of original production, undergoing at the very least a process of cultural translation and very often a linguistic translation as well. Damrosch, for instance, does not regard translation as a site of failure or contamination but rather as a stimulant for creativity, the making of something new. In worrying about literary tourism, he argues in What Is World Literature? that world literature has its own specificity in its particular space and time, but he suggests that a work that circulates beyond that original location—for him the defining feature of world literature—gains as well as loses something: “A literary work manifests differently abroad than it does at home” (6). “Works of literature take on a new life,” he continues, “as they move into the world at large, and to understand this new life we need to look closely at the ways the work becomes reframed in its translations and in its new cultural contexts” (24).9

Yet Damrosch’s emphasis on textual circulation after the original aesthetic production ignores the role of transnational cultural traffic in the originary sites of creativity. In other words, he assumes a certain cultural/national insularity for texts in their “home” culture that erases the cultural translations shaping their creation. Circulation impacts art before and during the creative process as well as after.10 Drawing directly on anthropological notions of “traveling culture” (Clifford) and “modernity at large” (Appadurai), Jahan Ramazani develops a “transnational poetics” that implicitly corrects Damrosch by arguing that aesthetic production in any given location shows the effects of interculturation. In his transnational paradigm, “creolization, hybridization, and interculturation become almost as basic to our understanding of modernism as they are of the postcolonial”: “Central modernist strategies—transnational collage, polyglossia, syncretic allusiveness—are ‘practices of displacement’ that instance this cross-cultural generation of meanings” (“Transnational Poetics” 336, 339). There are no centers and peripheries in Ramazani’s transnational poetics, and his view of modernism—and of the world literature for which modernism serves as defining example—consequently breaks open the Eurocentric frameworks that have dominated the field of modernist studies.

(p. 504) Comparativity in Global Studies

To be global in reach, modernist studies will have to become more comparative. To avoid falling back into the Eurocentric center/periphery models that have dominated both modernist and world literature studies, we need to reflect upon the issue of comparison itself: its nature, epistemology, methodologies, and politics.11 “There can be no serious multicultural experience or multicultural perception of value without a responsible theory of comparison,” writes R. Radhakrishnan in Theory in an Uneven World (75). This leads to many questions worthy of exploration. What does it mean to compare? How are comparisons made? Do comparisons assume commensurability or incommensurability, emphasize similitude or alterity, imitation or difference? Does comparison assimilate the other into a presumed universal? Alternatively, can comparison engage in dialogic thinking, focusing on encounter, engagement, interaction? How are temporality and spatiality implicated in acts of comparison?

To address these questions, I begin with the assumption that comparison is a vital mode of cognition. Indeed, the ABCs of analytic thought might well start with comparison—the capacity to see difference in the midst of sameness and sameness amidst difference. One can’t compare apples and oranges, the adage goes. But in fact one can: apples and oranges share the properties of fruits, but are distinct from each other in the more specific properties of each fruit. Comparativity depends upon identity, and identity depends upon a dialectic of sameness and difference. In terms of human collectivities, for example, the identity of a group—let’s say, the Dalits of India—depends upon members of that group being seen as the same as other members of the group and also different from those who are not members of the group. The sameness of a group identity is at times forced upon individuals by ideological and institutional power; and at times the sameness of a group and its distinctness from all others is claimed out of pride, a sense of tradition, the need for protection, or the advantages that membership in a group can bring. The embrace of sameness always involves an erasure of difference, and vice versa: an emphasis on difference always involves the suppression of sameness, in questions of identity as in comparativity.

The listing of similarities and differences that often characterizes the pedagogical exercises of comparative thinking nonetheless runs the risk of obscuring the dialogic pull back and forth between commensurability and incommensurability that lies at the heart of all comparison.12 In yoking things together which are simultaneously alike and unalike, comparison sets in motion a dynamic and irresolvable paradox. On one hand, comparison compels recognition of commensurability—likeness; but on the other hand comparison acknowledges incommensurability—difference. Oranges cannot be reduced to apples no matter how much we consider their fruitiness. Conversely, the fruitness of both apples and oranges refuses knowledge at the level of absolute particularity (incommensurability) and insists upon a (p. 505) meta-level of cognitive abstraction wherein similarity (commensurability) resides. Aligned with particularity, local knowledge assumes the incommensurability of apples and oranges. Aligned with abstraction, comparative knowledge identifies what is commensurate in apples and oranges. But comparativity contains within it a contradictory pull between the local and the abstract, between identification of parallels and insistence on contrasts. Comparativity puts in dynamic play in/commensurability.

This contradictory interplay in comparative practice is seldom far from questions of power.13 Does comparison inherently establish a standard of measure to which others are compared and often found lacking? Does it inherently reflect asymmetries of power and contribute to inequalities in symbolic and material domains? How is comparison deployed politically? To serve whose ends and what purposes? Is the formation of the nation-state dependent on comparative thinking? What is the role of comparative thinking in the rationales for empire and other systems of stratification, as well as resistance to them? Conversely, what are the political stakes of rejecting comparison as inherently a violation of the other in service of the normative? Is comparison essential for breaking the mold of the universal, the monocultural and monolingual?

The cognitive practices of comparativity in many disciplines have shifted in recent decades to emphasize the incommensurability of things being compared. In comparative literature, for example, the Levin, Greene, Bernheimer, and Saussy decade reports on the state of the discipline reflect a gradual shift from an early emphasis on sameness toward a stress on difference—all in the name of politics. The identification of similarities among different literatures in the early years (heightened by refugees from World War II and the Holocaust) has yielded to significant delineations of differences in the post-1960s era—distinctions between women’s writing and men’s, for example; between African American writing and Euro-American; Irish and English; Turkish and German; Telegu and Hindu and Bengali; Latin American and Spanish; queer and straight; and so forth. This growing resistance to an emphasis on similarity reflects the view that similarity is linked to the forcible assimilation of the marginalized and the “minor” into the dominant mainstream, which in comparative literature has been a largely white European male canon.14

Indeed, the identification of any similarity—a necessity for comparison—has been associated with the violence done to the particularity of the other. According to this view, comparison is typically authoritarian, a tool of the dominant to deny the distinctiveness of the other. In boundary 2’s 2005 special issue on comparability, for example, Peter Osborne and Harry Harootunian examine the relationship of comparison in the “human sciences” to the rise of European colonialism and area studies in the Cold War era. Osborne sees Kant’s notions of comparability in Critique of Pure Reason as the basis for later modes of comparative thought that arose out of colonial encounters: the assumption of “incomparability” or “lack of identity” between Europeans and others; or, the way in which anthropology developed as “necessarily translational or transcultural in character,” turning as it did the (p. 506) incomparable into the intelligible through implicit acts of comparison. Harootunian links comparison with area studies, postcolonial studies, the theorizing of alternative modernities, and the recent turn in cultural studies to spatial analysis. He sees in these approaches a fetishization of space/place that compels comparison between center and periphery, the West and the Rest, that reinstates the unity and hegemony of the West. Places outside the West are always already haunted by an implicit comparison between themselves and the West. Comparativity is thus understood as part of a discursive regime that arose in relationship to the rise of the West and its imposition of its modernity on the Rest.

Where for Osborne and Harootunian, comparison is inherently violent and hierarchical, others stress the double politics of comparison. As Natalie Melas puts it in All the Difference in the World, both “imperial comparatism” and “emancipated comparatism” are constitutive parts of colonial and anticolonial thought, reflecting the different grounds of comparison (42). Aamar Mufti counters Eurocentric comparison with “global comparison,” where the first assumes Europe as the “only axis of comparison,” while the latter “encode(s) a comparativism yet to come, [one] that is a determinate and concrete response to the hierarchical systems that have dominated cultural life since the colonial era” (477). Shu-mei Shih argues that “comparison is constitutive of the process of racialization,” but a “second form of comparison” can be used to highlight the “submerged or displaced relationalities” that govern racialized thought (1350). Implicit in these dystopian/utopian views on the politics of comparison is the assertion that comparison can potentially serve both systems of dominance and critique.

Comparison, then, occupies an epistemological borderland that can either reify or challenge the normative, where reification emphasizes sameness or commensurability and challenge stresses difference or incommensurability. R. Radhakrishnan structures his strategy of comparative defamiliarization around this tension. “In a world structured in dominance,” he argues, “comparisons are initiated in the name of the values, standards, and criteria that are dominant. Once the comparison is articulated and validated, the values that underwrote the comparison receive instant axiomatization as universal values” (74). In defending comparison’s progressive potential, Radhakrishnan theorizes a new comparative strategy of “reciprocal defamiliarization” (82). In this model, the bringing together of two disparate entities defamiliarizes both so that each is understood not only in relation to the other but also differently within its own previously “natural” system. It is the bringing together—the comparison without a single reference point—that makes visible aspects of each that have been assumed to be normative but are in fact culturally constructed as radically distinct. Like the others who recuperate comparison for critique, Radhakrishnan assumes an encounter based on incommensurability. It is the very difference between the “sense of time” in a Hindustani raga and a European cantata, he explains, that allows their conjunction in the moment of comparison to bring into focus just what that distinctive sense of time is in each case.

(p. 507) Comparative Strategies in Modernist Studies

In theorizing comparison for a modernist studies planetary in scope, I want to swing the pendulum between sameness and difference back to a dynamic, interstitial space between, a space in which comparison is centrally defined by the dialogic push/pull between commensurability and incommensurability: sameness and difference need to be maintained in tension. In this way, we can hope to accomplish the negotiation Ramazani theorizes with his term “translocation.” The comparatism of modernist studies needs to be anchored in richly contextualized local modernisms around the globe, in their incommensurabilities. Such an approach differs, he writes, from “‘postnational’ or ‘postethnic’ history, in which writers are viewed … as floating free in an ambient universe of denationalized, deracialized forms and discourses” (“Transnational Poetics” 350). But at the same time, this comparatism needs to be attuned to the hybridizations and transnational identities that form through interculturation and circulation—in other words, sites of commensurability. The geohistorical in/commensurabilities—both spatial and temporal—must be held in play. Even as the abstraction of comparative thinking is performed, the ongoing recognition of difference must be maintained. Comparison can focus, then, not on a static list of similarities and differences, but rather on the dynamic pull between commensurability and incommensurability.

Comparison on a planetary scale in modernist studies needs to be more than the sum of all particular modernisms on the globe. It also needs a more sophisticated discourse of comparison, one that focuses on the dialogic tension between similarities and differences, one that takes into account the politics of comparison without being paralyzed by them. How then can we practice comparative work on a planetary landscape in modernist studies in ways that avoid normative and departicularizing measures for comparison? Modernism is by definition thoroughly implicated in the projects of modernity and as such modernism’s geohistory is interwoven with global power relations, both colonial and postcolonial. How then can we avoid the colonial logics plaguing the history of comparatism? How, in particular, can we foreground the creative innovation and cultural production of the less powerful in global terms and at the same time locate the hegemonic effects of imperial powers as different cultural capitals are compared?

I suggest here four potential comparative strategies for reading modernism on a planetary landscape: Re-Vision, Recovery, Circulation, and Collage.15 They are not mutually exclusive; in critical practice they are often interwoven. None is sufficient for the field in and of itself, but each produces a particular form of comparative insight. The first two—Re-Vision and Recovery—represent forms of implicit comparison, reflecting ways in which the dominant center-peripheries of modernist studies have been constituted in the past. The latter two—Circulation and Collage—represent more explicit forms of comparison, ones that self-consciously challenge concepts of the dominant core and its margins by emphasizing multiple centers and (p. 508) conjunctures across the globe. Taken together, as supplements to each other, these four strategies begin to constitute ways in which global modernisms can be read as instances of world literature.


I borrow this term from Adrienne Rich’s seminal 1971 essay, “Writing as Re-Vision,” which sparked a generation of feminist critics and theorists to follow the double meaning instituted by the hyphen: by looking again, we see things anew. “Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction,” Rich writes (35). “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves” (35). These words are very familiar to feminists, but they seldom appear in the context of modernist studies, let alone discourses of comparatism. Re-vision is inherently comparative because it implies seeing from a different vantage point, that is, different from how one has seen before. One sees (or reads), and then one revises how one sees by seeing again on the slant. The difference between these two ways of seeing is the paradoxical point of comparison—the dialogic interplay of commensurability and incommensurability.

By adapting re-vision for modernist studies, I suggest a similar “before and after” comparison between the older dominant narratives of the field and the newer narratives of modernism that have emerged with the new global discourses of literary studies. A globalizing re-vision in modernist studies involves revisiting the familiar cultural capitals, canons, and texts of European, British, Irish, and U.S. modernisms with fresh eyes by taking into account new questions that emerge out of epistemological travels elsewhere. This re-visionism is fundamentally hermeneutical, providing newly globalized interpretive lenses that defamiliarize the familiar.

The most striking shift this kind of re-vision accomplishes is a reinterpretation of colonialism as constitutive of rather than peripheral to modernism. This move was in some sense foreshadowed by Edward Said’s re-vision of Jane Austen in “Jane Austen and Empire,” which takes an author typically read as a quintessential English novelist of the domestic scene and demonstrates how the footsteps of empire are everywhere present through Mansfield Park, a novel about English people whose whole way of life depended upon the absent presence of slavery and sugar in the West Indies. As Simon Gikandi shows in Maps of Englishness, whose penultimate chapter focuses on English modernism, the imperial center is constructed through and is inseparable from its relation with the colonies. The influence of postcolonial studies on modernist studies began by the early 1990s to produce paradigm-shifting studies of familiar modernists, defamiliarizing them by seeing them through the lens of colonialism. Joyce, the quintessential modernist cosmopolitan, became Joyce the colonial subject, wrestling with his ambivalence toward the colonizer’s language and the canons of English literature in new readings of Portrait and Ulysses; re-visionist readings of Woolf through the lens of postcolonial studies led to analyses of her searing critique of the British Empire and/or her complicity in it (e.g., Cheng; (p. 509) Phillips; Dettmar; Friedman, Mappings, 107–31). This concern with the colonial affiliations and imperial privilege of canonical modernist writers has spread rapidly to other writers (see Moses and Begam).

The benefits of this re-visionist approach to modernist studies goes well beyond new globalist readings of familiar British, Irish, European, and U.S. modernist writers, however. It begins an important deformation of the modernist canon by bringing new attention to some Western writers who have typically been on the margins of mainstream modernist studies because of ways in which their work illuminates the logics of colonialism. Mainstream modernist studies have tended to privilege “high modernist,” avant-garde texts that embody the crisis in representation associated with modernism, but the re-visionist approach’s concern with colonialism’s impact on modernism has brought renewed attention to writers such as Conrad, Forster, and Orwell in modernist studies. Finally, geographical re-vision of the familiar defamiliarizes definitional frameworks in modernist studies. As I indicated above, the old “internationalism” yields to the new “transnationalism” in modernist studies. The culture capitals delineated in Bradbury and McFarlane’s Modernism (1977), for example, take on new coloration in the light of the colonials who broadcast for the BBC from London’s imperial center, sometimes in conjunction with T. S. Eliot (see, e.g., Covi; Pollard), or who congregated in Paris from many parts of the globe, as Casanova points out. In short, modernism in its Western formations can be reconfigured and seen anew.

The limitation of geographical re-visionism is that we remain caught in the hermeneutic circle in which the cultural production of modernism remains Western. The modern subject and the agency of the writer are still Western—no matter how split, shattered, or newly claimed; no matter how constituted in relation to the rest. By itself, geographical re-visionism does not challenge in any substantial way the center/periphery world-system in the cultural sphere. Modernist agencies outside the West remain in the shadows, if acknowledged at all. It is all too easy, of course, to maintain that one can’t know everything, that the languages required to read many of the “other” modernisms in their own languages represent too daunting a task. I respond by proposing that modernist studies as a whole needs to foster a multiplicity of approaches and that scholars within the field need to remain open to learning from those whose spatializing strategies are different.


The best corrective to the limitations found in geographical re-visionism is to expand the archive of modernism by anchoring ourselves in the sites of cultural production wherever some form of modernity has ruptured the social fabric and its cultural practices with highly accelerated and intensified change across a wide spectrum of societal indicators. As I have hypothesized elsewhere, expanding the archive of modernism requires a significant re-vision of its conventional geography and periodization (“Definitional Excursions”; “Periodizing Modernism”). I view modernism as the expressive dimension of modernity, that is, modernity’s forms in (p. 510) representational media—from the arts and literature to philosophy, popular culture, and mass culture. To the extent that any historical modernity—including but not exclusively Western modernity—generates expressive cultural forms, modernism takes shape in and often functions as the avant-garde of that modernity—creating, articulating, and interpreting the changes that seemingly cut off the present from the past and make everything new. This framework for global modernism recognizes that every margin constitutes its own center of cultural production. It opens up the field to the planet, refusing the nominal definitions of modernism that conventionally produce the familiar catalogue of avant-garde movements located solely in the culture capitals of the West—Paris, London, New York, and occasionally Berlin, Rome, Moscow, Chicago—and typically dated from the late nineteenth century through World War II.16

Why the archaeological metaphor of recovery and how is it comparative? I borrow the metaphor from feminist criticism, specifically gynocriticism, a term coined by Elaine Showalter to denote the branch of feminist criticism devoted to the study of women writers. The archaeological approach to global modernism is quite similar to earlier forms of gynocriticism. It too begins with a critique of the conventional modernist canon, focusing on the invisibility of cultural production outside the culture capitals of the West in modernist studies. It too asks how power works to suppress other modernisms, both at the time of production and in their critical reception. It too operates out of a comparatist framework, assuming in some form the better-known modernisms as a benchmark to which the other modernisms are implicitly or explicitly compared. Consequently, the archaeological strategy of recovery does more than expand the archive; it also asks how the archive of modernism got established in the first place as a Eurocentric framework that has steadfastly marginalized non-Western expressive cultures caught up in the shaping vortices of different modernities.

Both the strengths and weaknesses of the archaeological strategy center on its mainly additive character. It has become common in the field of world literature to denounce an additive approach to global literatures. Critics such as Damrosch (4), Moretti (Graphs 4), Chow (294), and Prendergast (9), along with many others, suggest that simply adding up all the literatures of the world, particularly in the form of national literatures, does not produce a planetary field of literature or the proper grounds for comparison. But I want to defend the importance of adding ever more instances of modernist cultural production to the terrain of modernist studies. I agree, of course, that the sum is always more than the addition of its parts. But the field is generally so ignorant of the modernisms produced outside the canonical culture capitals of the West that the work of digging up modernisms in other parts of the globe is a critical first step toward an understanding of planetary modernism. Expanding the archive of non-Western modernisms often requires substantial archaeological work: locating long unavailable texts buried in the bowels of libraries and collections; little magazines even more ephemeral than the better known ones; anthologies or catalogues reflecting networks parallel to those in the West; personal papers of forgotten writers, editors, and curators; and so forth. It requires moving (p. 511) outside the familiar canons to sustained readings of writers, artists, manifestoes, collectives, and movements engaged with modernities “elsewhere.” As with archaeological work on women writers, the methodologies for working with the material are varied. But central to them is not only the linguistic skill and “close reading” that Spivak calls for in Death of a Discipline but also historical and cultural knowledge sufficient to the production of what Clifford Geertz calls “thick description.” This gathering and analyzing of additional primary sources is groundbreaking scholarship, the production of local knowledge that is (or should be) the precursor to revised paradigms of global modernism.

The limitations of this additive archaeology of other modernisms are the limitations of local knowledge itself. It can be too tunnel-visioned, prone to arguments for exceptionalism and uniqueness, and insufficiently comparative or theoretical. It can also leave unexamined the limiting effects of using the nation-state or a region of the world as the basis of literary studies. Potentially, the positing of alternative modernisms can leave intact the standard Western canons of modernism and thus fail to challenge the center/periphery models that have dominated the field. Perhaps most seriously, in its emphasis on the difference or distinctness of its particular local modernisms the additive strategy can suffer from the same insularity for which James Clifford criticized the anthropology of local knowledge in his seminal 1992 essay “Traveling Cultures.” Given that the local, as Clifford asserts, is never purely local but always crossed by ongoing processes of hybridization produced through intercultural exchange, additive archaeological recovery needs to be supplemented by a more explicitly comparative approach that tracks the global interconnections of modernities and their expressive modernist domains on a planetary landscape.


Circulation involves connection, linkage, networks, conjuncture, translation, transculturation: in a word, polycentricity. As a reading practice, the circulation approach to world modernisms focuses on the nature and politics of interconnection and relationality on a global landscape. It differs from the center/periphery model by stressing the interactive and dynamic; it assumes multiple agencies and centers across the globe, different nodal points of modernist cultural production and the contact zones and networks among them. It presumes as well a polycentric model of global modernities and modernisms based on circular or multidirectional rather than linear flows. Such flows involve reciprocal indigenizations of traveling cultures (i.e., the nativizing of what comes from elsewhere by claiming it as one’s own), and on transculturation rather than the cultural domination of the center over the periphery.

I borrow here deliberately from anthropology and civilizational or world history, fields which, in recent years, have largely abandoned the assumption of cultural exceptionalism in favor of transnational relationality in the study of global cultures (e.g., Sanderson; Wilkinson; Blaut; Frank; Subrahmanyam; Eisenstadt; Eisenstadt and Schluchter; Clifford; Tsing; Rosaldo). Sanjay Subrahmanyam, for (p. 512) example, writes that “modernity is a global and conjunctural phenomenon, not a virus that spreads from one place to another. It is located in a series of historical processes that brought relatively isolated societies into contact” (99–100). This web of conjunctures is what Ramazani theorizes in “Transnational Poetics”; it is akin to the “interconnected modernisms” of a newly “emplaced” modernism in Doyle and Winkiel’s Geomodernisms (430), and it informs the “discrepant cosmopolitan modernist tradition” that Charles Pollard (borrowing from Clifford) locates in the creolizing cultural traffic between the Caribbean and London in New World Modernisms. It also echoes the “vertical” analysis of global/local that Mary Louise Pratt advocates to supplement the horizontal spatialization of transnationalism (“Comparative Literature” 63–64). It informs Rita Felski’s appeal in Doing Time for modernist studies to attend to transnational cultural theory, and it is the guiding principle of Jennifer Wicke’s startling tracking of the symbolic and material circuits of commodities such as tulips and bananas. The circulation approach to global modernisms often relies on the insights of re-vision and the expanded archive of archaeological recovery, but it goes beyond them by foregrounding intercultural interactions on a global scale.

Circulation analysis of global modernisms is inherently comparative—even more explicitly so than the re-visionist and archaeological. In its attention to cultural traffic, translation, and transplantation, the circulation approach considers the collision of differences and the resultant hybridization through processes of cultural mimesis—the imitation of others’ representational forms, with a difference. The gap between practices from elsewhere and their adaptations is the contradictory space of comparison’s in/commensurability: the likeness affirmed, the equivalence denied. As cultures blend and clash in the interplay of what anthropologist Michael Taussig calls “mimesis and alterity,” the constitutive parts of comparison come into play, the commensurate with the incommensurate, the imitative with the insistence on distinction, identity with difference. The translation of cultural practices from one culture to another triggers comparative thinking, an individual or collective reflexivity about identities of self and other. This is the kind of comparative thinking embedded in Apter’s concept of “the translation zone,” Damrosch’s notion of circulation in world literatures, and Djelal Kadir’s conception of the “imbrications, juxtapositions, contracts, exchanges, and hybridizations” endemic to the comparison of world literatures (246). It also appears in Said’s influential essays “Traveling Theory” and “Traveling Theory Revisited” when Said remarks on the transplantation of ideas from one locale to another, accompanied by adaptation (even radicalization) in its new environs. And it informs Bhabha’s concept of colonial mimicry, which requires comparison as a condition of imitation with a difference (Location, esp. 85–92).

The circulation strategy has a potentially transformative effect on modernist studies because it challenges both the Eurocentrism and the center/periphery paradigms that have dominated the field’s formulation of modernism’s internationalism for decades. The model of polycentric modernisms encourages the tracing of networks among not only the conventional metropoles of modernist studies but also the other culture capitals of the world, from Calcutta and Bombay to Istanbul (p. 513) and Cairo, from Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires to Lisbon, from Havana and Kingston to Canton and Shanghai, from Kinshasa to Tehran, and so forth. A global polycentrism helps track the travels of modernisms around the globe—their circuits, back and forth movements, and indigenizations—the ways, in short, that every modernism is derivative of cultural forms it adapts from elsewhere.

Édouard Glissant’s “poetics of relation,” developed out of the crossroads culture of the Caribbean, embodies the particular strengths of a polycentric framework for global modernisms. He defines a poetics of relation as a “circular nomadism … [that] makes every periphery into a center [and] abolishes the very notion of center and periphery” (Poetics of Relation 29). What Glissant develops is the theory of transculturation posited some forty years earlier by another Caribbeanist, the Cuban sociologist Fernando Ortiz, who asserted that in colonial situations both sides are formed through and changed by their engagements with the other.17 Transculturation differs markedly from center/periphery diffusionism in its capacity to see circular and multidirectional cultural traffic. It fosters, for example, an ability to acknowledge how fundamentally the Japanese Ukiyo-e wood block prints impacted the modernism of Vincent Van Gogh and Mary Cassatt, just as the art of Africa and Oceana enabled Picasso’s cubism. These artists indigenized artistic forms from elsewhere in the formation of Western visual modernism, in turn helping to shape Asian modernisms (see Friedman, “One Hand”). Conversely, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is unthinkable without his colonial experience, an interrelationship which Tayeb Salih indigenizes in Season of Migration to the North, a novel of colonial and postcolonial encounter written in the cross-cultural ferment of Beirut, a major Arab culture capital in the 1960s (see Friedman, “Periodizing”). In short, transculturation of global modernisms testifies to how local modernisms are not isolate, but come into being through a poetics of relation on a planetary landscape.

The circulation approach to polycentric modernisms also helps dissipate what Radhakrishnan calls “the curse of derivativeness” that follows from the center/periphery model and the pernicious comparisons upon which it is based (“Derivative Discourses” 790). The power of the Eurocentric diffusionist ideology of modernity and the imperialism it rationalized has itself created a psychical reality of belatedness outside the West, one especially exacerbated by the continuing effects of the shame and humiliation that are key phenomenological dimensions of conquest and colonialism. Partha Chatterjee, Radhakrishnan notes, has written eloquently about the ambivalence toward Western modernity experienced by colonial and postcolonial subjects as they forge their distinctive but belated modernity through a complex combination of imitation and resistance. But he rejects the “curse” and “ignominy” of derivativeness he finds in Chatterjee (790, 788). “Why,” Radhakrishnan wonders, “does Europe have to be the floating signifier in this entire process of the utopianization of the political-cultural imagination? Why not Asia, why not Africa? … What is the connection between the postcolonial instance of derivativeness, and derivativeness in general? If it is indeed the case that there is nothing that is not derivative, why should postcoloniality alone be made to carry derivativeness as a (p. 514) stigma?” (787, 788). He addresses postcoloniality, but Radhakrishnan’s question applies equally to modernism.

What Radhakrishnan’s angry lament challenges is the notion of originary discourses in the first place. From the point of view of longue durée geographers, historians, and sociologists such as J. M. Blaut, André Gunder Frank, Janet Abu-Lughod, David Wilkinson, Richard Sanderson, and many others, the West too is derivative, a late player on the planetary map of world systems where power is polycentric and shifting over time and where interculturalism is the norm, especially in periods of rapid change. Culture is always traveling, as Clifford writes, and, I would add, traveling cultures are always indigenizing what comes from elsewhere, nativizing it, claiming it as its own. The various recent discourses of multiple, alternative, divergent, discrepant modernities reach toward such a polycentric view but also threaten to fall back into the trap of diffusionist ideology in which the West acts and the Rest reacts—conflating the psychical reality of shameful belatedness with the historical realities of how cultures form through interconnection with others, not sui generis. From what are these modernities the other of, an alternative to, divergent from, we might ask? Don’t such terms recapitulate comparison’s assumed vantage point of comparison?

Dipesh Chakrabarty’s introduction to his wonderfully titled Provincializing Europe leaves me lamenting, for example: If only he had actually provincialized Europe instead of reinstating European discourses of modernity as the default position, what Radhakrishnan calls the floating signifier of modernity. Dilip Parameshwar Goankar’s otherwise impressive introduction to his important collection, Alternative Modernities, opens his account of cultural and aesthetic modernities with Baudelaire’s Paris (3–6), thus reinstating Western modernism as originary, with “alternative” modernisms as just that, alternatives to the benchmark of comparison.

A more rigorously polycentric approach to both modernity and modernism would stress the mutually constitutive nature of cultural formations and their ceaseless circulation beyond the local—say, the modernity of the Sepoy Rebellion alongside Baudelaire’s “The Painter in Modern Life.” Such a conjuncture would allow us to see other modernities outside the West, especially colonial modernity, as constitutive of modernity in the West—not something that merely follows in reaction. As Walter Mignolo writes, “Coloniality … is the hidden face of modernity and its very condition of possibility” (Breckenride et al. 158), not only for the wealth upon which modernization depends but also for the symbolic structures of self/other, civilized/savage upon which modernity depends. Such an approach addresses the so-called curse of derivativeness, insisting upon both the interconnections and distinctions of contiguous modernisms. In New World Modernisms, for example, Pollard argues that Brathwaite and Walcott “are not derivative of Eliot; instead they create modernisms that augment, rival, and complement his European modernisms” (9). Moreover, a global polycentrism would allow us to see the interconnections of modernities and modernisms that have little or no connection to the West at all—either before the rise of the West or taking form in relation to others outside the (p. 515) West. Such modernisms remain invisible within the framework for world literature proposed by Casanova, for whom literatures outside the West always exhibit a form of weak belatedness in their relation to Europe.

What, then, are the potential disadvantages to the circulation approach to globalizing modernism? With its emphasis on fluidity, multidirectionality, and reciprocal exchange, this approach can slide into a utopian discourse of happy hybridity, forgetting the role of power asymmetries constituted through empires, imperial hegemonies, and local stratifications. If the center/periphery model presumes too often a unidirectional flow of power and the abjection of the colonized, the polycentric model can forget the framework of power relations in its emphasis on relationality and multiple artistic agencies. To counter this tendency, I emphasize that the massive ruptures of modernity, which take place across a spectrum of social formations, are most likely to occur during periods of rapid, often brutal conquest that cause wide-scale material, psychological, spiritual, representational, and epistemological dislocation. Such dislocations can prove exhilarating and despairing—at once or separately. Historicizing modernism—refusing to define modernism in purely formalist terms—involves analysis of the structures of global and local power that shape people’s lives.

Another potential weakness is that the attention to global networks can short-circuit local knowledge of modernisms around the globe, leaving such work to specialists with the historical, cultural, and linguistic background to engage with particular modernisms in their original languages and settings. It often depends heavily upon translation or works written in the colonial language—English, French, Portuguese, and so forth—leaving the vernacular modernisms untapped. As such, the circulation approach sits right at the intersection of major conflicts in both world literature and comparative literature as fields of study: the place of translation within these disciplines and the values of “distant reading” versus “close reading.” In “Conjectures on World Literature,” Moretti justifies “distant reading” and reliance on translation as necessary for a new world literary history while Spivak in Death of a Discipline favors an area studies approach, critiquing distant reading’s ignorance of philology, its two-tiered system of global and local expertise, and its erasure of local languages. But Spivak’s polarized view (the discipline is either dead or alive) ignores her own reliance upon translation (e.g., her reading of Salih) and the possibility of a reinvented discipline based on a both/and approach. Damrosch for his part calls for an approach that utilizes both translation and reading in original languages (“Comparative Literature?” and What Is World Literature?), as does Jessica Berman in “Imagining World Literature” when she argues for a “comparative ‘thick description’” attuned to “specific local modes [that] co-exist with a dynamic and varied global interconnection” (69). In practical terms, however, such negotiations are difficult.

In my view, a circulation approach supplemented by re-vision and recovery can foster respect for local knowledge and comparative collaboration across linguistic and cultural divides. But such a difficult negotiation requires vigilance about the structures of power that affect polycentric modernisms, as well as attention to the (p. 516) painful institutional conflicts and inequities in literary studies, language studies, and the humanities more broadly as we compete for shrinking resources in the academy.


Collage performs the most explicitly comparative strategy for reading global modernisms. I borrow this term from modernism, drawing particularly on the juxtapositional strategies of Dadaism, by which artists assembled disparate images and materials, often from different parts of the world and cultural traditions. The effect was often bizarre or uncanny, the goal to defamiliarize and recontextualize what seemed familiar, to create startling new insights through an aesthetics of radical rupture and juxtaposition. This is the defamiliarization that Radhakrishnan promotes to counter comparison’s tendency to hierarchy (Theory 82). In modernist poetry, the corresponding poetics of parataxis and superimposition accomplished a related effect. Parataxis is a term borrowed from rhetoric, where it contrasts with the hypotactic character of syntax, which is based in a connective logic of hierarchization. In modernist poetics, parataxis describes the rupture of connective logic evident in the radical juxtaposition of images or lyric sequences and the breakdown in conventional syntax. Connections are suppressed, not immediately apparent, or even nonexistent, to be formed in the mind of the reader who comes to see the possible correspondences or resonances between the disjunct and fragmentary. And in modernist cinema, montage, particularly in the dialectical formulations of Sergei Eisenstein, produced yet another juxtapositional effect by interrupting the flow of moving pictures with the editor’s cuts, which often formed sharp oppositions of perspective, feeling, and effect. Common to all these formalist strategies of “high modernism” in the West is the creation of new representational forms through radical juxtaposition.

As a reading practice for global modernisms, collage—“cultural collage” and “cultural parataxis” I have previously called it—stages nonhierarchical encounters between works from different parts of the world that are not conventionally read or viewed together to see what insights such juxtapositions might produce (see Friedman, “Cultural Parataxis”; “Modernism”; “Paranoia”). Such paratactic collages bypass the familiar categories of belonging—whether geographical, historical, national, ethnic, racial, religious, gendered, etc.—and instead create conjunctures across lines of difference. This reading practice allows for the distinctive geohistorical specificity of each text—its difference, in other words—at the same time that it can reveal parallels that allow for a more general theory of which each text constitutes a particular variation. For example, in a prior essay, I juxtaposed two long poems that are typically never read together: Aimé Césaire’s 1939 Cahier d’un retour au pays natal/Notebook of a Return to the Native Land and Theresa Hak Keung Cha’s 1983 Dictée. Cesaire’s poem is typically read in the context of the Pan-African and Caribbean Negritude movement and French surrealism; Cha’s poem appears in connection with Korean American, Asian American, and feminist studies, along with postmodernism and the post-structuralism she studied in France during the (p. 517) 1970s. These distinctive contexts remain vital, but not sufficient in themselves. By reading the two poems side by side, a larger pattern of what I call diasporic modernism becomes visible, one based in the dynamic of aller/retour, a re-visionist nostos that relives the abjection of enslavement and colonialism as the basis for spiritual regeneration and renewal. Reading these texts together defamiliarizes each; but it also generates a perception of similarity that enables an expanded understanding of modernism.18

As a reading strategy, cultural collage or parataxis—like circulation—is a mode of comparative thought. The comparatism of juxtapositional collage is not based on constructing static lists of similarities and differences, tracing influences over space and time, or on tracking circulation, networks, and cultural mimesis. Instead, collage stages a juxtaposition that foregrounds the tension—the dialogic—pull between commensurability and incommensurability. For each element in the comparison, collage performs the kind of defamiliarization that Radhakrishnan theorized. Collage potentially engages the kind of “contrapuntal” strategy of reading that Edward Said advocates (“Reflections” 186) and that Djelal Kadir adapts as the basis of comparative world literature (247). Collage can incorporate as well the juxtapositions through “deep time” that Dimock advocates. Collage also temporarily sets what is being compared in an epistemological equivalency that challenges the center/periphery diffusionism and influence-based models of comparative reading that have dominated comparative literature and world literature. By equivalency, I don’t mean to deny the power relations that affect the production and dissemination of texts. Rather, I mean that each text in the collage can appear in full geohistorical and biographical specificity (e.g., Césaire’s Martinique and Cha’s Korea), while at the same time can produce new insights by being read together comparatively. The absolute difference—incommensurability—of texts in the collage remains while the proposed similarity—commensurability—exists at the level of theory produced in the act of comparative reading. Such theory (e.g., diasporic modernism) can in turn change the reading of each text in its other contexts. This form of comparison produces a kind of “vertical” reading between the particular and the general, the local and the global.

The benefits and limitations of collage as a reading strategy for global modernisms are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, its limitation is the decontextualization upon which it depends. Césaire, after all, needs to be read as part of a network of French, Caribbean, and African traditions; his movements, the history of “the black Atlantic,” and the circulation of his texts are central to the modernism of Negritude that he represents. Reading Notebook only in juxtaposition to Dictée limits what we can know about either text. Every text belongs to multiple communities of intertexts. Collage foregrounds the least likely intertexts with a resulting loss of other relevant texts. On the other hand, it radically breaks down the hierarchization endemic to both comparison and to Eurocentric formations of global modernisms. It refuses the limitations of influence-based models, to which even studies of circulation can succumb. It brings to reading practices some degree of the representational rupture, dislocation, and surprise typically (p. 518) evident in modernism itself. It defamiliarizes different modernisms even more radically by breaking up the mosaic of insular, identity-based modernisms (e.g., Irish modernism, African American modernism, postcolonial modernism, etc.) that often characterize even the “new” modernist studies. Collage, in sum, has the potential to accomplish for the field what the representational ruptures of modernism accomplish for cultures in the crises of modernity itself.


Re-Vision. Recovery. Circulation. Collage. I suggest these four strategies for a comparative and global modernist studies fully aware that none by itself is fully sufficient to the task and that doing any one of them fully and responsibly is a challenge, let alone doing them all. Knowledge is always partial, but its incompleteness is necessary if we are to know anything. To attain a fully planetary reach, however, modernist studies must break out of the Eurocentric center/periphery and diffusionist models of reading that have dominated the field. It must become more self-consciously comparative, avoiding as much as possible the pitfalls of hierarchical comparison that leave unchallenged a standard of measure to which others are compared. The sheer scope of the task is daunting because of the diversity not only of modernities and modernisms through time and across space but also of languages, cultures, and histories in which modernity finds expression. To foster both deep contextualization and global breadth, a comparative modernist studies on a planetary scale requires a collaborative effort on the part of many scholars working in different ways. We need the re-visionist Woolf scholar working alongside the archaeological Tagore scholar. We need someone to read the circulations of Césaire and his work between Martinique and Paris, and through translation into other parts of the globe. We benefit from comparatists who juxtapose modernists from disparate traditions to produce reciprocal defamiliarizations. We may not work in teams producing joint publications the way scientists often do. But a fully global modernist studies can function as a “collaboratory”—as a site where different ways of reading collaborate to produce a new map of modernisms and their intersections as an instance of world literature.19

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (1) . In edited collections (Doyle and Winkiel’s Geomodernisms), special issues of journals (e.g., Modernism/modernity on Transnationalism), and numerous individual studies (e.g., Gikandi’s Writing in Limbo and Maps of Englishness; Pollard’s New World Modernisms; Ramazani’s “Transnational Poetics”).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (2) . See, for example, Damrosch, What Is World Literature?; Moretti, “Conjectures”; Prendergast; Jessica Berman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (3) . For history of the discipline, see Melas, All the Difference in the World, 1–43; Bassnett 12–30; Apter, esp. 41–64; During; Komar; Mohan. For the state of the discipline, see Saussy (2006), Comparative Literature; Bernheimer (1993); and the Levin Report (1965) and Greene Report (1975) in Bernheimer. While Goethe’s notion of Weltliteratur is often cited as the origin of comparative literature, the practice of comparing literatures from different cultures in a systematic way is much older. See, for example, Isstaif’s discussion of comparative Arab literary studies from the 900s to the 1300s.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (4) . Other frameworks include Dimock’s concept of “deep time” and Area Studies. Rising as an effect of the Cold War, Area Studies nonetheless has produced knowledge about regions and nations outside the West, with careful attention to linguistic, geohistorical, and cultural specificity. Much Area Studies scholarship, however, was not very comparative; global studies, as a distinct field, rose in part to counter the insularity of area studies with the development of more theoretical and comparative analysis—often, however, with scant linguistic, geohistorical, and cultural knowledge. In the mid-1990s the Ford Foundation initiated a multi-year project called Crossing Bridges to broaden the horizons of area studies and deepen the contextual knowledge of global studies by integrating the two (Volkman).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (5) . For world-system theories not based on Wallerstein’s center/periphery model that often directly oppose its Eurocentrism, see Blaut; Frank; Abu-Lughod; Sanderson. For the application of these alternative world-system theories to modernist studies, see Friedman, “Periodizing Modernism.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (6) . Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters and Moretti’s “Conjectures on World Literature” are often paired for sharp critique that nonetheless recognizes the originality and significance of their work. See, for example, Prendergrast, Introduction, Debating World Literature; Jessica Berman; Aseguinolaza; Orisini. In Death of a Discipline, Spivak doesn’t mention Casanova by name, but she attacks Moretti and other world-system critics of world literature in a lengthy footnote (107–09). Prendergast recognizes the potential usefulness of world-system theory for world literature (6), but he does not distinguish between the Wallersteinian center/periphery models that reinstate the West as inevitable center and the Rest as periphery from those of other longue durée historians and sociologists (see Sanderson). See also Ram’s contribution in this volume.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (7) . Casanova is explicit about the separation of literary history from other historical forces (see 12, 86–87), while Moretti simply assumes it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (8) . Casanova’s second chapter, “The Invention of Literature,” is a teleological narrative about the rise of French dominance in the literary sphere, with some competition from the British and the German. That literatures—including concepts of literature—from other historical periods and civilizations do not exist in her narrative demonstrates the pernicious effects of the hermeneutic circle based in an a priori center/periphery.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (9) . Apter directly addresses the role of translation studies in comparative literature, echoing, without citing, Susan Bassnett’s 1993 call for comparative literature to morph into translation studies as the best umbrella for the field’s rejuvenation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (10) . See Walkowitz’s notion of “comparison literature” in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, but I would also stress that the impact of traveling cultures on cultural production has existed for centuries as a product of different world systems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (11) . For an interdisciplinary spectrum, see Felski and Friedman’s Special Issue on Comparison, New Literary History (2009). For recent theorizations in comparative literature about the nature of comparison, see, for example, the Chow and During debate in ELH (2004); Theories and Methodologies in PMLA (2003); Mufti; Spivak, “Rethinking Comparatism.” For social science theorizations of comparison, see boundary 2’s special issue on comparability (2005); Yengoyan’s Modes of Comparison; Culler and Cheah; Brettell.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (12) . On in/commensurability in comparison, see especially Melas, “Versions” and All the Difference, 32–43. Melas cites Spivak’s Death of a Discipline for what she sees as Spivak’s negative views of “the global commensurability of value” (All the Difference 42). Commensurability in comparative studies is often associated with a false equivalency or homogenization of difference. See Culler’s “Comparability” for a summary of arguments against commensurability.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (13) . On the politics of comparison, see especially Felski and Friedman; Melas; Radhakrishnan; Culler and Cheah; Chow; Osborne; Harootunian.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (14) . For discussions of this evolution, see especially Balakian; Melas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (15) . For a different approach to strategies of comparison in world literature, see Theories and Methodologies of Comparative Literature in PMLA (2003). Damrosch proposes three strategies that avoid “scholarly tourism” as literary studies begins to “wake from its long Eurocentric slumber”: “national internationalism,” “cultural translation,” and “specialized generalization” (326–30). Saussy (336–41) rejects “tree-shaped comparatism” or “inventory” reading models and favors a juxtapositional model.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (16) . For global modernisms outside the West, see, for example, the contributions in this volume; Doyle and Winkiel; Brooker and Thacker; Santos and Robeiro. Studies of Caribbean and Latin American modernisms are especially well developed; see, for example, Emery in this volume; Covi; Gikandi, Writing in Limbo; Pollard; Rosenberg; Unruh; Geist and Monléon; Jrade.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (17) . See Pratt’s adaptation of Ortiz’s concept of transculturation in Imperial Eyes, where she defines transculturation as the colonized’s transformation of the colonizer’s culture (6); Guillermina De Ferrari’s discussion of Ortiz’s concept as one of reciprocal transformations of both the colonizer and the colonized.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (18) . For comparative strategies based on collage, see Friedman, “Modernism”; “Bodies”; “Paranoia”; “Cultural Parataxis”; and “Modernism in a Transnational Frame.” I depart significantly from Jonathan Culler’s 1995 discussion in “Comparability,” in which he suggests that texts from substantially different cultural spaces and discursive systems (such as the West and non-West) may “make the putative comparability of text either illusionary or, at the very least misleading” (268–69). For other theorizations of comparison based on juxtaposition, see Layoun; Saussy, “Comparative Literature?”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (19) . For stimulating discussions and opportunities to present earlier versions of this work, I thank Venkat Mani and Mark Estante, co-leaders of the World Literature’s Research Workshop at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; Stephen Yao, convener of a seminar on Human Difference/La Difference Humaine at the American Comparative Literature Association (2006) and a forum on Transnational Modernisms: Sites and Methodologies at the Modernist Studies Association (2007); and Reginia Gagnier, organizer of an MLA panel on Global Perspectives on Modernism and Modernity (2007). For their sharp critiques, I thank Matt Eatough, Rita Felski, and Mark Wollaeger.