452ºF #20

 

Limits, Tensions, and Challenges of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature in the 21st Century

 

Upon the publication of the 21st edition of 452ºF. Revista de Teoría de la Literatura y Literatura Comparada, the journal marks its ten-year anniversary. It does so with a monograph dedicated to the “Limits, Tensions, and Challenges of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature in the 21st Century”, the field of inquiry that has been the vertebra of its trajectory and in the past ten years has undergone diverse transformations in an academic context that is increasingly global. The 19 previous issues constitute an example of the wide variety of approaches that dialogue with the discipline. In revising these, it is possible to see how 452ºF, itself strained by this diversity, has occupied a privileged vantage point from whence the different expansions, shifts, and transfigurations experienced could be detected. On the one hand, globalization has demonstrated the tension between diverse ways in which each country incorporated the legacy of Literary Theory and the tendency toward homogenization of the field following the guidelines of dominant academic areas. On the other, the academic institutionalisation of Literary Theory in Western countries has occurred parallel to the blurring of its limits and borders and, with this, of its specificity as a field of knowledge. Comparative Literature, for its part, lives today, as it has throughout its trajectory, a situation of crisis that obliges it to constantly redefine itself, accepting new objects of study, taking on the challenges of managing a multiplicity of literary traditions and defending its territory against Cultural Studies, Area Studies, and even Literary Theory.

 

However, if there is one thing that demonstrates the vitality of the journal, it is the permeability of theoretical discourse, capable of dialoguing with all Humanist areas, crossing through them and providing them with the rigor Roland Barthes proposed in 1963, according to whom all criticism should be both critical of the object of study and critical of itself. This reflexivity is the common thread running throughout the entire 452ºF project, and it has done so by offering different ways of thinking about the relationships between Literary Theory and Literary and Cultural Studies, along with different ways of thinking about Comparativism.

 

This volume also seeks to be an opportunity to recognise all the people who have made the journal possible, and to highlight its trajectory. 452ºF’s origins date back to 2008, when a group of students then studying their MA detected a lack of academic journals dedicated to Literary Theory and Comparative Literature written in the peninsular languages, decided to undertake the pioneering mission of creating an online, open-access, multi-lingual (Catalan, Basque, Spanish and English) journal. The tremendous effort necessary to edit what was, in reality, four journals, had a clear political intention. Firstly, it sought to expand the research undertaken in the university environment into the international scale. Secondly, it sought to foment academic output in minority languages like Catalan and Basque. Thirdly, it contributed to their development by introducing into these languages concepts produced in other linguistic fields. One further audacity worth mentioning was the innovative design of the journal – with a team exclusively dedicated to illustrations – which was later copied by many other journals. This is why this volume also serves as an homage to its founders: Noemí Acedo, Izaro Arroita, Ibai Atutxa, Pablo Barrio, Joan Ferrús, Ana García, Inés Marcos, Paula Meiss, Francisco Piñón, Jaume C. Pons, Pau Vadell and Aina Villalonga, as well as the specialists and researchers who, from the beginning and as part of the Reviewing Committee, have supported 452ºF and have contributed to its growth and its internationalization.

 

Over the past ten years, the journal has evolved. Its Editorial Committee has been progressively updated, expanded and diversified along with the Reviewing Committee. Its academic dedication has been consolidated with the adoption of the OJS system and its inclusion in the highest-level bibliometric indexes, along with its affiliation with the Universitat de Barcelona.  Its greatest achievement, however, has been that of stimulating academic production in young researchers along with more established academics and the major impact it has had in Spanish language academics on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

An excellent example of this can be found in the present volume. The articles that comprise the monograph can be divided into two groups, those that reflect on the field of study in contexts other than that of the Peninsula—Susan Ingram and Irene Sywenky, Colton Valentine and Borja Mozo Martín— and those who, from within the Spanish academy, take on the renewal of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature, coming together in a discussion on the influence that World Literature has had on the field of comparative studies — Juan Evaristo Valls Boix, Laura Camino Plaza and Patricia López Gracia—.

 

As part of the first group, in «X Marks the Spot: Literature and Theory as Limit Tests for Comparative Literature in the 21st Century, Canadian Perspectives», Susan Ingram and Irene Sywenky reflect on the current situation of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature in the Canadian context, in light of the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Comparative Literature/Association Canadienne de Littérature Comparée. The consolidation of the studies, along with the desire to update and change, have led the field of Comparative Literature to expand its research on literature and theory from the position of dialogue with translation studies and in the context of cultural processes that are brought about with globalization. In «Send Your Kids to the Jungles of Theory: An Alternative Narrative of the Humanities Crisis», Colton Valentine analyses the Humanities crisis through the decline in co-called French theory in the North American academy as a consequence of and reaction to intellectual conservatism and the neoliberal turn that occurred in the United States in the final decades of the 20th century. According to Valentine, these factors not only demonized critical reflection, but also, by prioritizing scientific and commercial knowledge, debased the intellectual challenges inherent to the Humanities in the context of university teaching, preferring homogenized and commodifiable thinking. The influence of economic systems on the configuration of the literary text is the starting point for Borja Mozo Martín in his analysis of the work of the French writer Tanguy Viel in «Pour une littérature fiduciaire : inscriptions du signe monétaire et (re)problématisations de l’écriture dans l’œuvre de Tanguy Viel». Through his reading of Viel, Mozo Martín argues that the inscription of money as a symbolic system within the literary text enables the formation of a poetic representation that is based on a structural analogy between the monetary sign and the linguistic sign. His intriguing analysis invites reflection on contemporary French narrative through the problematization of fiction and our relationship to empirical reality and the representations that shape our subjectivity.

 

World Literature as a new theoretical paradigm for Comparative Literature constitutes the second block of articles in this monograph. To the question formulated by David Damrosch about what World Literature is, Juan Evaristo Valls Boiz replies from the critical perspective of an analysis of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 in «Trystero World (Literary) System Thomas Pynchon y la paranoia de la literatura mundial»; Laura Camino Plaza does so through an interrogation of the intersections with Medieval Studies in «Paradigmas en contacto: el Medievalismo en diálogo con la Literatura Comparada y la Literatura Mundial»; and Patricia López Gracia, in «Modos de leer: La práctica del comparatismo y la World Literature» reflects on the importance that ways of reading have for the approach of World Literature as a paradigm of Comparative Literature.

 

Enric Sullà also looks at World Literature in a reflection shared in the critical note «La Teoría de la Literatura y la Literatura Comparada hoy: reflexiones», in which he participates along with Ibai Atutxa Ordeñana, Annalisa Mirizio, Analía Gerbaudo and Francesco Ardolino, whose short meditations allow us to complete the territories that make up the cartography of the field of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature in the contemporary moment. Joining these reflections is Guido Herzovich’s note on the function of Literary Theory in recent decades and its inseparable relationship with the production of readers in the context of consumer society and the widespread growth of university teaching in «La teoría, la sensibilidad, la producción de lectores».

 

The Miscellaneous section of volume 20 is comprised of four articles that offer different perspectives on the intersections and resignifications of the fields of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature today. For example, Nicolás Suárez’s article «Los gauchos angloparlantes y la pampa en Technicolor: versiones y perversiones del Martín Fierro en Way of a Gaucho (1952) de Jacques Tourneur» reconsiders the debate surrounding the image of the gaucho as a national symbol through an analysis of the film Way of a Gaucho (1952), directed by Jacques Tourneur and based on the novel by Herbert Childs. In «La imagen y el archivo: formas de contacto», Ana Porrúa reflects on readings of the image as an archive through the study the Vanguards did of Les Chants de Maldoror by Isidore Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont. «“La literatura del partido”. El realismo socialista entre el arte y la política» by María Fernanda Alle develops a chronological reading of «some of the theoretical-political texts that formed the basis of the Realist Socialist doctrine as an axiological apparatus imposed by the Soviet State, both for artistic creation and for criticism» in order to demonstrate the contradictions that emerged from the Stalinist doctrine, which ended up confusing both political and artistic values. Finally, Antonio Castro Balbuena develops a study of the influence of the reality that we know (extratextual) and the reality that we believe (intratextual) through the dialogue between a text which belongs to the genre of fantasy – The Lord of the Rings – and another that belongs to Realism – Madame Bovary – in the article «La realidad extratextual como modelo de referencia para la creación de mundos ficcionales. El Señor de los Anillos y Madame Bovary».

 

We would like to end here by sharing with our readers our satisfaction over the course of these ten years of editorial experience, in times that are especially tumultuous and rife with transformations in the way we think, write and edit Literary Theory and Comparativism. Our goal is, without a doubt, to continue with our commitment to rigorous thinking and writing, along with open access as a means, even more necessary in these times, of expanding knowledge without restrictions or limitations. We hope that this volume, with a monograph that has, for the first time, been coordinated entirely and collectively by the members of the Editorial Committee of 452ºF, helps you to continue thinking together some of the tensions and problems that currently face the always diffuse and fertile field of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. 452ºF. Revista de Teoría de la Literatura y Literatura Comparada is and always will be, first and foremost, a collective endeavour, and one that would be impossible without the coming together of so many people who have been willing to share their work and creativity with the journal. To all those who wrote articles, and those who evaluated and coordinated, and to the illustrators, translators and copy-editors who have worked on these pages, we would like to reiterate our gratitude for your hard work and commitment, without which this would never have been possible.

 

Editorial Committee

452ºF. Revista de Teoría de la Literatura y Literatura Comparada

 

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