According to Lamping it is this very internationality of literature is what comparative literature is all about these days. It no longer concerns itself solely with comparison: e.g., Racine vs. Shakespeare. It investigates literary forms, structures, subjects, and so on that may originate in one country but that travel. E.g., some German poets write haikus. Comp lit investigates not the national characteristics of literature, but the internationality of these characteristics. This reminds me a bit of Franco Moretti, who has done interesting work on such subjects as the detective genre, with maps, graphs, and trees.
|Félicien Rops, Pornokratès (1878)|
This kind of literary commerce seems a function of trade in the modern period, as writers are more frequently and more quickly in contact with one another. There is an element of fashion about it, as one movement arises and then is succeeded by another. Boredom sets in, and, 100 years later, it is hard to believe that the audience actually threw shoes at the stage during the premier of Afternoon of a Fawn.
Earlier literary commerce (one cannot avoid that word), however, was additive. The literary inheritance was passed down through the generations. There was a conscious process of absorption of a culturally privileged and traditional literary idiom. Literary works reflected the constructing of the present from the past, and suggested approval and identification.
International literature is competitive, like all products of the market. It does not build on what went before, but, by its nature, is dismissive of what went before. This dismissal is even its subject: “old” attitudes, “old” practices are constantly being scrutinized and found wanting. It is about process. Of course, every modern or contemporary writer hopes to be “lasting,” to leave a mark on literature, but he can’t expect to know in his own lifetime whether he has made such a mark. Modernity, as Lamping writes, puts tradition in question.
Picture credit: Matt Bromley