Yan Lu | | PhD | 2008
When I applied for the doctoral program of Comparative Literature, I was not really sure whether I made the right decision. With an M.A. in Translation Studies, I had barely studied Comparative Literature systematically except for a few related courses. Now, in the midst of dissertation writing after trekking through coursework and field exam, it is no doubt for me that CompLit is my best, if not the only, choice. I can hardly think of any other place where I can enjoy so much freedom and encouragement to conduct translingual, cross-cultural research beyond national borders.
The Centre for Comparative Literature is small. Concentrating on graduate studies, it does not have a large body of undergraduate students. The relatively small size of the seminars creates an intimate and encouraging environment where I can have intellectually stimulating conversation and share my sometimes nonsensical ideas with professors and fellow students in a comfortable manner. If you have yet to meet them in the seminar room, don’t worry. You’ll get familiar with each other in the welcoming party, Christmas party, and many other occasions. The Centre is like a family that I can always turn to whenever I need. When I am at a loss at this new place thousands of miles away from home, or feel frustrated and fatigued in thesis writing, the generous support from the Centre and my committee makes me keeping going. After four years here, I feel at home.
Meanwhile, the Centre is big. Studying CompLit at the University of Toronto with one of the largest libraries in North America, I am amazed by the abundance of resources available in English and many other languages. I not only work with outstanding faculty and colleagues with diverse research interests, but also have valuable opportunities to meet renowned scholars from all over the world, especially Northrop Frye Professor(s) each year. Thanks to the financial support of the Centre, I attended the Institute for World Literature and various conferences in North America, Asia, and Europe. If you do not like traveling, feel free to stay in Toronto and present your work at our annual three-day colloquium organized by graduate students. If that’s not enough, check the American Comparative Literature Association 2013 Annual Meeting, one of the largest conferences in the field. It will take place in April 2013 at the University of Toronto, hosted by the Centre. Exciting, isn’t it?
Andrés Pérez Simón | PhD | International student | 2006-10
Why Comparative Literature? Or, maybe, we should ask first, what is Comparative Literature? In very basic terms: Comparative Literature constitutes the study of literature beyond the idea of nation, be it linguistic, ethnic, or political. In addition, an expanded version of this idea would equate Comparative Literature with an interdisciplinary approach to arts (literature and film, literature and music, and so on).
Comparatists in the first half of XX century confined Comparative Literature to the analysis of factual relations between two entities that were supposed previously independent (for instance, the reception of one author in a foreign country). The concepts of “influence” and “contact” became capital for these scholars, due to an illusory transposition of positivistic methods from natural sciences. But, despite its epistemological incongruences, the early departments of Comparative Literature succeeded, to a considerable extent, in breaking down national barriers.
Through the second half of the last century, Comparative Literature integrated progressively into the realm of Theory of Literature, i.e., the study of structural constants in verbal art. An avid reader of theoretical material, I totally agree with the constitution of this scientific project: if Theory of Literature delimits the object of study, we can apply it synchronically / analytically (Literary Criticism), diachronically (Literary History), and comparatively (Comparative Literature). For me, Theory of Literature and Comparative Literature become, if not synonymous, at least interdependent terms. One needs another. And I am totally convinced this ambitious plan can only be fulfilled in a place like the Center for Comparative Literature. This is a diasporic department whose members speaks different languages, a space for thinking where knowledge is not capitalized in the sacred name of Nation.
The Center really cares for scholarship. This affirmation might seem obvious two or three decades ago, but it is not today, where most of professors around the world are involved in a desperate race for research grants and publications. I am not saying anything new by declaring that, guided by the philosophy of “quantity better than quality”, more and more professors consider students an obstacle, a loss of time (lectures, tutorials, exams) that impedes their full-time commitment to research. Fortunately, the Center for Comparative Literature offers privileged conditions to graduate students: small classes, frequent invited lecturers, and permanent advice in academic / extraacademic issues. Most important, every one of the Ph.D. students has access to teaching assistanships in undergraduate courses, a crucial point in our training. There is no doubt this 4-year-experience with undergraduate students will help us consolidate an adequate professional profile at the end of the doctoral stream. For it would ridiculous that, after trespassing national walls, future Comparative Literature scholars were incapable of breaking down the barriers between instructor and student.
Keavy Martin | PhD | 2004-09
For many new students of the Centre, Comparative Literature offers a chance to broaden their horizons. Many of us come out of specialized undergraduate programs which have immersed us in the literature of a particular nation, language, or period. Here, we are encouraged to explore a much wider variety of traditions. This broadening of perspective is facilitated by the diverse group of scholars and courses which make up our core program, and by the ties we have with other departments across campus. The process of narrowing my own research topic, for instance, has itself been rather broad, as my coursework has been completed not only at Comparative Literature, but in French, German, English, History, Aboriginal Studies, and Sociology and Equity Studies. This commitment to interdisciplinarity is further sustained by the dozens of lectures, readings, conferences, screenings, and performances that take place at the University on a weekly basis.
The sheer volume of resources available in Toronto permits students of Comparative Literature to cast our nets wide, but when we do begin to settle into a program of study – tailored to fit our individual interests – we are assured the support of exceptional scholars, comprehensive libraries, and a friendly and knowledgeable administration. This said, some of the best research seems to take place at our pub nights, coffee hours, and (extremely well-catered) term parties. When I entered the program two and a half years ago as an MA student, I encountered a group of people with whom I had much in common, but whose wide-ranging perspectives often helped me to view my own work in an entirely new light. It has been a pleasure to watch as my colleagues’ interests, like my own, have expanded, re-focused, and occasionally veered in unexpected and exciting new directions.
Now, as I near the midpoint of my doctoral studies, I recognize how privileged we are to be part of an academic community which both nourishes and challenges, which provides its students with the knowledge and experience that will sustain them in the academic world . . . and which has access to some really great biscotti.
Joe Culpepper | MA | International student | 2004
Yes, the programs (both MA and PhD) are rigorous and internationally recognized. Yes, the library is one of the best for research in North America. And, yes, students at the Centre are actually supported and funded by the institution (unlike so many others in the academic world). Friends, however, will still ask you something like: “comparative literature, eh … what’s that?” You can either answer by launching into an obscure discourse on the uncertainties of what constitutes a “global text”-if you do this, be sure to use intimidating phrases like “the history of consciousness,” or “postmodern narratives of resistance”-and after five minutes they will never ask again, or you can simply say that comparative literature is a way to combine the multiple languages, literatures, and theories that you love into one focused study.
Though I am just beginning my one-year MA programme, and my journey in the “doctoral stream,” the Centre for Comparative Literature’s interdepartmental connections and interdisciplinary nature constantly impresses me. It not only houses an eclectic group of scholars and specialists dedicated to comparative ideals, but also allows real access to the following specialized departments: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, German Studies, Italian Studies, Asian Studies, Slavic Languages and Literatures, History, Book History and Print Culture, Drama, and Medieval Studies. Many professors from those departments have come to inhabit the Centre and teach core courses that focus on the comparative and literary aspects of their respective fields. We the students, however, are also encouraged to seek out the faculty and courses needed to pursue our individual areas of research; we also construct the academic bridges used to share and compare literary insights.
As someone interested in the most recent literary, political, and cultural theories and their applications to my preferred texts and languages, I feel privileged to be part of the Centre at the University of Toronto. As a new MA student and a new resident of Toronto, I feel truly welcomed by my professors, my advisors, and my classmates. There is a strong sense of solidarity within the Centre and throughout the University. Here’s to a great community and to a great future.
Throughout my academic career, I have always had a penchant for exploring the geo-political, cultural, and literary “contact zones” of Islam and the West. In this- always and already- globally vital research area, much has been written and said about Orientalism in the literary and cultural scenery of the West. Conversely, little has been written and said about the “reverse” discourse of “Occidentalism” in the Middle East. It is in this currently very momentous site of literary and cultural research that I am comparatively archeologizing.
One reason that encouraged me to come to this nationally and internationally unique centre has been my full conviction that the Northrop Frye Centre for Comparative Literature is among a handful of comparative centres in the world that have the interdisciplinary traditions and resources indispensable in the research of East/West relations. The legendary name of Northrop Frye and the stellar names of the core, affiliated, and visiting professors are another reason that made me jump at the generous offer of the University of Toronto, the so factually hailed as the second only to Harvard.
Jena Habegger-Conti | PhD | International student | 1999-2007
Some friends once joked that I am a first year PhD at the “De-Centre” for Comparative Lit. I mean, what else would you expect a cutting-edge department in the post-modern/post-structuralist era to be? Okay, fair enough. We don’t all study the same languages or literatures, or even theories. Our professors have offices in other departments all over the campus. And to some we may even be a centre of misfits-those turned away from narrower fields like English or French. But I do believe that this is exactly what enticed me to apply to University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature – an opportunity to study literature across boundaries.
When I decided to begin work on my PhD I began to feel trapped while perusing the guidebooks and course listings for other departments. It didn’t seem possible for me to combine my degrees in Spanish and English literature and to expand my studies worldwide. After receiving information on the Centre for Comparative Literature, however, I quickly discovered that I had found the perfect department for me.
But why did I choose the department at the University of Toronto?
First, we experience the benefits of being small. My courses have an average of 6 students per class, I have the chance to develop personal relationships with professors, and there is higher probability of every student receiving yearly funding.
We also have the advantages of being large. The Centre is comprised of widely published and respected professors from across many disciplines, and has attracted well-known scholars to present papers and give lectures. We can choose from a broad range of courses and also have the opportunity to take courses through other departments on campus. And each spring the centre holds an on-campus Comparative Literature Conference.
And finally, the students at the Centre enjoy the good fortune of University of Toronto’s international reputation. We have students from Hungary, Brazil, and China, professors from Iran, the Czech Republic, and Mexico, and students studying Hebrew, Italian, and Urdu. (Which basically means that we are always assured of being a part of challenging debates and stimulating discussions from a variety of backgrounds!)
But in short, what does all this mean? That I gladly accept the status of not being a part of a traditional “centre!” I believe that the University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature is on the forefront of cross-cultural and multinational academic studies. It is a chance for me to experience the world through my own studies, as well as to learn more about the variety of other topics open to us in the world of literature and theory from the top professors in the field of Comparative Literature.