Northwestern University

Thu 5:15 PM

"In Balance with This Life, This Death: Molecular Philology and the Rise of Modern Comparative Literature"- Lecture by Shaden Tageldin, University of Minnesota

When: Thursday, April 27, 2017
5:15 PM - 7:00 PM  

Where: Kresge Hall, 1515, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Sarah Peters   847.491.3864

Group: Comparative Literary Studies

Critical Theory

Category: Academic


The Comparative Literary Studies Program Presents:

Lecture by Shaden Tageldin, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and Director of the African Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota

"In Balance with This Life, This Death: Molecular Philology and the Rise of Modern Comparative Literature"

DESCRIPTION: Taking the case of literary discourses in Arabic, English, and French from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth, this lecture traces the global regime of modern literary comparison to a re-conception of language as a force at once imperially and empirically worldly. A language acquired power in and over the world (empire) insofar as it held the power to observe and to capture the world “exactly” (empiricism). Refashioning its epistemology in the shadow of modern European imperialism and empiricism, a standard literary Arabic, for instance, that once had styled itself “incomparable”—larger than life—now was urged to point unambiguously to all that it named, to simulate life: the really seen and heard. This turn from “artificial” to “natural” literary languages newly bound word to world, making “incomparable” languages comparable—comparable, that is, in their newly shared sense that words should be life-like. In this determination of life, language was conceived in increasingly molecular terms. For the English Orientalist Sir William Jones, literatures could be made comparable only by breaking down and translating their languages into lowest common denominators: plainspoken words shorn of all ornament, all particularizing style. Yet the word as denominator was not low or common enough; comparison would demand an even freer radical. Indeed, for French Orientalists like Volney and Ernest Renan, the life of a language—hence its modernity and its comparability—hinged on whether or not its vowels were written, seen; for Syro-Lebanese and Egyptian intellectuals like Amīn Shumayyil and ʿAbd Allāh al-Nadīm, on whether or not its consonants translated—were heard—across phonetic systems. The epistemic conditions of possibility that ground modern comparative literature, then, demanded that the world’s diverse languages be comparable to the letter: not only must the graphemes and phonemes of those languages be mutually intelligible, but so too the very relation of grapheme to phoneme. Even today, comparative literature ascribes its disciplinary origins to Europe and the United States, often eliding developments elsewhere. Can we develop a transcontinental theory of modern comparative literature by revisiting this shared yet occluded history of molecular philology?


Shaden M. Tageldin is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and Director of the African Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Disarming Words: Empire and the Seductions of Translation in Egypt (University of California Press, 2011), which was awarded an Honorable Mention for the Harry Levin Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association. Tageldin’s work in comparative literature, empire and postcolonial studies, and critical translation theory has appeared in, among other venues, Comparative Literature Studies, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Arabic Literature, Journal of Historical Sociology, Philological Encounters, and PMLA, as well as in the edited volumes Futures of Comparative Literature, The Oxford History of the Novel in English: The Novel in Africa and the Caribbean since 1950, and Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses, Pedagogies. She currently holds an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, where she is at work on a book titled Toward a Transcontinental Theory of Modern Comparative Literature.


This event is co-sponsored by Critical Theory Program, Department of French and Italian, Department of German, and Program in Middle East and North African Studies


Add Event to Calendar

Add Event To My Group:

Please sign-in