"Modernism as Comparativism" - Ben Hutchinson

"Modernism as Comparativism" by Ben Hutchinson,MSH Visiting Professor, University of Kent

Recent developments in modernist studies have taken the field in an intercultural direction, with an enhanced emphasis on planetary modernisms in the plural. That modernism is nothing if not international has long been acknowledged; its overlap with the emerging discipline of comparative literature, however, has rarely been explicitly examined. And yet comparison – across countries and continents, centuries and cultures – is in many ways the defining characteristic of modernism, eclectic and ecumenical as it undoubtedly was. What, after all, is the modernist mania for intertextual allusion, if not a form of comparison? By surveying some of the main currents of comparison – from reception studies to world literature, from close to distant reading – Prof. Hutchinson proposes in this lecture to explore what it means to understand modernism as comparativism. In doing so, he will try to show that comparative literature is not just a concern of critics, as is generally assumed; it is also the province of writers.

Ben Hutchinson has been Professor of European Literature at the University of Kent since 2012. His research ranges widely across European, and especially, German, literature. His most notable publications include the monographs Rilke’s Poetics of Becoming (Legenda, 2006), Lateness and Modern European Literature (Oxford University Press, 2016), Comparative Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018). He has lectured at institutions across the world, including at Oxford, Heidelberg, Harvard, Jerusalem, and the ENS Paris. Amongst other activities, prof. Hutchinson is a Contributing Editor at the Times Literary Supplement, a regular contributor to the Literary Review, and founder of the UK's first Summer School on comparative literature. He served as Academic Director of the University's Paris School of Arts and Culture from 2019 to 2020.