Comparative studies

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Under comparative literature refers to the comparative literature. It is the science of the similarities and differences between the literatures of different cultures from a cross-border perspective. For this purpose, comparative statistics use the method of comparison . General literary studies, on the other hand, include all fields of literary theory , for example aesthetics , rhetoric or narratology .

Individual research areas

Comparative literary history

Crossing borders is not to be understood politically, because national borders are rarely also cultural. Rather, comparative literature is interculturally oriented, i. H. it looks at literary phenomena (materials, themes, genres, etc.) in an international comparison: it compares individual poems, poets or currents in different cultures or the national literatures in their entire course; it researches the influences of certain writers or literary currents on other literatures and examines the history of individual genres , subjects or themes ( world literature ). In addition, comparative studies deals with the comparison of the individual arts and thus examines intermedial processes and transformations of language.

So she is not interested in the German modern novel, for example, but what similarities and differences it has in contrast to French or English modern novels.

Tertium comparationis (the common third) would be modernity - as a supranational phenomenon.

In comparative statistics, a distinction is usually made between two types of comparison:

  • The genetic comparison is based on direct or indirect contacts and influences. There is a genetic relationship between two or more comparison elements, i. H. one asks the question of the causal relationship between two authors (how did Goethe influence André Gide , how did Joyce deal with Homer's Odyssey in Ulysses ). These are direct contacts . From an indirect contact can be talking about when made known as an author by reading another author with a third author is influenced by him. In this case there is a mediation by an intermediary entity. A distinction has to be made between conscious and unconscious indirect contacts (an author takes a clear position on Schopenhauer , although he only got to know his writings through another author, not through his own reading).

It is also possible to speak of contact or influence when an author is not influenced directly or indirectly by a single author, but by an entire literary movement. For example, Joyce is both directly influenced by Homer, Dante , Shakespeare , etc., as well as a child of his time, the thoughts and ideas of literary modernity, i.e. a specific historical epoch. Such indirect references can also be described using the text-theoretical category of intertextuality , which - in contrast to production and reception aesthetic approaches - only takes the work itself into account and understands the intertextual reference as a property of the text.

  • One has to do with a different type of comparison when comparing authors with one another within the literary modern age. It is no longer a question of determining how, for example, Celine was influenced by a specific socio-cultural environment, but how different authors deal with this environment (on an international level, with sociolinguistic differences) in their literary texts. So you compare authors who have a common environment without having direct or indirect influence on each other. In this case one speaks of a contrastive or typological comparison. It is not based on contacts, but on analogies. With this type of comparison, it is much more important to relate similar literary phenomena to one another. For example, it is more appropriate to compare within individual genres (the novel of modernity) or to choose similar literary content for cross-genre comparisons (urban problems in modernity).

Cross-disciplinary research

In addition, comparative literature crosses disciplinary boundaries, compares literature with other artistic forms (painting, music, film, etc .; comparison of arts ), classifies literature in terms of media history and sociology , and in its own specific way enters into “competition” with philosophical questions in terms of the history of ideas and ideas . The aim is to arrive at generally valid and theory-capable statements. The formation of theory from a literary and cultural studies perspective is a specific domain of comparative literature.

General history of literature

In the history of literature, comparative research is heavily dependent on the knowledge of individual philologies . In contrast to these, it concentrates on systematic issues in an international context. Above all, questions of periodization and epochs play the central role. In the course of research into literary history, there have been countless attempts to organize the heterogeneous structure of literary relationships over time. On this topic see epoch (literature) .

When one norm or convention is replaced by another in the history of literature, one speaks of a paradigm shift . Especially at the international level, developments in a larger context usually do not take place simultaneously. Accordingly, one must be aware that a term such as romanticism, for example, denotes a pan-European phenomenon, but does not appear at the same time in Germany, England and France, especially since the literatures of the individual countries influenced each other and this also resulted in a specific form of romanticism ( In France, for example, Goethe is sometimes counted among the Romantics!). The basic features of Romanticism common to all countries are the subject of comparative literature, the sociolinguistic peculiarities are the task of individual philologies. In connection with the historical non-simultaneity of a literary epoch, one speaks of phase shift.


(History of material and motifs, research on myths) The thematology deals with the content of the poetry and its specific literary implementations. In doing so, not only historical manifestations of certain substances and motifs, but also the topics and contents of literature, myths , symbols, etc. Ä. examined. Substance (in addition to the material invented by the author) is the material that has become firmly established in the course of literary history and is taken up again and again (e.g. Don Juan , Oedipus , Faust , etc.). The substance is bound to fixed elements that make it unmistakable and which it cannot do without in order to be recognized as a certain substance. These solid elements are the motifs, which are usually more abstract than what they constitute. The Don Juan material is tied to the motifs of seduction and punishment, which, however, are not themselves tied to this particular material. Rather, they can be combined with other motifs (love, hate, jealousy, friendship, loneliness, etc.) to create new fabrics. Motives are mostly general properties or basic constants of life. In order for a certain substance to be recognized as such, it must have unmistakable core motifs that remain historically unchanged (invariable or invariant), which is why the individual design options of a poet mainly consist in the aesthetic, formal implementation of a material specification. Depending on the ideological and aesthetic ideas of an epoch, fabrics are constantly updated, i. H. A material regenerates itself over time because the framework conditions for literary production change. These framework conditions (social, psychological, aesthetic, historical, etc.) can also be the reason for the dominance of certain materials or motifs within an era (for example the vanitas motif in the Baroque ) or for the loss of meaning of a material.

In the 20th century , for example, the Don Juan material with its core motifs can no longer be updated, since a liberal society in which there is no longer a religious monopoly of power does not sanction seduction. Only the reflective handling, for example through a parody (see Max Frisch's Don Juan or Die Liebe zur Geometry ), can update the traditional material; however, it loses its actual meaning and has historically outlived itself. Substances are therefore not always updatable, i. H. they remain historically bound. The affinity of certain substances to the genre is also striking, which is why a change of genre requires special attention. In this way, at ETA Hoffmann , the dramatic figure of Don Juan becomes a character in a story - also because the drama plays a subordinate role in German romanticism. Research into myths is closely connected with the history of material , especially since the basic human situations laid out in myth are to be regarded as the original material of all poetry. H. founded in pre-literary times. In contrast to the subject matter, the subject of a literary work is more of an abstract nature, for example a central idea. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad describes not only a journey into the African jungle, but also a journey into one's own personality, a questioning of “civilized” people.


Many of the aspects addressed in the individual work areas of comparative literature are part of the reception problem on another level . An author of a Don Juan play in the 20th century refers to existing arrangements of the material, such as by Molière or Mozart .

The word influence is mainly used in connection with production aesthetics (the consideration of the conditions and elements of any artistic activity) and means the effect of certain events on an author who processes this influence productively in his own work. Reading a certain book can influence him, or the complete works of another author, or important events in the history of ideas and history. In contemporary research, such simple causality models are being displaced in favor of multi-level approaches:

  1. Reception history
    It historically examines the reception of certain literary texts (e.g. Faust in the 19th and 20th centuries; or the Shakespeare reception in Germany in the 18th century), i.e. the effect of literature on the readership or other authors (effect aesthetics).
  2. Reception research
    She conducts empirical reader research and is therefore dependent on current data.
  3. Reception aesthetics
    In general terms, it deals with the interaction between reading / processing the reading and the communication situation between author, text and reader. There was a paradigm shift in literary studies at the end of the 1960s, when text analysis inherent in the work and traditional influence research were pushed into the background by the aesthetics of reception. The reader and also the author as reader were discovered as an indispensable part of literary processes and the mechanisms that take place during reading and that follow reading were examined more closely.
    The aesthetic of reception has receded somewhat into the background in recent years and has been replaced by the intertextuality debate . H. on the one hand from the concrete implementation of reception in production, on the other hand from the question of the unconscious elements (for example the adoption of cultural values ​​and moral concepts) in productive reception, from the question of text as a complex phenomenon, as an open system itself.

On this subject see Reception Theory and Intertextuality .

Generic issues

Even the word genre is not unproblematic in literary studies, as it means the four major genres epic (today more like narrative literature), drama , lyric (not every poem is lyrical) and functional texts (non-fiction, didactic texts, instructions for use, etc.) and the Subgenres for these genres ( novel , short story , short story , tragedy , comedy , sonnet , ballad , etc.). The two most important fields of research are genre history and genus theory . The genre history follows the development of individual genres diachronically and synchronously (for example the story of the novel). She sets different priorities, e.g. As the division of the novel thematic aspects ( historical novel , Bildungsroman , consciousness novel , Roman City , etc.). A clear demarcation from the formal criteria of a genre is not always possible, which is why content-related aspects can certainly be linked to the history of form. In contrast, genus theory is more interested in ahistorical phenomena. She tries to show the constants of a genus that are valid in all epochs, and is interested in so-called universals or invariants. Another way of looking at the genre problem lies in the analysis of the genre reception: the question of whether certain genres are more widely recognized than others in a certain epoch, whether certain genres dominate an epoch or are formative for it. The author’s attitude to generic models and conventions with regard to his own work is also the subject of this comparative work area.

On this subject see genre (poetry / literature) .

Literary theory

Closely related to the theory of genres is literary theory, which can be used as a generic term for all systematic attempts to arrive at general and typological statements. It is closely related to the philosophical discipline of aesthetics . Literary theory has set itself the task of exploring the essence of literature and tries to consider all factors that are constitutive for a literary work, for example the producer level (author), the text level and the recipient level (readership). Psychological , aesthetic, sociological and other phenomena play a decisive role here.

On this subject see literary theory .

Theory of literary translation

The theory and practice of literary translation is also an important area of ​​activity for comparative literature. This is faced with the difficulty that every language has an irreducible part of idioms and thus of untranslatability, which is particularly evident in literary work. Every translation is the mediation of a literary content, but at the same time a cultural shift. This is why literary translations are often referred to as productive, not reproductive reception, because there is not just a simple translation into another language, but a complicated intercultural process, in which the translator must also have aesthetic skills himself in order to be able to use the poetic To some extent do justice to the qualities of the original. A translator is a mediator and a creative author himself.

Translation types

In the discussion, there are two main types of translation: production-oriented and reception-oriented translation.

  • In production-oriented translation, the focus is on the source language and the author; H. the translator strives for a close proximity to the original by adopting and imitating linguistic peculiarities, i.e. emphasizing the level of expression (literal translation). This type of translation has steadily gained in importance since the Romantic era. For the reader, a production-oriented translation initially often means irritation and incomprehension, as what is linguistically and culturally foreign shines through in the translated text.
  • In reception-oriented translation, the focus is on the target language and the reader. The content level is emphasized here and the linguistic peculiarities of the original are adapted to the respective target language. In this context, one speaks of free translation, rewording (very often with poetry) or paraphrase .

In addition, translations can be differentiated according to their degree of accuracy :

  • The parodistic translation does not mean a new creation, but the transfer of a text into the culture of its time.
  • A prosaic translation , the concept of which goes back to Goethe , means a literal translation, which, however, avoids translation problems by means of explanations or reformulations.
  • An identifying translation is a verbatim translation.

The closest thing to the ideal or congenial translation would be a text that would reflect a balance between the level of expression and level of content.


Among the most important theorists of literary translation are among others, in antiquity, the church father Hieronymus , later Goethe, Schleiermacher , Walter Benjamin and Ortega y Gasset . The demand goes back to Goethe to make the translation "identical to the original" by the translator giving up the originality of his "nation" and joining the "nation" of the original text. If this does not succeed, Goethe recommends a parodistic translation, which makes the text more accessible to the general public. This ensures that as much of the original text as possible is retained.

According to Schleiermacher, the real goal should be to create a complete genesis of the two languages. The reader should get an impression of the spirit of the language and the author of the work. Schleiermacher also believes that translating is a hopeless, utopian endeavor. In his eyes, however, language can actually express all of our thinking. On the other hand, he considers a paraphrase (prosaic translation) or a replica (a translation free in form and content) only to be a makeshift.

Intercultural Hermeneutics

Intercultural hermeneutics (formerly: imagology) examines the “image of the other country”, which not only requires knowledge of foreign cultures, languages ​​and mentalities, but above all also requires intensive preoccupation with the values ​​and views of one's own culture. This gives rise to numerous questions: What is particularly noticeable when looking at a foreign culture and what is not? To what extent does the other culture correspond to your own worldview, and how far does it deviate from it? Is that why you emphasize the familiar or the unfamiliar? Do I even notice cultural peculiarities (e.g. social rules) if there are no comparable ones in my own culture?

The aim of intercultural hermeneutics is not only better understanding of others, but also a self-analysis through external analysis. The interesting question is how such stereotypes arise. Literary texts in particular have helped to bring other cultures closer to the domestic audience and to create an image that often does not correspond to reality. Several aspects are of particular importance in text analysis: the other culture as a material component (as a theme or motif); as a textual component (intertextuality, for example quotations in foreign languages); as a linguistic component (for example in literary translation).


Intermediality , i.e. the comparison or competition of the arts with one another ( certamen artium ) has been an important aesthetic question since antiquity, which is updated in idealism in Kant and Hegel . Accordingly, comparative intermediality research (formerly: comparison of arts ) examines the relationship between literature and painting, music, theater, film, etc., whereby in particular forms of mutual interpenetration of the arts ( visual poetry ; art as a subject of literature; adoption of artistic techniques such as collage and Montage ) and mixed artistic forms in which different disciplines interact (opera, art song, film) are of interest. The investigation of thematic similarities can also prove to be fruitful (e.g. mythology in text and images), or the individual psychological phenomenon of dual talent ( ETA Hoffmann as poet and composer, William Blake as poet and painter).

Institutes for comparative literature in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

In Germany, most of the comparative literature institutions are affiliated with other institutes, for example those for German studies, Romance studies or classical philology. There are the following independent institutes for general and comparative literature studies:

In German university policy, “General and Comparative Literature” is classified as a minor subject . The Small Subjects Office in Mainz maps the specialist locations of the subject in Germany.

Prominent comparatists

See also


  • Hendrik Birus : Comparing as a basic operation of hermeneutics. In: Henk de Berg, Matthias Prangel (eds.): Interpretation 2000: Positions and Controversies. Festschrift for Horst Steinmetz's 65th birthday. Winter, Heidelberg 1999, pp. 95-117, ISBN 3-8253-0807-3 .
  • Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann: Introduction to Comparative Literature. 2nd revised and expanded edition. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-503-07909-2 .
  • Ernst Grabovszki: Comparative literary studies for beginners. Böhlau / UTB, Vienna / Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-8252-3565-9 .
  • Jürgen Joachimsthaler : Differentiate and compare. Comparative literature or what is a cultural difference? In: Kulturwissenschaft (s). Concepts of different disciplines. Edited by Jürgen Joachimsthaler and Eugen Kotte. Meidenbauer, Munich 2010, pp. 79–101, ISBN 978-3-89975-224-3 (= cultural studies as an interdisciplinary project, volume 3).
  • Dieter Lamping , Frank Zipfel (Ed.): What should comparatists read? Schmidt, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-503-07954-8 .
  • Manfred Schmeling (ed.): Comparative literature. Theory and practice. Athenaion, Wiesbaden 1981, ISBN 3-7997-0764-6 .
  • Monika Schmitz-Emans, Uwe Lindemann (Red.): Comparative literature 2002/2003. Yearbook of the German Society for General and Comparative Literature Studies. With contributions in French. Synchron - Wissenschaftsverlag der Authors, Heidelberg 2003, ISBN 3-935025-52-1 .
  • Meinolf Schumacher : On the way to European literary studies. In: Rüdiger Zymner (Hrsg.): Allgemeine Literaturwissenschaft. Basic questions of a special discipline. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-503-04935-5 , pp. 197–207 ( Allgemeine Literaturwissenschaft 1), (2nd revised edition, ibid 2001, ISBN 3-503-04994-0 )
  • Carsten Cell: Comparaison / comparison. In: ders. (Ed.): Allgemeine Literaturwissenschaft. Contours and profiles in pluralism. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen – Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 978-3-322-93525-0 , pp. 33-58.
  • Carsten cell: comparative literature and 'comparatio' - the comparison in comparative literature. Sketch of an inventory. In: Komparatistik 2004/2005, pp. 13–33.
  • Evi Zemanek, Alexander Nebrig (ed.): Comparative literature . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2012, ISBN 3-05-005166-3 .
  • Rüdiger Zymner, Achim Hölter (Hrsg.): Handbuch Komparatistik. Theories, fields of work, knowledge practice. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02431-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Comparative literature  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Comparative associations and institutes
Link collections

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Definition in Duden
  2. Definition of terms in
  3. Importance of imagology in
  4. Complete list at the DGAVL
  5. see page of the Small Subjects Unit on General and Comparative Literature, accessed on April 16, 2019