Thoughts That Do Lie Too Deep for Tears: Comparative Literature Versus World Literature

J. Hillis Miller


"In this essay, I want, by way of the word 'tears' in a passage in one canonical work in nineteenth-century Romantic English literature, Keats’s 'Ode to a Nightingale,' to see what can be said about reading that word in the context of world literature as opposed to reading it in the context of comparative literature.... To perform written studies or teaching either in comparative literature or in world literature means making choices of texts to 'compare.' These choices are, in the end, and to a considerable degree, arbitrary. They are, perforce, not really 'representative.' They are not rationally defensible as the only 'right' ones. The choices manifest accident, or personal liking, or obedience to some convention or syllabus. The choices made of what to 'compare' are not texts the two disciplines can theoretically justify as 'typical.'"

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