Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"No!" to Closing of Centre for Comparative Literature at UT


From The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, July 13, 2010
By Elizabeth Church, Education Reporter
What began as a groundbreaking initiative more than four decades ago by Northrop Frye, one of the greatest literary theorists of the 20th century, is set to become the latest casualty of campus cost-cutting.

The Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, which the world-renowned scholar and author of The Great Code led as its founding director, will welcome its final class this fall under a plan now being considered by the university.
The centre, which began as a unique place in North America for the study of critical theory and literature across cultures, helped put U of T and Canada on the academic map for critical theory. Now it is slated to become part of a new School of Languages and Literatures along with five other departments, a move that all but guarantees the end of Prof. Frye’s vision, say opponents of the plan.
“It is Frye’s heritage,” said Linda Hutcheon, a professor at the centre for 20 years and its first graduate in 1975. “He very much believed in literature being of the world and that got translated into the centre.”
Merging The Centre for Comparative Literature into a new School of Languages and Literature will not only end Frye's 'creation' in the literal sense, it will also change the direction of the study of literature. Critical literary theory, based on the examination of the world's literature, through the prism of Canadian and North American Literature, is and will always be different from the study of Literature and Languages. It is a macro approach to the way literature is shaped, and the way literature shapes the culture and replacing it with a micro approach is nothing if not an abandonment of the intellectual trajectory on which Frye established the Centre.
It is another of many signs, not only of cost-cutting and budget trumping needed perspectives, but also of the reductionism that attends much current 'intellectual' as well as political and economic and ethical thinking. Isolating a subject into its own silo was the very thing Frye was pushing against.
Frye's genius, without presuming to psycho-analyse the great mind, was in bringing the world and literature into focus. He developed his thought through the lens of (for example) both literature and scripture, and widened and deepened the perspectives of all who approached literature, and critical literary theory was at the core of his thinking. He understood through critical examination, the writer's cultural inheritance and the writer's unique contribution to the culture in which s/he lived.
No intellectual nor fiscal trimming of his vision is appropriate, or even conscionable. Arguing for the fact that "no jobs will be lost" is hardly the point of the debate. It is the reduction of this intellectual "cornerstone" of what students from all over the world came to U of T to experience that is the looming tragedy, or as Frye would put it, "an avoidance dream".
Re-think the proposal, before something integral to this university is submerged into a kind of intellectual pablum!

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