Edward Said (1935–2003) from “Connecting Empire to Secular Interpretation,” Culture and Imperialism (1994)

  • Lee Morrissey


From long before World War Two until the early 1970s, the main tradition of comparative-literature studies in Europe and the United States was heavily dominated by a style of scholarship that has now almost disappeared. The main feature of this older style was that it was scholarship principally, and not what we have come to call criticism. No one today is trained as were Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer, two of the great German comparatists who found refuge in the United States as a result of fascism: this is as much a quantitative as a qualitative fact. Whereas today’s comparatist will present his or her qualifications in Romanticism between 1795 and 1830 in France, England, and Germany, yesterday’s comparatist was more likely, first, to have studied an earlier period; second, to have done a long apprenticeship with various philological and scholarly experts in various universities in various fields over many years; third, to have a secure grounding in all or most of the classical languages, the early European vernaculars, and their literatures. The early-twentiethcentury comparatist was a philolog who, as Francis Fergusson put it in a review of Auerbach’s Mimesis, was so learned and had so much stamina as to make “our most intransigent ‘scholars’—those who pretend with the straightest faces to scientific rigor and exhaustiveness—[appear to be] timid and relaxed.”1


Comparative Literature Literary History Western Literature Spiritual Unity Subject Race 
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  1. 1.
    Francis Fergusson, The Human Image in Dramatic Literature (New York: Doubleday, Anchor, 1957), pp. 205–06.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    George E. Woodberry, “Editorial” (1903), in Comparative Literature: The Early Years, An Anthology of Essays, eds. Hans Joachim Schulz and Phillip K. Rein (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973), p. 211.Google Scholar
  3. Harry Levin, Grounds for Comparison (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 57–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Claudio Guillésrn, Entre lo unoy lo diviso: Introduccion a la literature comparada (Barcelona: Editorial Critica, 1985), pp. 54–121.Google Scholar
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    Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953).Google Scholar
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    Cited in Smith, Uneven Development (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 101–2.Google Scholar
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    Antonio Gramsci, “Some Aspects of the Southern Questions,” in Selections from Political Writings, 1922—1926, trans. and ed. Quintin Hoare (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1978), p. 461.Google Scholar
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    John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Vol. 3, ed. J.M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), p. 693.Google Scholar

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© Lee Morrissey 2005

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  • Lee Morrissey

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