Risky Business: the challenge of east-west comparative studies

Comparative literature, especially as it is practiced as an academic discipline in American universities, seems to have had its frustrations and an acute sense of crisis. East-West comparative literature,in particular, has been put to question as a utopian (read "quixotic") and even impossible endeavor. The relativist insistence on cultural incommensurability and untranslatability forms a major challenge, and the lure of facile and mechanical application of Western theories to non-Western texts constitutes another. By reviewing some recent works, the author warns against the danger of theoretical speculations in total and neglecting the basic principles of persuasive argument and critical integrity. Against all the difficulties and challenges, however, the author argues for the value and validity of East-West comparative studies as an important discipline that will make significant contributions to the development of cross-cultural understanding and communication.