This article revisits the emergence of “comparative” and “world” literature within the early nineteenth century, arguing that we can only understand the full normative force of the two terms if we read them rhetorically. In order to do this, the article draws on Roman Jakobson’s classic essay “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” (1956). Jakobson makes a number of claims in this essay, the most celebrated of which is his distinction between the two poles of “metaphoric” and “metonymic” language. The motor of metaphor, Jakobson reminds us, is similarity (one thing is like another); the motor of metonymy, on the other hand, is contiguity (one thing is next to, or part of another). Jakobson’s distinction, this article suggests, maps instructively onto the mechanisms of comparative and world literature: where the former compares one text to another, the latter situates one text within the global field of others. For comparison to be possible, initially, the things being compared must stand apart; to claim the status of world literature for a given work, conversely, is to make it part of a broader whole. Comparative and world literature may thus be said to function as a mobile army of metaphors and metonymies.

You do not currently have access to this content.