Umberto Eco has suggested that we imagine a methodological bifurcation in the intellectual culture of late medieval missionary Christianity, a bifurcation presenting two quite distinct responses to the biblical story of Babel and the post-Roman allegory of “Europe” it represents. This essay suggests that we reconsider some of the most important debates in u.s.-based literary and cultural studies during the last two decades and imagine them as genealogically sprung from this bifurcation in responses to linguistic diversity during the formation of the idea of Europe. Over the last twenty years or so, responding to world-historical transitions like those of 1989-91 and 2001, the discipline of comparative literature has reexamined some of its key concepts (world, comparison, translation) as well as what is probably the most distinctive aspect of its method, acquired professional multilingualism. It is only more recently that a nominally newer formation based more exclusively in departments of English studies has re-presented us with comparative literature’s methodological counterpart or other, and with its own intellectual and also ethical challenges. That formation is the digital humanities, understood as what the author calls, adapting a phrase from David Golumbia, a culture of computation—and grasped in its emergence after 2001, alongside a surge of u.s. national security legislation and institution-building.

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