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Core Course

Course Description for Core Course 1: Theory & Methodology

Alain Badiou once said that he does not really believe in comparative literature but that it has to be done all the same. Similar theories surround the field of translation, for example, that nothing can be translated or that everything is translatable. Comparison and translation share the fact that something is brought to another side, that boundaries are being crossed in the process of these activities. What is the object of study in comparative literature? How do we or ought we to compare? What are the limits of this field? And how should a text best be translated? Are translated texts like les belles infidèles, beautiful if unfaithful to the original and ugly if not? These are among the questions we will discuss in this seminar. This course is a seminar, not a lecture course, which means that it will live largely from student input and discussion.

Course Aims and Learning Outcomes:

The course will enable students to:

  • understand and contextualize a host of relevant material relating to comparative literature and translation studies,
  • apply theory to literature,
  • constantly think about how to apply their reading of theory to a selection of literature that they want to compare,
  • sharpen their critical and analytical skills,
  • learn about the various debates that surround the field of comparative literature and translation studies
  • research and write an essay (form a hypothesis, structure an argument and build an essay, reference outside sources);
  • research and present a paper (form a hypothesis, structure an oral presentation; maintain and sustain relations with the listeners, give an overview of sources).


1 presentation of a theoretical text on translation theory.

1 short essay (1000 words), submitted in week 8 of Michaelmas Term in which students will apply a theoretical aspect to their own selection of literature.

1 assessed essay (3500 - 5000 words), submitted the first week of Hilary term.

Weekly Schedule

  1. Introduction: Comparison and Translation
  2. Intertextuality and Dialogicity
  3. Globalizing a Genre: Bakhtin and Carnivalized Literature
  4. Comparative Literature and Cultural Theory: Nietzsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian
  5. Comparative Literature and Political Theory: Agamben’s Homo Sacer
  6. Comparative Literature and Institutions of Power: Foucault’s Madness and Civilization
  7. Reading Week
  8. Theory of Literary Translation I: student presentations Venuti, Lawrence. The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 2000. 
    Intro 1-11; 11-21; essays 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, plus introductions to sections
  9. Theory of Literary Translation II: student presentations Venuti, Lawrence. The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 2000.
    Essays 16, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 32, plus introductions to sections
  10. Theory of Literary Translation III: student presentations
  11. Questions of Methodology; preparation for papers and dissertation Build an argument, structure of paper, referencing


Course Description for Core Course 2: Literature and.......

For obvious intents and purposes the concept of intertextuality is of heightened interest to comparatists and translators, as we are dealing with dialogues between texts. Intertextual studies, however, threaten to collapse into mere random mushroom hunts for parallels between texts, unless such studies contain another element that gives them glue. This third element in a comparison of texts is the tertium comparationis without which comparative literature cannot exist, and from which literary translations will likewise profit. If we compare Joyce’s Ulysses with Homer’s Odyssey we can do so via mythological patterns or focus on certain motifs or themes that both texts contain. If we compare Richardson’s Clarissa with Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther we may choose to look at the genre of the epistolary novel or other features of the age of sensibility. These examples, however, are still limiting us, since the tertium comparationis stems from literary theory or literature itself. Once we leave literary theory for cultural theory and beyond this for other disciplines, we gain a wider spectrum of possibilities for comparative literature and a deeper understanding of literature for the literary translator. It can therefore be safely ascertained that if they want to be fruitful comparative literature and the art of literary translation have to develop awareness beyond the notion of intertextuality: as part of their hermeneutic motion these two inter-related fields have to interpret literature through the prism of other disciplines.This course will look at literature through various extra-disciplinary lenses and thus try to hone comparatists’ skills in moving between various discourses and their practices.

Assessment: 1 essay of approximately 3500 words arising from a session of your choice; the ideas for this essay will be presented briefly in the final week of the course.

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this model students will be able to:

  • Analyse literary texts through the lens of another discipline, i.e., think critically in interdisciplinary ways
  • Understand the importance of crossing boundaries of discourses and ways of thinking
  • Apply specific theories generated by other disciplines to literary studies.
  • Research and write an essay (form a hypothesis, structure the essay, think critically about primary and secondary sources and refer to them in footnotes)
  • Draw on a range of disciplines from cultural studies that broaden the way we interpret literature
  • Understand comparative literature as more than just comparing literature
  • Present their ideas for the essay in a coherent way by the end of the semester


Course Description for Moving Between Cultures

The course aims to explore fundamental issues relating to moving between cultures across a representative range of primarily European perspectives, tackling some of the theoretical and methodological issues raised by travel writing and other related forms of cultural expression. "Moving Between Cutures" lasts for two 9-week terms (Michaelmas and Hilary), with a couple of extra meetings in the final (Trinity) term. It will follow, in roughly chronological order, at the rate of two hours per week, a series of linguistically and culturally homogeneous mini-corpuses, each of which will raise an important issue relating to travel writing. In this way some of the multiple levels of conception and expression of intercultural movement will be identified and investigated. Two strands in particular will be explored: the theme of the imaginary trip as it moves from legendary travel, through fictional voyage to time travel (with focus on Irish, English, Russian and Slavonic texts); and the theme of travel in the real world as it involves arrivals and departures, homecoming and adventure, cultural and spatial movement (involving Italian, Germanic and Hispanic corpuses). In addition, some of the more specifically theoretical and semiotic issues raised by travel will be confronted in the sessions devoted to the travel writings of recent or contemporary French theorists.

Elements of overlap between these categories and the ultimately problematic nature of any kind of classification of cultural movement and exchange will be explored in a couple of sessions at the end of the year which a number of the class teachers will be present.