Comp. Lit. Explanation


To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

On behalf of this department, I should like to thank you for the interest expressed in your editorial of October 5," Comp. Lit. Complaint." Nothing would please us better than to be able to meet this very amiable complaint by enlarging the number of our undergraduate courses. And your editorialist seems to grasp very well the circumstance that would hinder such enlargement--the fact that we are really a coordinating agency, staffed through the cooperation of various departments, which quite naturally have their own demands to meet first.

As to the courses you mention specifically, Comparative Literature 105 was compelled to turn away a large number of students net "Because the instructor wanted to teach a small class" but because his subject and method require intensive discussion. Comparative Literature 166 was overcrowded last year because it was then being offered for the first time, and the situation could not have been anticipated. It should also be pointed out that, between the spring and fall announcement of courses for the present year, four half-courses had to be withdrawn because of the death of Professor Matthiessen and Professor Guerard's unexpected leave of absence. Since one of these was needed by graduate students, it has been more or less filled by a last-minute change in may own plans; and through the good will of the Slavic Department, next term we are offering a new middle-group course by Professor Poggioli, Comparative Literature 102 ("Ideas of Tragedy"). It might also be said that several of the courses in Humanities, as well as many scattered through the Divisions of Ancient and Modern Languages, are comparative literature in essence if not in title.

And while we are on the subject of what constitutes comparative literature, may I bring up one other point? It is indeed, as your editorial states, "a field that stresses types and selected authors." But to say that it "generally ignores dates and boundaries" may raise false hopes in some of your readers or demoralize graduate students now preparing for our general examinations. We would rather say that an international approach to the study of literature helps us to understand the significance of dates and the nature of boundaries. Harry Levin, Chairman,   Department of   Comparative Literature.