Fwd: Save CompLit at the University of Toronto–please circulate widely

Hot off the press/my Inbox, and taking precedence over the Posts In Progress (or PIPS). I’m hereby duly and dutifully circulating this widely.
UPDATE: Very brief  Some comment follows main item itself.
• on the prospect of being Rather Embarrassingly F***ed
• of kings and collegiality
• more on royal ill-assorted collage
• and now for something completely different

——– Original Message ——–

Dear colleagues,

I’m writing you to on behalf of the University of Toronto Comparative Literature Course Union regarding a very urgent matter requiring immediate action. In the winter, a secret Strategic Planning Committee at the University of Toronto met to determine the future of various Humanities departments and centres. Comparative Literature (and the Centre for Ethics, and the Centre for Diaspora Studies) will cease to exist sometime next year.  I have composed the following paragraphs to give you a fuller picture both of what the proposed academic plan will mean for us, and courses of action that you can take to help our campaign, as well as links to the publicity which we’ve received.  Generally speaking, we have the support of our union, of UTFA (the faculty association), and of various Humanities departments on campus. Academics and writesr from Julia Kristeva to Stanley Fish and Margaret Atwood have signed our petition or written in to show their dismay with the proposed changes.  We are an international, interdisciplinary program and our campaign will not suceed without the support of various academics, activists, and humanists.

Under the new plan, Complit would become a collaborative program as part of a newly created School of Languages and Literature. Its faculty would be ‘returned’ to their home departments  while all of the national languages/literature departments, with the exception of English and French, would be incorporated into the school. For the moment, English and French are safe, but the overall context is one in which the U of T is eliminating most of its humanities-based interdisciplinary centres and some of its programs for an overall savings of CAD 1.3 million.

Comparative Literature is a vital discipline and a very active presence at the University of Toronto. It currently hosts the largest graduate conference at the University of Toronto, which has become famous amongst comparatists for the quality of its speakers and the dialogue it fosters.Comparative Literature recruits an annual Northrop Frye speaker who gives a special seminar and talk for the wider university community. These speakers are usually extremely well-known scholars in the Humanities, from Julia Kristeva to Judith Butler, and the Frye chair thus serves as a kind of connection between the University of Toronto and famous scholars from around the worl. Finally, we work on advancing the dynamic work of Northrop Frye, Canada’s pre-eminent literary critic, who founded the Centre in 1969.  Although the Dean has categorized our work as outmoded, this year’s students have received Vaniers, SSHRCs, OGS, and Connaught fellowships.

This is what you can do to help:
1.)   Pass this email on to your friends, colleagues, and family
2.)   Sign our petition at
3.)  Go to our website, savecomplit.ca; join our facebook group “Save the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto”
4.)  Write to Dean Gertler and President David Naylor (please send us a copy of your letter too, for publication. Our email is savecomplit@gmail.com)

President David Naylor,
david.naylor@utoronto.ca, president@utoronto.ca
Dean Meric Gertler,
meric.gertler@utoronto.ca (Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee)

Finally, we’ve gotten some great publicity, including from Maclean’s and the Globe and Mail. Please see our webiste for links: http://www.savecomplit.ca/Links.html


Thank you so much for your help and attention! Please do not hesitate to contact me at this email address with any questions, or if you’d like to volunteer to help us in some way. [Ed. go to the aforementioned website for contact details]


Adding the following (screenshot) from FB, tying in an item in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education:

Also, it’s a shame that the SCHOL lexeme and SCHOLAR lemma have acquired negative connotations of late. Scholarship, scholarliness, that sort of thing–though, sure, there’s considerable overlap with “geek” (inc. vacillations in associations). On the other hand, LEARN and associates do have the advantage of verbal forms with different kinds of activity; and render “being taught” into an active, dynamic, responsible form: “learning”. Plus the emphasis on process: “become learned,” with a target to aim for, “being learned.” With a meaning that goes beyond the attributes of “scholar”: movement vs. stasis, the communicativeness of learning, it’s something to be transmitted, dead if it stays with you and your MR James closeted obsessive world, dead if you won’t or can’t pass it on.

The crucial link between transmission, tradition, and translatio (studii and broad-sense) and that fundamental pillar of literature, translation (sensu lato again, inc./and as translatio).

The other pillar of literature being of course comparison, thinking comparatively, and the comparative. Both pillars being (IMHO, unprovable conjecture, etc.) as old as literature itself, being foundations and a there since the beginnings of human wordy and otherwise metaphorical & representational activities of a sort that are, well, let’s say creative, entertaining, enlightening, and educational. I.e. literature.

What goes for philosophy (above) goes for literature. With apologies to the many philosophers in my ken who are not the sorts who deal with Continental thought and suchlike intersections between philosophical and literary activities; abhorring such things that can easily be called incoherent and inconsistent ramblings, senseless, nonsensical, anti-sense, absurd, silly … post-Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and maybe even pseudo-philosophical … But but but, preambling apology aside: there is a point of conjunction between the disciplines, and it’s because of it that it’s significant that these items–philosophy AND comparative literature being imperilled–are turning up at the same time. Their shared characteristic is: being thinking activities, engaging with their material in an abstract and metadisciplinary manner.

And that, ladies and germs, is why philosophy and comparative literature are dangerous and endangered. Thinking is hard: and a hard subject may be less popular. People who think are dangerous. Dangerous to the kind of non-thinking that’s the current non-ideology (being devoid of ideas, cos they require thought) that runs universities. The first factor is too easily used as a tool by unthinking and/or anti-thinking administrations. Bums on seats, Full Time or Equivalent Units–no more “students”, that’s got too many connotations of “studying” and “human persons”–a.k.a. the simplistic stats that are used to control learning. To control what teaching is offered and what research can be done; the latter controlled through funding and effective “buying out” from teaching–despite of and contrary to all the “integrated T&R” rhetoric. To control these things insidiously, by disclaiming all rationale, argument, thought, and agency from decision-making, because such thing are subjective and subjective is bad. Objective is good: mechanical process with minimal–ideally, zero–human thought and responsibility. There’s some slight room for manoeuvre: subjective as equated with individual may be bad, but is OK’ed if in a group/committee and part of a “process” of consultation and dialogue. That’s the only hope: to hold administrations to what those words mean.

Philology could win the day? In another happy conjunction between philosophy and literature: the logical, linguistic, and pejorative kinds of “sophistry”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.