Comparative Literature

Comparative Literature - MA

2018

Comparative Literature at Kent offers an excellent environment for the postgraduate study of literature beyond national and linguistic borders. The programme involves the study of literature from two or more national and linguistic traditions, allowing you to gain an intercultural and transnational understanding of diverse cultural and literary practices.

2018

Overview

The MA programme explores three main areas: themes, genres, movements and major literary figures; the interactions and exchanges between national literary traditions; and the theory and practice of comparative literature. These complementary strands encourage comparative analysis in a variety of contexts, ranging from the study of national literatures to the exploration of different genres, periods, media and literary theory.

The programme is offered by the Department of Comparative Literature and benefits from staff expertise in a range of areas, including European modernism, postmodernism, postcolonial literature, literature and medicine, literature and sexuality, literature and psychoanalysis and literature and the visual arts. Our programme also draws on additional expertise in the School of European Culture and Languages, particularly from colleagues in the departments of French, German, Hispanic Studies and Italian.

You begin by studying a choice of four modules across the Autumn and Spring terms, before writing a 12,000-word dissertation over the summer, supervised by an expert in the department. The programme can also be studied in Canterbury and Paris, where you relocate to Kent’s Paris centre for the spring term.

The MA in Comparative Literature is an ideal programme for those wanting to engage in and pursue detailed literary and cultural analysis that crosses national boundaries.

National ratings

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, modern languages and linguistics was ranked 3rd for research quality, 3rd for research output and in the top 20 for research intensity, research impact and research power in the UK.

Our submission was the highest ranked nationally to include modern languages – a testament to our position as the UK’s European university. An impressive 100% of our research was judged to be of international quality and the School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research.

Course structure

Modules

The following modules are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.  Most programmes will require you to study a combination of compulsory and optional modules. You may also have the option to take modules from other programmes so that you may customise your programme and explore other subject areas that interest you.

Modules may include Credits

This module investigates modernism as a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary phenomenon via close readings of a selection of literary and essayistic texts written in the early decades of the 20th century by a range of key European authors. After an exploration of the socio-cultural and historical contexts from which these texts emerge, we study the specificities of modernist literature by paying close attention to the formal and stylistic innovations which accompany typically modernist thematic preoccupations, such as deviant sexuality, the workings of the unconscious, self-reflexive thematizations of the specificities of the medium, new technological developments, the city, time, decay and a sense of metaphysical despair. Stylistic techniques such as multi-perspectivity, free indirect discourse, stream-of-consciousness, montage and fragmentation are explored not just as tools for rendering a dramatically altered conception of experience, but as formal expressions of the plight of the peripatetic modernist subject in their own right.

The course will be taught in English. Relevant texts may be studied in English translation, but students with proficiency in European languages are encouraged to read texts in the original language.

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Our contemporary world has been shaped decisively by the histories of colonialism and imperialism and, concomitantly, of postcolonialism. Nationhood, hybridity and identity, globalism and regionalism, diasporas, the politics of gender and cultural diversity and difference have emerged as topics central not only to postcolonial studies but also to the interplay of regional and global societies and their cultural practices. However, when reviewing the engagement with postcolonial issues in Anglo-American academia, it is striking that there is a pronounced bias towards Anglophone postcolonial artistic, literary, and cinematic production. This obviously is a distorted perspective since not only do essential theoretical texts on colonialism and postcolonialism originate in other linguistic and cultural contexts (and have, like the writings of Frantz Fanon or Albert Memmi made their mark at least to a degree in postcolonial studies), but the cultural practices of other postcolonial spheres are no less versatile and varied.

While it is not practicable, nor even desirable or possible, to include 'all' postcolonial contexts, this module still aims at developing a distinctly comparative perspective on the various developments and interactions between the Anglophone, Francophone and Hispanic spheres of postcolonial cultures, all of which originate from the confrontation with European colonialisms and imperialisms. It will highlight contexts, histories and locations of postcolonial cultures, it will investigate theorisations of postcolonial literatures and cultures and it will situate postcolonial cultural practices and theoretical writings within the complex, diverse histories and cultures which make up the 'postcolonial' world. To knit the various, linguistically defined, sections of this module together, texts have been chosen to allow the discussion of four central topics as they occur in different postcolonial cultures: language, identity, gender and nationhood. With Shakespeare's The Tempest and the essays by Rodó ("Ariel") and Retamar ("Calibán"), a frame is provided which introduces, encompasses and concludes the module's thematic concerns.

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The notion of autobiography as a documentary genre, in which the writer unproblematically records the facts of his or her life, has been called into question by modern critical studies of the genre, many of the most important theorists of autobiographical writing insisting upon its central place in the literary canon, alongside plays, novels, and poems, with which it would share a certain ‘literariness’. Focusing on a wide range of modern autobiographical texts from different national and linguistic cultures, this module will treat questions of generic definition, form, motivation, and rhetorical strategy. Among the specific questions to be considered are: Can autobiography be strictly defined? How does autobiography relate to other literary genres such as the diary or the first-person novel? Is autobiography a particular kind of narrative? Is there an identifiable rhetoric of autobiography? Is sincerity a meaningful criterion when considering autobiography? What kinds of relationship do autobiographers attempt to establish with their readers? We shall also consider some of the recurring themes in autobiographical writing since the Romantic period, including the representation of childhood, the family, sexuality, gender, ethics, mortality, and politics.

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This module is designed to familiarize students with the history of Comparative Literature as an academic discipline, to develop their ability to analyse critically the major conceptions of Comparative Literature that have emerged over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and to enable them to apply theories of Comparative Literature in the analysis of literary movements, literary genres, literary topoi (such as the ‘fallen woman’), and literary figures who recur at different moments in literary history (such as Odysseus, Oedipus, Antigone, and Faust). Students will begin by studying a range of major conceptions of Comparative Literature, and will consider the implications for the discipline of Comparative Literature of theories of globalization, multiculturalism, translation studies, and world literature. They will then proceed to analyse selected literary works within the framework of these conceptions of Comparative Literature. The module will therefore combine a theoretical with a practical literary-critical dimension, encouraging close reading and an appreciation of historical context in the analysis of theoretical and literary texts.

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The nineteenth-century novel has traditionally been seen in terms of categories or movements such as romanticism, realism, and naturalism. This module, rather than viewing novels in terms of their supposed adherence to the principles of particular aesthetic movements, reads a selection of nineteenth-century French novels as documentary fictions: fictions which document the modernity that makes them possible, and which are underpinned by incorporative documentary practices for which that modernity is also a condition of possibility. Of particular interest will be the ways in which contemporary discourses from various fields (medicine, science, historiography, social thought) are incorporated into these fictions. Rather than identifying ‘sources’, however, the emphasis will be on situating fictional texts in their wider discursive and epistemological contexts, and identifying points of commonality between literary and extraliterary discourses.

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This module examines a selection of French novels from the post-war period to the present day. Each of these novels employs the tropes of detective fiction as part of a wider literary project. The module invites students to analyse the ways in which the hermeneutic imperative of detective fiction is deployed within literary (and often experimental) fiction from this period. The corpus will include nouveaux romans, works by the Oulipo writer Georges Perec, the postmodern detective fictions of Pennac and Echenoz, and Amélie Nothomb’s autofiction. Students will be encouraged to explore questions of genre fiction, the productive interplay between genre fiction and literary fiction during this period, and the ways in which the tropes of detective fiction are used during the postmodern period to explore questions of knowledge, truth and identity.

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This module will introduce students to a wide range of theoretical positions with the aim of enriching their understanding and appreciation of literature and critical practice. We will begin with the thinking of Nietzsche and Freud, before examining that of Saussure, Benjamin, Lévi-Strauss, Genette, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Kristeva, Cixous, and Irigaray. As well as encouraging a critical engagement with the claims of the theories themselves the module will examine a number of representative theoretical readings of literary works. Students will learn to evaluate these various thinkers and use their ideas, as appropriate, in their own writing.

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This module examines a selection of pre-eminent texts in modern French art theory and philosophy. It invites students to analyse and to chart intersections and developments in French writing on the image across shifting critical landscapes, including those marked by phenomenology, structuralism and post-structuralism. Students will be encouraged to explore French theories of art with due attention to historical precedents, and to reflect on the aesthetic, political and technological significance of the visual arts for a wide range of French thinkers.

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The topic of the dissertation will usually be based on, and develop from, work undertaken on one or more of the four coursework modules undertaken in the course of the MA. The dissertation must be comparative in nature, including an analysis of more than one work, from more than one national/linguistic tradition.

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Teaching and Assessment

Assessment is by one 5,000-word essay for each module, and the dissertation.

Programme aims

This programme aims to:

  • provide you with the knowledge and skills to prepare you for the academic study of comparative literature at MPhil/PhD level
  • attract outstanding students, irrespective of race, background, gender, or physical disability from within the UK
  • further the University’s International Strategy by attracting graduate students from abroad as well as from the UK
  • enable you to begin to specialise in your areas of interest
  • enable you to hone your ability to read literature and literary theory critically and comparatively
  • provide you, consistent with point one above, with a transition from undergraduate study to independent research
  • provide you with a training that will culminate, if followed through to PhD level, in the ability to submit articles to refereed journals in comparative literature.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

You gain knowledge and understanding of:

  • several key periods in modern European literature, based on a critical study of the relevant literature and literary theory
  • the applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry in comparative literature, in particular through an engagement with questions of genre, the concept of literary movements, literary theory, and literature’s relation to other discourses (including psychoanalysis and philosophy)
  • the ability to conceptualise, design and implement the final project (dissertation).

Intellectual skills

You develop intellectual skills in:

  • listening attentively to complex presentations, using your powers of analysis and imagination
  • reading carefully a variety of technical and non-technical material
  • using libraries effectively
  • reflecting clearly and critically on oral and written sources
  • marshalling a complex body of texts
  • remembering relevant material and bringing it to mind when needed
  • constructing cogent arguments in the evaluation of this material.

Subject-specific skills

You gain subject-specific skills in:

  • the ability to understand and analyse complex literary and theoretical material
  • the ability to read literature in a comparative context
  • the ability to differentiate between the formal implications of differing genres (ie poetry, prose, drama, photography, painting, and film) and to respond to the differing problems of these genres and media
  • the ability to situate literary and theoretical texts in their socio-historical context.

Transferable skills

You gain the following transferable skills:

  • working with others: participating in seminar discussions, responding to the views of others and to criticisms of your own views without giving or taking offence, engaging in independent group work, including the running of the graduate seminar
  • language skills: discussing complex material in English and (where possible) in the language(s) of original composition
  • communication: producing focused and cogent written work, giving oral presentations, using visual aids where appropriate
  • problem-solving: identifying problems, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions, defending your own solutions with cogent arguments
  • improving your learning: identifying your strengths and weaknesses, assessing the quality of your own work, managing your time and meeting deadlines, learning to work independently
  • using information technology: using online information sources, word-processing essays, using email for receiving and responding to communications.

Careers

Comparative literature graduates develop key skills, including critical thinking, analysis and problem solving. They go on to successful careers in areas such as the media, academia and many different cultural institutions including libraries, museums and galleries.

Study support

About the Department of Comparative Literature

Comparative Literature is part of the School of European Culture and Languages (SECL), which embraces eight other disciplines: Classical & Archaeological Studies, English Language and Linguistics, Modern Languages (encompassing French, German, Hispanic Studies and Italian), Philosophy and Religious Studies. This means that students enrolled on a postgraduate programme in Comparative Literature can draw on the excellent resources of a diverse team of teachers with expertise in many key areas of European culture.

The research interests of our staff are specifically comparativist in nature, and include the European avant-garde, modernism and postmodernism, postcolonial literature, literary theory, and the relationship between literature and the visual arts. In addition to the research expertise of our staff, all postgraduates in Comparative Literature benefit from the activities organised by the Centre for Modern European Literature. These include lectures by prestigious guest speakers, research seminars, conferences and a reading group.

Postgraduate resources

The Templeman Library has excellent holdings in all our areas of research interest, with particular strengths in modern European literature. The School of European Culture and Languages provides high-quality IT facilities, with state-of-the art language laboratories, dedicated technical staff and designated areas for postgraduate study. Language-learning and translation facilities include eight all-purpose teaching rooms, two networked multimedia laboratories and a streamed film library.

Training

All postgraduate students in SECL have the opportunity to undertake both subject-specific training and an extensive postgraduate skills training programme provided by the Graduate School. The School provides training workshops for postgraduate students with teaching responsibilities, bringing together students from all its subject areas. Research students gain further academic experience by giving research talks in the Centre for Modern European Literature seminar series, and attending national and international conferences.

Language speaking

Every year, a considerable number of native speakers of foreign languages follow our courses, and several European exchange students stay on to do graduate work. There are also foreign language lectors who are either combining teaching with a Kent higher degree or completing a dissertation for their home universities. We can assist with language-training needs for overseas postgraduates, particularly where English is concerned, and are also involved in the Erasmus and Tempus networks.

Dynamic publishing culture

Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: Comparative Critical Studies; French Studies; Forum for Modern Language Studies; German Life and Letters; Modern Language Review.

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Entry requirements

A first or 2.1 in a relevant subject (eg, English, French, German, Italian, Hispanic Studies, Classics), or equivalent.

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, and professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country. 

English language entry requirements

The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Need help with English?

Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.

Research areas

Areas of particular research strength in Comparative Literature at Kent include the European avant-garde, modernism and postmodernism, postcolonial literature, literary theory, literature and medicine, literature and the visual arts, literature and sexuality, and literature and philosophy. The list below indicates the range of current research interests of members of staff within Comparative Literature and the other disciplines with whom we work closely. Many of these staff are members of the Centre for Modern European Literature. They can supervise postgraduate students for the MA or PhD degrees in any of their respective areas of expertise. If you are considering applying to undertake a research degree, we encourage you to contact us to discuss your plans at an early stage of your application.

  • The European avant-garde
  • Modernism and postmodernism
  • Postcolonial literature
  • Literary theory
  • Literature and medicine
  • Literature and philosophy
  • Literature and sexuality
  • Literature and the visual arts

Centre for Language and Linguistic Studies

Founded in 2007, the Centre for Language and Linguistic Studies (CLLS) promotes interdisciplinary collaboration in linguistic research and teaching. Membership embraces not just the members of English Language and Linguistics but also other SECL members with an interest in the study of language, as well as researchers in philosophy, computing, psychology and anthropology, reflecting the many and varied routes by which individuals come to a love of language and an interest in the various disciplines and subdisciplines of linguistics.

Centre for Modern European Literature

Many of the most significant European writers and literary movements of the modern period have traversed national, linguistic, and disciplinary borders. Co-directed by members of Comparative Literature, French, and German, the Centre for Modern European Literature aims to promote collaborative interdisciplinary research that can do justice to these kinds of border crossing. Ranging across English, French, German, Italian and Spanish literature, the Centre focuses in particular on the European avant-garde, European modernism and postmodernism, literary theory, the international reception of European writers, and the relations between modern European literature and the other arts, including painting, photography, film, music and architecture. The Centre’s activities include a lecture and seminar series and the regular organisation of conferences. It also works with the editors of the postgraduate journal Skepsi, and runs the MA in Modern European Literature.

Staff research interests

Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.

Dr Katja Haustein: Lecturer in Comparative Literature

French and German autobiographical writing; visual culture; memory and identity; literature and the emotions; women and gender; art and medicine.

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Professor Ben Hutchinson: Professor of Modern European Literature

Nineteenth and 20th-century German and European literature, especially Rilke, W G Sebald, Jean Améry, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Geoffrey Hill, 20th-century poetry, modernism.

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Dr Patricia Novillo-Corvalan: Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature

Modernism, 20th-century Hispanic and Latin American literature; Borges, Cortázar, Joyce; reception studies; medical humanities.

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Dr Anna Katharina Schaffner: Reader in Comparative Literature

Modernist literature, the history of sexuality, the European avant-garde, the history of medicine and psychoanalysis.

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Dr Axel Staehler: Reader in Comparative Literature

Jewish literature and culture, early modern European festival culture, the 18th-century novel in Europe, intermediality and ‘iconarratology’, postcolonial literature and theory, contact zones and intercultural communication, fundamentalism and literature.

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Professor Shane Weller: Professor of Comparative Literature

European modernism, postmodernism and literary theory; Beckett, Kafka, Blanchot, Celan, Bernhard, Sebald; literature and ethics; literature and philosophy; history of ideas.

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Dr Xiaofan Amy Li: Lecturer in Comparative Literature

France and China/East-Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries, the French reception of Chinese antiquity.

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Fees

The 2018/19 annual tuition fees for this programme are:

Comparative Literature - Taught MA at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £7300 £15200
Part-time £3650 £7600

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact information@kent.ac.uk

General additional costs

Find out more about general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent. 

Funding

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