Graduate Program in Comparative Literature

Two features give Comparative Literature at UC Irvine its distinctive character. First, the department is committed to a conception of transnational comparatism in which the Euro-American zone is not accorded any privileged position while literatures and cultures of the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Latin America—the literatures of the colonized more generally—are accorded their rightful place. Second, the department trains its students in a range of theoretical perspectives that have been transforming scholarship over the past few decades. In fulfillment of these commitments, Ph.D. students in Comparative Literature can use any graduate course offered at the university to fulfill a departmental course requirement.This allows Ph.D. students to pursue research that values lines of inquiry over  pre-set national and genre categories.

Comparative Literature emerged as a separate department at UC Irvine in 2003 at a moment when the largely European orientations of the discipline were already under great stress, as was the idea of 'national' literature as such. Comparative Literature at UC Irvine was formed to explore how the discipline could join its strengths in critical theory to such forces as third world literature and gender and sexuality studies. These movements had developed not as pleas for inclusion in the existing canons but as assertion that most of twentieth-century literature, including many of its milestones, was produced outside the Euro-American zones as oppositional discourse that required re-imagining of the constituted disciplines. Comparative Literature at UCI was constructed to open the meanings of comparative literature as a field. In years since, the program has sought in turn to question the limits of the postcolonial paradigm through research in black studies, Native American studies, LGBQT studies, feminist studies, and various minority formations--for example, racial, ethnic, gendered, sexed, religious--within national and transnational spaces. 

Literary texts are viewed as one among many contexts of cultural production, such as environmental practices, rural and urban space construction, critical theory, and film images and visual representation. The Department offers courses in non-Western cinema and encourages use of film and media materials in other courses to lend depth and breadth to analysis of social and political dynamics. The many theoretical accents that have emerged out of the debates above involve reciprocal and mutually transformative relations with other components of critical theory, informed by such well-established modes of thought as Marxism and psychoanalysis. Intensive, sustained work in critical theory is as important a part of the graduate program in the department as the study of literatures and literary pedagogies.

Rather than demanding that Ph.D. students compare two national literatures, then, thus reifying both "nation" and "literature," Ph.D. students may explore the internal differences of a cultural and political phenomenon or a problem transverse to various categories. Graduate students have stakes in the governance of the program and can and do construct courses, conferences, and research groups. The seemingly less instrumental architecture of the degree is, finally, less narrowly "professional" but no less pragmatic than the two-national-literatures approach. While it's important not to minimize the unacceptable conditions of the academic job market, many Ph.D.'s from Comparative Literature have found tenure-track positions at Research 1 institutions while pursuing projects that are both idiosyncratic and politically satisfying.