The Benefits of a Comparative (and Expansive) Approach to American Literature for Austrian Students
Studying literatures from outside one’s own cultural/national/linguistic/ethnic background requires navigating through an interpretive Scylla and Charybdis. One extreme creates overly touristic readings that merely “honor” or “sample” local variations without also seeking to understand how and why they matter to a text’s reception outside its originating culture; the other assigns value to a work exclusively on the basis of its potential to transcend spatial and temporal borders. The narrow path between these two options involves remaining receptive to the unfamiliar without prejudging it – either positively or negatively – because of its alterity. Every scholar can bring his or her personal experiences and values to bear productively on a text provided that those experiences do not impart rigid expectations about what kind of literature is worthy of consideration.