Section 1 Charting the Territory

Comparative North American Studies and Its Contexts: Introduction

ReingardM. Nischik

This book develops a particular analytic approach to the literatures and cultures of North America, elaborating upon a transnational and at the same time comparative perspective on these countries,1 an approach we may call "Comparative North American Studies" or, when focused largely on literature, as is the case in this handbook, "Comparative North American Literature." The handbook is meant to chart relevant methodologies and major issues of Comparative North American Literature and to help this approach find its place in the ever-changing constellation of dealing with the United States and Canada and studying them across the disciplines. This recent approach to the study of the United States and Canada is presented at a time when both American Studies and Canadian Studies have been reorienting themselves, opening up in the wake of globalizing tendencies not only in economics, politics, and technology, but also in the context of literature and culture. This process has resulted in a tendency toward "transnational" (i.e., reaching beyond national borders) or sometimes even "postnational" approaches to literature (i.e., contesting the conceptual validity of nation-states in a globalized world), paying tribute to the effects of complex migratory movements as well as to national borders as a colonial overwriting of Indigenous conceptions of what is now designated as "North America."2 Since there are few methodological publications yet on Comparative North American Studies,3 this introductory chapter will approach the topic by first embedding it into the context of American Studies, Canadian Studies, hemispheric studies, and global studies. It will then deal with the method and value of comparative literature studies, before sketching the key reasons why Comparative North American Studies, and Comparative North American Literature in particular, form a promising, timely paradigm for dealing with the literatures and cultures of the United States and Canada and, finally, charting particularly relevant areas of concern. While this contextualizing introduction delineates the wider fields within which this project is situated, the exemplary chapters to follow take a cultural studies approach to literary texts and literary studies as their prime objects of comparative, theoretically oriented analysis in dealing with selected, particularly relevant areas of Comparative North American Literature.

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