Category Archives: Centre for Comparative Literature

Carol Mavor at the Centre for Comparative Literature

The Centre for Comparative Literature is proud to present two lectures by Northrop Frye Professor in Comparative Literature for 2010-2011, Carol Mavor: Wednesday March 9 and Thursday March 10, 5:30, Jackman Humanities 100.

Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester, England. Mavor is the author of four books: Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott (Duke UP, 2007), Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess, Hawarden (Duke UP, 1999), and Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs (Duke UP, 1995) and Black and Blue: The Bruising of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil and Hiroshima mon amour, is forthcoming from Duke UP (2011). Her essays have appeared in Cabinet Magazine, Art History, Photography and Culture, Photographies, as well as edited volumes, including Geoffrey Batchen’s Photography Degree Zero and Mary Sheriff’s Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art. Her most recent published essay is on the French child-poet Minou Drouet.

Mavor’s writing has been widely reviewed in publications in the U.S. and U.K., including the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Times, and The Village Voice. She has lectured broadly in the US and the UK, including The Photographers’ Gallery (London), University of Cambridge, Duke University and the Royal College of Art.  For 2010-2011, Mavor was named the Northrop Frye Chair in Literary Theory at University of Toronto. Currently, Mavor is completing Blue Mythologies: A Study of the Hue of Blue (forthcoming from Reaktion in 2012).

Blue Mythologies is a visual, literary and cultural study of the color blue. Blue is a particularly duplicitous colour. For example, blue is often associated with opposites or near opposites: like joy and depression; or the sea and the sky; or infinite life and death. Mavor’s approach is semiological, as prescribed by Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (1953). “Mythology,” because it is truth disguised as fiction and fiction disguised as truth, is, by definition, as duplicitous as blue. The subjects are mostly Anglo-European and include a full range of blues: Chantal Akerman’s 2000 film  La Captive; the Aran islands off the coast of Western Ireland; cyanotypes and blue Polaroids; the Australian Satin Bowerbrid; Agnes Varda’s 1965 film  Le Bonheur; Roger Hiorns Seizure, the 2006 installation of copper-sulfite crystals grown to cover an entire London bed-sit; Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1993 film Blue;  Werther’s Goethe (1774), Novalis’s Henry von Ofterdingen (ca. 1799-80) and Bernardin’s Paul et Virginia (1787). Nevertheless, the research includes blue in non-Western contexts: for example, Krishna’s blue skin in eighteenth-century Jodhpur painting or the powder-blue burqas in Samira Makhmalbaf’s 2003 film, At Five in the Afternoon.

How Student Activism Saved the Centre for Comparative Literature

Here’s the article from

A sample:

Some key components of the students’ and faculty’s campaigns included petitions, letter-writing campaigns, protests and discussions at town hall meetings with the Dean. As time went on, the chances of the programs’ survival gradually increased.

“I think that one of the first key moments in our fight was when our story was reported on [the front page of The Globe and Mail], Stapleton says. “That was the first moment when it became clear people outside of the university cared about this situation — to see any issue on the front page really gives support to what we’re doing.”

An Email from Neil ten Kortenaar

Dear Michael Happy,

You may have heard the good news: the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto will survive.  The great outpouring of international support for the Centre in the form of letters and signatures to the on-line petition made the administration think again about their plans to cut the Centre’s degree programs.  The Administration has also stepped back from its decision to fold the languages and literature departments into a single School of Languages and Literatures.  German, Spanish and Portuguese, Slavic, Italian, and East Asian Studies will all retain their status as independent departments.

There is not only relief but excitement.  One good thing that has come out of the otherwise regrettable crisis is a new spirit of collaboration among the languages and literatures at Toronto.  The Centre for Comparative Literature will develop closer links to Victoria College (the part of the university where Northrop Frye had his academic home|) and to the undergraduate program in Literary Studies housed there.  This is all to the good.

I would like to thank you and all the many contributors to the Frye blog for all the support and coverage you have given us through the crisis.  Know that it all worked.

Thank you again.

Best wishes,

Neil ten Kortenaar, Director, Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Linda Hutcheon Scholarship

University Professor and past president of the Modern Language Association of America, Linda Hutcheon, has just retired from the University of Toronto.  Professor Hutcheon is the most cited living Canadian scholar of literature, the only worthy successor to Northrop Frye. According to the citation index Publish or Perish, she has been cited 5,605 times in Google Books.  Her h-index, a formula based on how many books a scholar has produced as well as on citations, is 17, the same h-index as Marshall McLuhan or Salman Rushdie.

But, more than her publications, Linda has transformed the ethos of the academic units she works in by making all relations warmer and more human. The two words most associated with her professional presence among us are generosity and community. All her students can testify to her generosity. Since coming to U of T 1989 she has supervised 61 PhD theses!  She has served on another 61 thesis committees! Her example has taught all of us, her students and her colleagues alike, what the mentor-student relation can be.  Linda has also provided us with a wholly new model of what literary scholarship can be.  It does not have to be solitary. Research, publication, and teaching, she has taught us, are all collective enterprises.

Upon her retirement, in her honour the Department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto have established a scholarship in Linda’s name to be awarded to an incoming PhD student in English or Comparative Literature working in the areas of contemporary literature, theory, or interdisciplinary approaches to literature. If you would like to donate to the Linda Hutcheon Scholarship Fund, it is possible to make an online contribution by visiting either the Comparative Literature ( or English web-sites ( and following the links.

Centre for Comparative Literature: The Official Student Response


Below is a statement in response to the July 15, 2010 memorandum from Vice Dean Baker, available here, presented to Vice Dean Baker and Vice Dean Smyth (SGS) in a meeting on August 24, 2010.  Link to the statement here.

The recommendation of the University’s Strategic Planning Committee to disestablish the Centre for Comparative Literature as part of the creation of a new School of Languages and Literatures has caused considerable alarm across the University of Toronto and throughout the global community of humanities scholars. One need only peruse the dozens of letters written by the world’s leading humanists, or scan the thousands of signatures on the petition to preserve Comparative Literature, or spend a few minutes assessing the growing media coverage of the SPC’s proposal, to realize that the Centre is seen globally as unique and preeminent in its mandate and accomplishments, that it stands as one of Canada’s major contributions to humanities scholarship, and that its proposed disestablishment is widely perceived as a symbolic attack on the humanities in general and as a particular statement about Canada’s new scholarly priorities. There now remains no doubt what the proposed disestablishment of the Centre would mean for U of T’s reputation and prestige in the humanities; the voices from our peer institutions have weighed in and continue to weigh in, and their opinions are virtually unanimous. General bewilderment surrounds the SPC’s proposal, which has, so far, failed to publicly offer a defense of itself in budgetary terms and, more importantly, failed to articulate any coherent intellectual justification for its recommendations, including the creation of a School of Languages and Literatures and most especially the disestablishment of the Centre for Comparative Literature. That these proposals were made by a committee of 12 members whose proceedings and deliberations remain confidential only increases the general feeling of isolation, disregard, and inability to understand the proposal or its justifications. The directors and faculty of all the affected departments and centres are left to feel angry and slighted, and to conclude that their disciplines were not understood or treated with respect by the members of the SPC.

No one, however, has been more shocked, confused, hurt or anxious than the current students of the Centre for Comparative Literature. Not only do we concur with the sentiments of our administrators and professors, as well as those of our peers around the world, but we must also consider the implications of this proposal for our remaining years as graduate students at U of T and for our careers as professional academics in the field of comparative literature. Of course, this assessment leaves us with many troubling questions, some shared by all and some highly individual—concerning our own research and supervisory needs. We thank Vice-Dean Baker and Vice-Dean Smyth for making time to field our questions in person and sincerely hope that this session will help us as students to better understand the positions and priorities of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and help the Faculty, represented by Vice-Dean Baker, and the School of Graduate Studies, represented by Vice-Dean Smyth, to better understand our concerns, positions and priorities.

In the interest of maximizing clarity and productivity during our brief meeting together, we respectfully put forward the following points, agreed upon by the members of our student body, as a foundation for today’s discussions:

1) We strongly disagree with the SPC’s assessment of our Centre as home to an outmoded discipline whose work is done. The backhanded compliment that “the Centre has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams” simply does not ring true. The notion of a discipline too successful for its own good is absurd and not applied to any other discipline whose central texts are widely read. We strongly assert that, first, the SPC is incorrect to say that the teaching of critical theory is now widespread in the humanities disciplines. This is not the case, as even a cursory perusal of course lists in the national-literature departments reveals. For this reason, students from all these departments come to comparative literature for coursework in critical theory, and some of these departments require their students to take courses in comparative literature in order to obtain a “theory” minor. Moreover, we remind the SPC that, although comparative literature was historically the home of continental philosophy, disseminating this body of thought was never the sole purpose of comparative literature but only one of its pragmatic tasks. We find it hard to believe that any serious scholarly assessment of the work done in comparative literature at U of T, in its relation to the work done by other humanities departments, would find it redundant, antiquated, or superfluous. Therefore, we are suspicious that such an assessment was not undertaken. If it was, we respectfully request to see it. If it was not, we respectfully request that it be undertaken in good faith and with full transparency before any further discussion of comparative literature’s ostensible redundancy.

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