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This brief essay on a huge subject is very much thinking in progress.  To achieve a manageable scope for discussion, I engage key programmatic works by three Western comparatists, representing three generations over the last half-century: Erich Auerbach, Edward Said, Franco Moretti. I select works that are roughly evenly spaced—the early 1950s, the mid-1970s, and 2000—although I will not be dealing with them in chronological order. For the argument developed here, criticism deals concretely with the language of texts, while theory is cast in abstraction, at a distance. By this definition, a lot of what we call theory, because it is thoughtful—much of the work of Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida—would count as criticism.
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