Liberation Philology II

The incomparable comparison: “Ever since the fifteenth century the sciences having for their object the human intellect and its works have made no discovery to be compared to that which has revealed to us in India an intellectual world of marvellous wealth, variety and depth, in a word, another Europe. If we review our most settled ideas in comparative literature, in linguistic knowledge, in ethnography, in criticism we shall find them stamped and modified by this grand and capital discovery.” Ernest Renan, The Future of Science, p. 127.

“… true psychology would consist above all in the history of literatures…. I am under the impression that the comparative study of the different literatures has afforded me a much wider idea of human nature than that generally conceived. No doubt there is a good deal that is universal… But this universality is not where we believe it to be…” (Ibid., p. 163. The┬áRenan of 1890 chides the Renan of 1848 for lacking “a sufficiently clear perception of the inequality of races,” a dubious acquisition of the later nineteenth century: see p. xix.)

“… when China, Judaea, Egypt shall have been restored to us in their primeval aspects, when we shall have finally arrived at the perfect understanding of the whole of human development [,] [t]hen and only then the reign of criticism will be inaugurated. For criticism will only proceed with perfect surety when the field of universal comparison shall be thrown open to it. Comparison is the great instrument of criticism.” (Ibid., p. 277.)