The cluster of concerns that fall under literary theory remains a vital core interest of Comparative Literature as faculty research has expanded to include new critical and post-critical perspectives. Literary theory addresses questions regarding the nature and production of meaning and form in language generally and in literary works in particular (poetics, genre, and rhetoric), performativity, the constitution of the subject, cognitive science and philosophy of mind, theories of inscription, and practices of reading. Typically engaged with European philosophy and with psychoanalysis, this field of inquiry has been traditionally identified with structuralist and poststructuralist theory as well as the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and its heirs.
The Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell has been prominent in this area while orienting itself to the future by integrating work from Asia and the Global South into a more expansive, decentered, trans-regional field of theoretical investigation. Translation studies addresses traditional trans-linguistic theories and practices but also issues concerning the crossing of cultures and nations, both of which have become increasingly necessary and vexed in the context of globalization.