The introduction first showcases the effects of the “relative age of cultures” on the self-perception, self-representation, and cultural production of younger cultures by analyzing the relationship between “old Egypt” and “young Greece” as portrayed in Plato’s Timaeus. Noting the poverty of our conceptual vocabulary for cultural reception processes, it coins the term “reference culture” to capture the role of the older culture in the multi-faceted and intimate cross-cultural reception processes that were at work in the Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman constellations (which differed from the more limited and distanced Greco-Egyptian relation). The introduction then makes a case for the urgency of comparative studies in the Humanities and the world at large. In contrast to the casual flaneurism that comparative literature has sometimes been blamed for, this book claims that the challenge of our times is to respond to the “comparative imperative” that urges us to develop fine-grained comparative methods for large-scale comparisons of literary cultures around the globe as a means to understand the diversity of our pasts, define our identities today and shape a shared future.
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