Slavisches Seminar

Literary Theory between East and West

Transcultural and Transdisciplinary Movements from Russian Formalism to Cultural Studies

An international handbook

Edited by:

Michał Mrugalski, Tübingen: Coordination, Poland, Germany, and Russia

Schamma Schahadat, Tübingen: Russia and Poland.

Danuta Ulicka, Warsaw: Poland and Russia.
Irina Wutsdorff, Tübingen: Czechoslovakia and Russia

To be published with De Gruyter in 2018

In the upcoming years, a handbook entitled Literary Theory between East and West: Transcultural and Transdisciplinary Movements from Russian Formalism to Cultural Studies will be published under the editorship of Michał Mrugalski, Schamma Schahadat and Irina Wutsdorff (University of Tübingen) as well as Danuta Ulicka (University of Warsaw). The handbook project will take an in-depth, research-based look at the cultural and historical conditionality of literary theory in and from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as tracing its exchange with Western academia. The time period to be covered ranges from the commencements of modern literary theory at the beginning of the 20th century up to the developments in the present day. Examined from a historical perspective, intellectual entanglement and the transfer of theories and ideas between players and institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond will be investigated. Specifically, this pertains to Russian, Polish, and Czech theories in exchange with each other and in interaction with the German-language cultural area. Furthermore, the transfer of knowledge from Eastern and Central Europe to the West and back will be examined. Our focus lays not only on transcultural, but also on transdisciplinary wanderings of ideas, the latter being the trademark of literary theory, which was in continuous exchange with other disciplines. Submerged and overlooked knowledge should in this way become visible in the Western field of theory. Political but also linguistic barriers have contributed to the fact that large parts of Central and East European thought and knowledge were not at all or very barely taken into consideration in Western Europe and in the Anglo-American area.

However, the project assumes that in the 20th century there was intensive, albeit, to a great extent, still not extensively described and, thus, largely ignored, intellectual movement in the Central and East European region as well as between East and Central Europe and Western academia, and that not only as a result of an active exchange of ideas, but also as a result of personal and institutional, official and unofficial contacts. Yet this exchange was only possible in a rather restricted or, conversely, enforced manner over long periods of time: Political events on the one hand lead to a number of waves of exile, and on the other to the seclusion of larger parts of Central and Eastern Europe. A few theories nonetheless made it into the Western discourse on literary theory via exiled scholars where some of them (e.g., Bachtin’s “Dialogicity”) became known only indirectly and were transferred to new cultural contexts while others (e.g., the theories of Ol’ga Frejdenberg or by Stefania Skwar­czyńska) had a limited reception outside of the Russian or Polish context.

A famous example for a successful and yet inhibited transfer of ideas is the story of literary structuralism, the origins of which can be traced back to transcultural Prague of the interwar period; structuralism split into numerous trends following WWII: the internationally renowned Paris structuralism captured the attention of academia, whereas the Warsaw structuralism and the further developments of Prague structuralism were much less known in the West and, as a consequence, have been neglected in the East after the fall of the Iron Curtain, as an eager reception of Western developments took off (the catching up with the West). This was unwarranted since both contained, among other great features, elements of those theories that were later (re)imported to Central and Eastern Europe from France and the USA under the label of post-structuralism.

Within the framework of the project we will follow a two-fold thesis: First, Russia as a place where modern literary theory came into existence did not come about by chance. The intend of discovering a neutral, culturally independent literariness and associated specific artistic methods in literary texts, which the Russian students of literature and linguistics formulated in the 1910s and 1020s, was a reaction to the traditionally high regard for literature as a place of national-cultural identification with a community in the Russian as well as the Polish, Czech, and German culture. Secondly, the concepts of literary theory came from and wandered into different disciplines, which can be seen as a reflex to the fact that literatures in the literature-centric countries of origin were always thought of in relationship to other cultural areas. Thus, the project is interested in further analysing two movements of exchange, of transfer, and of entanglement: between cultural areas and between disciplines, between literary theory and other disciplines of the humanities and cultural studies.