Slavisches Seminar

Research Context

In 2004, Galin Tihanov formulated two theses that received a great amount of attention: first of all, according to Tihanov, modern theory of literature originated in Central and Eastern Europe. Secondly, he maintains that this kind of theory is presently undergoing a crisis which became visible as a result of the turn from a theory of literature towards an anthropology of literature in the late 1980s (Wolfgang Iser) or towards cultural semiotics, as was the case with Jurij Lotman (semiotics as a “global theory of culture”, Tihanov 2004, 61).

Both theses are of importance to our project, insofar as they provide the framework for our analysis of how modern theory of literature – which was formed at the beginning of the 20th century – evolved, how individual concepts were received, transformed, and incorporated into new cultural contexts, how different literary theories (structuralism, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, system theory, etc.) emerged and over the course of time fell back on the terminological and conceptual reservoir of early literary theory. How did literary theories dissociate themselves from Central and East European discussions and how did they continued to develop in France and in the USA? How was the dialogue of theories stemming from Central and Eastern Europe (at first formalism and structuralism, later [cultural] semiotics) conducted in exchange with Western theories? And how were local traditions supressed in favour of American and French theories? Lastly, what do theories transformed by Western discussions which are re-imported into Central and Eastern Europe look like? (cf. the movements of a theory-(re-)transfer, Hüchtker / Kliems 2011) Since these movements between cultures also include a transdisciplinary dimension it is also crucial to ask whether literary theory, with its movements into other disciplines and with its into numerous different literary theories (e.g., psychoanalytical theory of literature, literary anthropology), has actually reached its limits or whether, since its very beginnings, it was not always also a theory of culture.

Thus, with this background in mind, the focus of the planned project will be on the analysis of two transfer movements: 1) the one between cultural spaces primarily involved in the development of literary theories (Central and Eastern Europe, Germany, France, and the Anglo-American cultural area), and 2) the movement between the disciplines since there was an active exchange between literary theories and other subject areas in the humanities (e.g., linguistics, art history, psychoanalysis, historical sciences, ethnology – just to name a few).

The beginning of a modern literary theory in the writings of the Russian formalists in the 1910s builds on a European culture of science which emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries: In addition to the local traditions (such as the Russian reception of Wilhelm Humboldt by Aleksandr Potebnia, the foundation of comparative studies by Aleksandr Veselovskii and the literary critique and the poetic practice of the symbolists Viačeslav Ivanov and Andrei Bely) the following played an important role: the explication du texte which had developed in France since the end of the 19th century, German aesthetics (Broder Christiansen, Theodor Lipps), German psychology (Wilhelm Wundt), Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft (“general art studies“, Alois Riegl, Max Dessoir), art history and musicology (Heinrich Wölfflin, Konrad Fiedler, Eduard Hanslick), linguistics, stylistics, and morphology of literature (Mikołaj Kruszewski, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, Karl Vossler, Leo Spritzer, Ferdinand de Saussure, Wilhelm Dibelius, Bernard Seuffert), the phenomenology as well as neo-Kantianism. Tihanov (2004, 65) considers the beginning of literary theory as a paradigm change within the context of a process of disintegration of philosophical approaches to literature. The said disintegration may be described as a transfer of terminology, concepts, and ideas between German philosophy, historiography, linguistics, arts, and literary studies and the Slavic scholarly and literary cultures. Thus, the classical philologists Tadeusz Zieliński and Stanisław Srebrny, who both stem from Poland and gave impulses to both the young Russian futurists and formalists and also to Michail Bachtin, completed their studies in Germany; the Polish linguist Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, who was important for the development of phonology and for the francophone structuralism, studied in Leipzig before lecturing both at Russian and Polish universities, whereas his colleague from the Kazan school of linguistics Mikołaj Kruszewski considered himself a pupil of Russian psychologist and philosopher Matvej M. Troickij, whose lectures he attended in Warsaw.

Even though at the very beginning (in the early formalist writings) modern literary theory demanded a status of autonomy, what can nonetheless be observed is that it already exhibited a cultural theoretical dimension very early on: the movement of the Russian formalism from literature-immanent methods (according to Hansen-Löve, “paradigmatic model of reduction” F I) to extra-literary series (F III according to Hansen- Löve, cf. Hansen-Löve 1997) marks this transition from literature to culture. Renate Lachmann (1970) observes this breach of the border already in the work of the early Šklovskii when she asks the question of whether Šklovskii with this thesis of the “resurrection of the word“ 1914 (Šklovskij 1972) was indicating that there was a “regaining of life,” a new “awareness of life,” a new “view of things” or whether it was an art-immanent process of perception. The same holds true for Prague structuralism which was multi-disciplinary from the very beginning, including, for instance, important ethnological texts (cf. Bogatyrev 2011) and, in Mukařovsky’s aesthetic concept (1982 [orig. 1936]) took into consideration the stance towards reception of the social collective. His late structural aesthetic of the 1940s ultimately is based on an anthropological functional model. Polish branch of pre-war Slavic formalism began with Manfred Kridl’s so called “integral method” (1936-37), which aimed at encompassing the whole cultural context of a literary work starting from the works centre, its literacy. Essentially, the developments of literary theory towards a literary anthropology or towards cultural semiotics can thus also be considered to be a consequent advancement of these earlier approaches.

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