On the relationship of comparative literature to 'Strata Poetics' and 'Fundamental Poetics'

Essay 2000 19 Pages

Philosophy - Practical (Ethics, Aesthetics, Culture, Nature, Right, ...)




Comparative Literature in Need of a Unifying Theory

Constants are Indispensable for Comparison

Literary Genres Are Such Constants

Comparative Literature Employs Meta‑Criticism

The Historical and the Systematical Approach Towards Genre‑Studies

The English, French, and German Attitude Towards Genre‑Classifications

"Fundamental Poetics"

Criticism of "Fundamental Poetics"

A Proposed Order for Generic Terms

Connection Between "Basic Attitudes" and Linguistic Features

"Fundamental Poetics" and "Strata Poetics"

Analogy Between the Aims of Comparative Literature and Structural Linguistics



Hier werden erstmalig die grundlegenden Annahmen der im Titel genannten, sich teilweise in ihren Zielen überschneidenden literaturwissenschaftlichen Disziplinen verglichen und deren gemeinsame Interessen herausgestellt. Dies geschieht hauptsächlich im Interesse der Komparatistik, die noch immer nach einer umfassenden Theorie sucht. Für dieses Unternehmen muss jedoch zuerst innerhalb der gattungspoetischen Kategorien (Unterscheidungsbegriffe) Ordnung geschaffen werden.

Gattungspoetik gab es in verschiedensten Formen bereits seit Aristoteles. Sie hat sich jedoch über die Jahrhunderte von einer normativen zu einer beschreibenden gewandelt. Innerhalb der Komparatistik hat sie ihren Horizont erweitert, besonders auf die soziologischen Voraussetzungen von Gattungen. Diese Untersuchungen betrachteten jedoch Literatur, und damit auch ihre Gattungen, hauptsächlich als historische Phänomene, nicht als ontologische.

Die sogen. "Fundamentalpoetik" und die "Schichtenpoetik", die sich erst nach dem letzten Weltkrieg entwickelten, trachteten danach, gattungspoetische Einteilungen tiefer zu begründen, die erste hauptsächlich nach psychologischen Gesichtspunkten, die letztere auch nach ontologischen und strukturellen. Es wird gezeigt, dass es geistesgeschichtlich kein Zufall ist, dass beide Richtungen sich hauptsächlich in Deutschland entwickelten. Über den (z. T. politisch bedingten) Erfolgen der soziologischen Methode sind die fundamentalpoetische und die schichtenpoetische Richtung fast in Vergessenheit geraten.

Nachdem gezeigt wurde, dass (und wie) alle besprochenen Richtungen sich gegenseitig ergänzen können, wird für eine Neu‑Examinierung der beiden letztgenannten plädiert und für ein synthetisches Vorgehen, welches die besten Elemente aller besprocheraen Schulen verwertet.

Comparative Literature in Need of a Unifying Theory

Ever since their "declaration of independence" from the national literary sciences, about a century ago, comparatists have been desperately groping for a comprehensive theory, broad enough to accommodate not only their investigations into the development and functioning of literary genres, but also their pet‑subject of the "mutual elucidation of the arts"(1).

These reflections are to be understood as an attempt to examine some ideas and models produced mainly in Germany after the last world war. These will be examined for their usefulness in providing such a comprehensive theory, or at least a base for the construction of such a theory. Two of these models seem to be opposed to each other ("Fundamentalpoetik" and the sociological approach). However, I hope to show that in reality they complement each other. The third model ("Strata Poetics") is still widely unknown, but could, in my view, combine the two others into a unified theory.

Constants are Indispensable for Comparison

In any kind of comparison we need constants as "measuring sticks" for the observation of variations. It is obvious that this need of constants applies more to Comparative Literature, a discipline that is built on the principle of comparison, than to any other discipline. These constants can be either concrete works, which serve as "models" (e. g., Dante's Divina Comedia or Goethe's Faust), or literary conventions of various kinds (topics, topoy, themes, styles, etc.). However, a constant can also be something that holds exactly the middle ground between concrete models and general conventions: literary genres.

Literary Genres Are Such Constants

The literary genre is important because, in most cases, when we think we are observing a direct influence from a specific work of literature on other literatures, we are really analyzing the influence of some exemplary (and, for whatever reason, especially impressive) features of this particular work. The model, in its rich and unique texture, can never in its entirety exert an influence across the boundaries of language. Only those features that are translatable can have an impact, and amongst them only those that suit the needs and sensibilities of the receivers. In the process of transmission from one language into another, form as well as content can undergo significant changes. This kind of model corresponds very closely in its semi abstractness to our notion of literary genre. After all, what do we have in mind when we trace the influence of the "Petrarchan Sonnet" across the boundaries of Europe, or the impact of the English "Ghost Ballad" on German Storm and Stress‑poets? We have in mind fairly general notions of certain properties of form and/or content, which can be realized in so many different ways. From the perspective of Comparative Literature, exemplary works (that is, those that are "imitated" in some form or other) have an impact similar to that of literary genres. Methodologically, there is very little difference between the analysis of, let us say, a specific early-Meiji-Japanese imitation of Goethe's Werther (however the work was perceived), and the analysis of "the epistolary novel with suicidal ending" in general.

Of course, if we confine ourselves to tracing ideas over language barriers, we do not need a theory of literary genres. If, however, we are ambitious enough to focus on literary works as more than intellectual documents, that is, as works of art, then we have to perceive these literary works in their peculiar relationship of linguistic form and emotional or intellectual content, even if this relationship changes somewhat from language to language. Genre concepts aim at relatively constant factors in this relationship; in what way, exactly, is being discussed by "Strata Poetics". Genre concepts are therefore indispensable for Comparative Literature. What is needed is "tidying up" the chaos of names and notions that we have become accustomed to use.

Comparative Literature Employs Meta‑Criticism

The importance of genre classification for Comparative Literature is being made obvious by pointing out its primary role in "Metacriticism".The comparative study of literature is metacriticism, as contrasted to "intrinsic criticism". Allan Rodway(2) defines these two basic orientations in the following manner:

"Briefly, metacriticism is centrifugal, intrinsic criticism centripetal. The one is concerned with a work's relationships, the other with its identity; the one with its significance, the other with its meaning. In short, the one moves outwards from the work, the other inwards to it. Both may use the 'background' material of diligent scholarship; it is how they use it that marks the distinction. Is the material being used to further a process of understanding and appreciating the work itself, inwardly but not eccentrically? If so, the approach is strictly literary and intrinsic. Is it, on the other hand, being used to further a process of understanding and appreciating some other topic through literature? Then the approach is metacritical But the former is logically primary: it is intrinsic criticism that gives specialized knowledge, and it is only that specifically literary evidence which justifies critical intrusion into other disciplines. If the metacritic is not also an intrinsic critic he cannot reasonably assume that he has anything to offer the professional historian, theologian, anthropologist, or whatever".

Also, John Fletcher(3) states: "Comparatism is irremediably extrinsic" and quotes Frederic Will: "the privacy, the inner silence where a literary work turns on the axis of its value, is not open to the comparatist, as comparatist".

We have to add that the sociological approach is also predominantly metacritical, in as far as it points to society and its interaction with literature. It is therefore not surprising that the more sophisticated investigations with this orientation have yielded interesting insights into the social determination of certain genres (e. g. the novel).

The Historical and the Systematical Approach Towards Genre‑Studies

There are two ways of studying literary genres from a comparative point of view: historically and systematically. The former method takes its criteria of classification directly from the historical evolution of genres, regardless of logical or psychological consistency; the latter superimposes on the multiplicity of historically developed forms its own classification system, derived from theoretical considerations of what literature can do. Of course, what literature can do, and how it can look, can only be studied in historically developed forms. But this is done by ignoring the labels for a while. In some cases there is even a consideration of what literature could do, theoretically speaking, e.g., genres that might evolve one day.



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Title: On the relationship of comparative literature to 'Strata Poetics' and 'Fundamental Poetics'