The Journal of Literary Theory (JLT) Vol 1, No 1 (2007

Ed. by Jannidis, Fotis / Lauer, Gerhard / Winko, Simone Issue: New Developments in Literary Theory and Related Disciplines. Section: “In What Direction is Literary Theory Evolving?”

In What Direction is Literary Theory Evolving? This first issue of the Journal of Literary Theory is being published at a time when the position of literary theory is not an enviable one. Since the early 1990s, the humanities have seen the rise of the belief that theory is useless, if not to say damaging, when it comes to dealing with literature. It is high time, we read, for a fresh awareness of the literal dimension, [1] a turn away from theory and a return to practice. The significance that has come to be attached to the idea of the ›end‹ or even ›death‹ of literary theory is demonstrated by the many intense ›after theory‹ and ›post-theory‹ discussions involving well-known thinkers that have been particularly prominent in the humanities in the English-speaking world in recent years. [2] Against this background, the editors of JLT decided to undertake a modest survey of views on the future of literary theory. We presented scholars working on literature, philosophy, psychology, cultural studies, and media studies with two questions: In what direction is literary theory evolving? Where do you think the most important questions for literary theory lie? The responses we have received to these questions are printed in this issue and in those to come.

JLT, February 2007
Anmerkungen [1] See Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Die neue Wörtlichkeit: Leise verabschiedet sich die ehrgeizige Literaturtheorie, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (February 16th, 2005), Geisteswissenschaften, 3. [zurück]
[2] See most recently the winter 2004 issue of Critical Inquiry, in which Homi Bhabha, Wayne C. Booth, Stanley Fish, J. Hillis Miller, Fredric Jameson, and others set out their views on the future of theory after its end. [zurück]

Home > Vol 1, No 1 (2007) > February 2007
In: JLT 1/1 (2007), 191. JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990 2009-03-20

Harald Fricke Response: Theses on Literary Theory (1) The mannerism ›I’m doing theory‹, popular especially in fashionable circles of American and globalized post-structuralism, has little to do with scientifically sound literary theory: the latter assumes a commitment to clarifying basic terms, employing logically coherent argumentation, and critically testing any hypothetically formulated generalizations. (2) There can be no turning back for literary theory from the achievement of analytic philosophy and its linguistic turn, the effect of which those seeking to construct theories on the basis of rational argument engage in critical analysis of the language they use. (3) There have been several attempts to create a rule-based model of literature (with terms such as the ›grammar of poetry‹, the ›sign system of literature‹, ›poetic conventions‹, and ›poetic competence‹). Various such efforts have been dominant at one time or another; they have also been optimistically put forward in the context of linguistic poetics with an analytic/critical orientation, semiotics, and literary theory aligned with structuralism or systems theory. All such efforts, however, have failed. And they are condemned to lasting failure for compelling reasons: Any literary rule can always be individually lifted and is to this extent merely a quasi-norm with text-internal status or limited scope in the context of literary history. (4) Only with a deviation-based model of poetics is it possible to generalize successfully about literature as an art form. In such a model, literary texts, text events, and textual strategies are described as violations of otherwise binding rules of language, communication, semiotics, linguistic structure, and systems of social action (as cases of exallaxai, priem ostranenija as alienation, desautomatization, actualisače, foregrounding, écart/Abweichung as functional deviation). Central importance then lies with the resultant poetic blanks (Frege’s Leerstellen), points of indeterminacy (Ingarden’s Unbestimmtheitsstellen), or openness (Eco’s Opera aperta), and their fundamental appellative function (Bühler) or Appellstruktur (Iser) with respect to the ›creative reader‹ participating individually in the making of the work. (5) It will certainly be possible to say this in an infinite variety of different and perhaps better ways in future. But as far as the heart of the matter is concerned, we will not be able to do substantively better than the two central tenets of an aesthetics of deviation and its rational reconstraction in stages (see Fricke 1981, 2000): – Literature is functional deviation from linguistic norms. – Art is freedom from the law of time. (6) So, we should not expect literary theory to yield anything fundamentally new in its own field: we will continue paraphrasing Aristotle’s basic insights. I can see only one possibility for moving beyond what has long since been known: interdisciplinary engagement with the advancement of knowledge in other disciplines, at present above all a new field that has emerged only recently and consists of the philosophy of mind, psychological cognitivism, the affective sciences, cognitive linguistics, and neurological brain research – a cognitive turn to follow the linguistic one. (7) If I were a young scholar starting my career now, I would probably embrace this transdisciplinary field and set myself the aim of developing literary theory into a cognitive poetics. Harald Fricke Department für Germanistik Universität Freiburg/Schweiz

Translated by Alastair Matthews.

References Harald Fricke, Norm und Abweichung. Eine Philosophie der Literatur, München 1981. –, Gesetz und Freiheit. Eine Philosophie der Kunst, München 2000.

Home > Vol 1, No 1 (2007) > Fricke
In: JLT 1/1 (2007), 192-193. 2009-03-20 JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990

Jörg Schönert Response It may sound surprising, but I believe the central problem in discussions about Literaturtheorie lies in the lack of a standard understanding of the term’s semantic scope. The problem can be alleviated somewhat by adopting – as in the title of this journal – the internationally accepted term ›literary theory‹ (also the usual translation of German Literaturtheorie): the meaning is then that of theory concerned with literature – theory with ›literature‹ as its object domain, and, in addition, theory for the scholarly study of literature (note that ›methodology‹ suggests itself as a possible alternative when the term is understood in this latter sense). [1] There is no doubt that a particular scholarly understanding of the object ›literature‹ and of specific text-context relations can have implications for the development or selection of a scholarly method. But there are plenty of examples to show that scholars of literature who share a single definition of ›literature‹ can differ with respect to the practical methods they use. So as to bring the above-mentioned problem closer to a solution, I will now consider how the term ›theory‹ has been used in scholarly engagement with literature in the past fifty years, and list the possible meanings this reveals – the list, of course, makes no claim to completeness. (1) In the 1960s, ›theory‹ was, in a rather vaguely stated understanding, linked to an academic habitus of literary scholars who, as their discipline was taken in the direction of a science, pressed for it to be given a theoretical foundation (see further points 2 and 3 below) and carried out ›theoretical work‹. This was often criticized with the comment that people who don’t know anything about ›literature‹ (the interpretation of literature and the writing of literary history) busy themselves with ›theory‹ instead. Despite such criticism, the expansion of the German university system between 1965 and 1975 created an environment in which ›contributions to theory‹ provided a way of rapidly gaining ›scholarly standing‹ (and in some cases jobs as well). (2a) ›Theory‹ means, before anything else, ›theory of the object of the study of literature‹ – for example, issues relating to the definition of literary texts (in the strict sense): ›what is literature/literariness?‹, ›what are the constituent factors that determine the fictional worlds of literary texts?‹ (issues of space, time, character, story, mediating entities, and so on); genre theory should also be considered here, bringing this area of theory into the scope of ›poetics‹ and the ›aesthetics of literary texts‹ (neither being understood in a normative sense) as well. [2]

(2b) ›Theory‹ can be a theoretical foundation for the activities of literary scholars – such as the production of editions, commentaries, interpretations, literary histories, and literary criticism (›literary evaluation‹) – and a continual revision of key concepts in the study of literature. (2c) ›Theory‹ can be understood as methodology and the ›discussion of methods‹. (3a) ›Theory‹ can be reflection on the disciplinary status and development of a field of study (as a context in which to consider that subject’s history), including trans- and interdisciplinary issues. (3b) ›Theory‹ can be reflection on the relationship between scholarship and its ›environment‹ (for example, reflection on the contribution of scholarship to society and on the socially determined expectations placed on scholarship). I expect that JLT will be particularly concerned with the questions I have outlined under (2) above, as well as being open to work on point (3). I also expect that an editorial to the first issue of JLT will provide answers to the questions raised here. Jörg Schönert Institut für Germanistik II Universität Hamburg

Translated by Alastair Matthews.

References Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford 1983. Ansgar Nünning (ed.), Metzler Lexikon Literatur- und Kulturtheorie, Stuttgart/Weimar 1998. Jörg Schönert, Normative Vorgaben als ›Theorie der Lyrik‹? Vorschläge zu einer texttheoretischen Revision, in: Gustav Frank/Wolfgang Lukas (eds.), Norm – Grenze – Abweichung: Kultursemiotische Studien zu Literatur, Medien und Wirtschaft, Passau 2004, 303–318. Notes [1] See Eagleton 1983; the introduction presents both the theory of the object domain and details of various methods. Ansgar Nünning, editor of the Metzler Lexikon Literatur- und Kulturtheorie (Nünning 1998), assumes that Literaturtheorie has an even wider range of responsibilities (see ibid., v–vi). [zurück] [2] See in this respect Schönert 2004. [zurück]

Home > Vol 1, No 1 (2007) > Schönert
In: JLT 1/1 (2007), 194-195.

Uri Margolin Response More than a quarter century ago, I had the audacity to publish a long article (Margolin 1979) in which I discussed the nature of literary theories and their relation to theories in other disciplines in the humanities. The kind invitation of the editors of JLT affords me a golden opportunity to revisit these perennial crucial questions. Now while my 1979 essay appeared in the very last issue of PTL, the present one appears in the first issue of a new journal, which, I trust, has many years of fruitful intellectual activity ahead of it.
How Theoretical Is Literary Theory?

The Editors’ twin questions to the participants concern the perspectives and challenging problems of literary theory (LT). I would like to reformulate them as »what can and should LT do?« Now in English usage »LT« means three interrelated things: a particular LT, the totality of LTs available, and the activity of theorizing or theory construction. I will focus my remarks on the activity of theorizing, since its capabilities and limitations determine the nature of the resultant theories. But what is a LT? A minimum definition would probably look something like the following: A LT is a theory (1) intended to account for one or more aspects of the literary system – either as semiotic system or as social action one – (2) as this system is demarcated in current pretheoretical cultural awareness (in other words, (3) it is a theory with initial and intended domains of application covering at least part of the literary system), and usually, but not always, (4) formulated within the disciplinary confines of literary studies. All literary theories contain a factual component since they seek to account for actual (and sometimes also possible) space-time anchored phenomena: objects (texts and text elements), events and processes (literary change), and, of course, activities of literary production and reception. But how do we assess what such a theory can and cannot do? A sensible way would be to scrutinize actual LTs against a roster of components, tasks and roles theoretical endeavours in any field are ideally supposed to fulfill according to philosophy of science. The image of scientific theorising I will be relying upon is the synthetic one presented in Mario Bunge’s comprehensive treatise (Bunge 1998). I will treat this image as an ideal type or regulative idea in the Kantian sense and check how far (existing) LTs, especially text oriented ones, (can) go in matching it, the results being treated as value neutral. One overriding goal which most LTs seek to achieve is to define a series of regularities or generalities, determinate features or patterns with respect to a certain range of phenomena in the literary domain, from metrical forms to the social constraints on literary production. Some theorists go further and look for literary invariants or universals as regards text types, basic plot structures (Frye, Shklovski), the structure of verse (Jakobson’s law of equivalence), underlying emotions (Hogan), or the laws governing the relations between two literary systems (Even-Zohar). The generality requirement is in fact the yardstick that tells apart poetics (theoretical, descriptive, diachronic) from textual interpretation. The quest for regularities has rationality as its boundary condition. Informally, rationality in theorizing can be characterized as a set of requirements for explicit formulation of both problems and the solutions offered, intersubjectivity, that is, proceeding in a way which can be both learned and taught (›lern- und lehrbar‹), respect for the rules of logic, consistency, and, in our context, formulating claims which can be tested notionally or empirically (Hauptmeier/Schmidt 1985, 13 and 118). As far as content is concerned, LTs, like all other theories, contain philosophical presuppositions of some kind; background theories they take as valid knowledge to be drawn upon; goals, including the kind of knowledge they want to attain; methodological norms, i. e. rules concerning the procedures to be employed to this end (e.g. top down or bottom up), and the way claims should be formulated (e. g. formalized or not). While none of these components may be explicitly stated by a given theory, its logical reconstruction will reveal their existence and nature.

The building blocks of theorizing proper begin with a set of concepts, expressed in a theoretical vocabulary, whose elements, in the case of LTs, being either deliberately coined terms (e. g. free indirect discourse), or ones consisting of an explication and sharpening of pre-theoretical terms (e. g. plot). This vocabulary is employed in order to designate the objects and features a theory is concerned with. The terms occurring in a given theoretical project are of course interrelated, to form a coherent network that provides the prism or manner of seeing (›Sehweise‹) to be employed in theorizing the targeted range of phenomena. An extensive theoretical vocabulary is in fact the basis for developing a systematic description of phenomena in terms of determinate features and their combinations, and for developing a set of distinctions and categories for any literary aspect. This has been recognized by poeticians from Aristotle to Genette. Classifications, taxonomies and typologies in their turn are the first step in mustering the plurality of data and subsuming them under a small number of headings or common denominators referring to entities, properties or relations. The categories themselves may be defined in terms of binaries, gradients or prototypes, and their whole system graphically represented as continua, matrices, trees, box diagrams or circles (e.g. Stanzel’s typology of narrative situations). Another component widespread in literary theorizing consists of models, that is, simplified schematic representations of selected aspects of complex real objects and the interrelations of these aspects. Such models (model objects or theoretical referents) are formulated in terms of the theoretical vocabulary employed by the scholar and provide a basic way of seeing the object and thinking about it. We thus have the semiotic model of the literary work as a complex sign (Barthes, Corti), Ingarden’s model of it as a stratified system, and Tynjanov’s model of the verse text as a dynamic system of systems. In narratology, the text is often modeled as consisting of several stacks or embedded circuits of communication, as a dual narration-narrated system and so on. Much of what is termed »literary theory« is in fact the formulation of concepts, identification of recurrent features, and the setting up of typologies and models, all of which deal with existential and compositional issues (see Soerensen 1987, chapter 5). These operations do not provide, however, any claims which can be supported or rejected but rather directions what and how to observe in texts, and they are accepted if professionals feel they serve as illuminating cognitive instruments, if they help us subsume, unify and integrate numerous textual features. Categories and model objects are the first part of any theoretical project, but are not yet theories sensu strictu, since theories are basically sets of claims serving as answers to questions about model objects, or solutions to problems concerning them. So questions need to be formulated to guide theory construction. Questions consist of logical operators such as what, which, how many, how, why and what for, and of substantive referents and predicates specified by a theoretical vocabulary. LTs abound in questions such as ›what are the relations between the different levels of the literary text‹, which can be further specified into many sub-problems such as sound-sense relations, syntax and metre and so on. A different kind of question would be ›what are the major ways of representing consciousness in narrative, and do they form a system and/or a clear historical sequence‹. Problems tend to cluster into sets or problem systems, partially ordered by the relation of logical priority. Such problem systems define what a theory is about and what its goals are in terms of knowledge production. Once again, while not all literary theories formulate their questions explicitly and systematically, they are all guided by the desire to answer specific questions. Questions require answers, and these are provided by sets of claims/hypotheses about the model object in focus. As already indicated, a theory is minimally a set of interconnected generalized claims about a certain domain of phenomena, formulated in a specific theoretical vocabulary, such that some of the claims and the concepts they employ are more basic than others, forming the theory core. Theories are meant to first describe and then explain, and when possible predict, regularities in a domain. LTs, especially in descriptive poetics, synchronic or diachronic, provide a large number of sets of interconnected descriptive or observational generalisations of different coverage or scope, scope being defined as range X accuracy (Bunge 1989, vol. 1, 575). Such theories are usually referred to as mid-range theories, located between high level abstract ones (e. g., about the general mechanisms of literary change) and individual data (McHale 1994). Midrange theories deal

with the occurrence and correlations (co-occurrence, co-variation, succession) of textual elements or patterns (e. g., genres), looking of course for regularities in any of them. They typically answer questions of the ›what‹ and ›which‹ variety. Ideally one would want to formulate empirical generalizations of the widest possible scope, hence indifferent to time and place. But very few such universal claims exist in literary studies. Mid-range theories have non-universal domains and are typically constructed around various paradigm or standard cases that serve as prototypes. Literary studies and many other disciplines, including most of biology for example, consist primarily of this kind of theories. The rapid change and inner complexity and diversity of literary phenomena go a long way towards explaining this situation. Although most descriptive generalizations in literary studies are qualitative, quite a few admit of quantification, hence of operations such as counting, comparing, assigning numerical values to a variable, calculating probabilities and frequencies (statistics) and plotting the results on graphs. This is true in metrics and stylistics, but also where the historical distribution of genre patterns for example is concerned. But how does one check the validity of any purely qualitative descriptive generalization in a LT? Suppose one proposes a systematic typology of kinds of focalization. Can such a typology be corroborated or refuted, and, if so, how? Since such claims do not form part of a formal system, a deductive decision procedure or proof is not available. On the other hand, such claims are not open to experimental testing based on drawing predictions from them and then observing how they turn out in actuality. What is more, we have not agreed upon standards for deciding whether or not an individual utterance is an instance of a particular kind of focalization. In the absence of both deduction and experimentation we must look at these claims as not strictly true or false but rather as useful, illuminating and insightful or not, plausible, supported by good reasons, possessing warranted assertibility or not, all such decisions being based on a dialogue within a scholarly community governed by some consensual rules of informal argumentation, and of course by rationality. And the same goes for citing instances that are claimed not to be subsumable under a proposed generalization, i.e., counterexamples. Who and how decides that X cannot be fitted under a given pattern? This decision too can result only from a dialogue inside a scholarly community, and not by the discovery of a logical inconsistency or of experimental results that run counter to a prediction based on a generalization. And how about the explanation of such occurrence or correlation? In most disciplines, sets of descriptive generalizations are considered low level theories, to be grounded in higher level, deeper or more basic, hence more powerful, ones, containing more basic entities. The theoretical inventory of any discipline thus forms a hierarchy of deeper and shallower theories, reflected in LT in the relation between theoretical and descriptive poetics. (For a detailed systematics of this sort see Ingarden 1976.) Ideally, the higher level theories provide the nomological basis (general laws) from which lower level regularities can be inferred. Such inference is often considered to be an explanation of the observed regularities, in the sense of an answer to the ›why‹ question. Another kind of explanation is of the ›how‹ kind, providing an underlying mechanism, that is, as set of entities and activities and their modus operandi such that these operations realize or give rise to the descriptive regularities in question. Does literary theorizing possess explanations of either kind? And does it possess other patterns of explanation such as the means-end or teleological one? There is clearly an abundance of ›basic‹ theories in literary studies, such as those about the nature of literature. But most of them in their turn depend heavily on theories in other disciplines formulated for the treatment of wider or more basic domains (see section 2 below). ›Basic‹ literary theories vary greatly in terms of their degree of formalization, conceptual clarity and observational operationalisibility. Mid-range theories cannot consequently be derived from the basic ones, since most of these basic theories provide only a ›Sehweise‹ which suggests aspects to be stressed, kinds of questions to be asked and types of descriptive generalizations to be looked for. They provide grounding, overarching principles and conceptual foundations for mid range theories, but not laws from which the more superficial or specific theories can be derived. The degree of vertical integration of literary theorising is hence quite low. Such basic theories also have very low empirical content, straddling the border between theories responsible for actual facts and objects in space and time and purely conceptual analysis, as in the philosophy of art.

There are, nevertheless, some procedures in literary studies which could be considered similar to the why explanations in other fields. One example of derivation of descriptive regularities from higher level principles is provided by the structuralist procedure of constructing an exhaustive calculus of possibilities for, say, metrical forms or tense aspect and modality. Here,
instead of supplying an empirically obtained list of categories, [one] establishes the most general logically possible pattern thereof. The [scholar], in approaching the design of some range of phenomena, must single out the simplest [most basic] items underlying these phenomena and then, by combining them in all possible ways, construct the most general universal pattern for the totality of observable data. Such a calculus further guides the scholar in search of new, not yet identified, categories which it predicts, (Melcuk 1985, 181f.; for an example concerning narrative time and modality see Margolin 1999)

The question why the descriptive system includes this particular set of possibilities and no other(s) can then be answered (explained) by the features and combinatorial possibilities of the underlying elementary units. Another kind of claim that provides a partial explanation of phenomena, short of a universal cause and effect one, is a claim regarding dependency between variables, pointing out the free and the dependent ones. Thus, the division of a verse text into lines is deemed to have a crucial effect on the resultant semantic structure of this text, and the choice of kind of narrator is decisive for the kind of valid information one can possess about the story world. The underlying high level generalization is obviously that forms of expression determine (or at least have a decisive influence on) forms of content, but no specific forms can be derived from it.

Text grammars and story grammars (trees, rewrite rules, derivations, transformations), where the final surface
product or individual text emerges through a sequence of well defined operations, are more like generative grammatical or semantic rule systems, in that they provide production mechanisms, answering the ›how‹ question. AI computer programmes for story generation (Ryan, Meister) are meant to describe how exactly a given simple story sequence or story schema comes into existence from a set of basic semantic elements and patterns plus specified moves or an algorithm. Such programmes can also generate new, hitherto non-existent stories. Yet in either case the value of the grammar or programme, especially when new stories are generated, is determined not by a story’s formal well-formedness but by its acceptability to members of a cultural group, just like sentences produced by any TG. Furthermore, even if a given pre-existing actual story or story schema is successfully generated by a particular algorithm, we may still ask why does such a schema exist and why is it widespread or not, culture bound or not, time bound or not. And to answer this kind of ›why‹ question we must go beyond semiotic objects to human agency, thus to questions of cognitive, cultural and possibly social regularities and mechanisms, and to construct multi level theories involving elements of at least two different kinds, such as textual and cognitive. Cognitive narratology and stylistics are engaged precisely in this kind of project, but it is still early days. Similarly, in the study of literary change (diachrony) one can describe regularities in the sequence of stages involved in the fate of any literary convention: from innovation to repetitiousness, from periphery or marginality to center or dominance and back again, from sub-literature to canonization or vice versa etc. But to explain why change occurs at a given point, direction and intensity one needs a deeper level of theorization, such as diminishment of effectiveness of devices as they become familiar (psychology of perception), changing cognitive needs and values of a group (social psychology), and social desire for innovation as means of distinguishing oneself (sociology). (On these explanations see Fokkema/Ibsch 2000, 83–85.) Functional explanations of the means-end or teleological (in order to) variety abound in LTs, from classical rhetoric to Russian Formalism, and correlate textual elements, devices, procedures and structures to particular effects, be they semantic, affective or aesthetic. The choice and deployment of textual elements is thus motivated by their ability to create certain effects on the recipient (Verfremdung, surprise, suspense, freshness of sensation etc). This mode of explanation makes perfect sense since works of literature are messages (›Kommunikate‹) directed to someone and meant, like all communicative acts, to modify the receiver’s

cognitive, emotive or normative set (›Einstellung‹) in some particular way(s). But two fundamental difficulties remain: as Meir Sternberg has convincingly shown, the device-effect relation is many to many and context dependent, so universal claims are impossible. One can at most claim that under certain conditions a given device D tends to be correlated with effect E. Secondly, who decides what is the effect of a given artistic device to begin with? Members of a homogeneous professional community sharing the same implicit assumptions may claim that device D necessarily creates effect E on »the reader«. But by »the reader« they actually mean themselves. A more fruitful move would be to regard any such claim as a causal hypothesis or prediction and then run tests on groups of non-professional readers to test its validity. Here once again we see the need to move from the purely semiotic to the empirical psychological dimension (Fokkema/Ibsch 2000, chapters 1 and 2). LT contains at least one other kind of theory specific to the human sciences, namely theories whose objects, are not literary products but rather the informal »theories« about the nature of literature, its kinds, elements, functions and effects held by members of a given cultural community. This kind of study is referred to as theory-theory in cognitive studies, and its rationale is that the literary behaviour of members of a community will be decisively influenced by their beliefs about literature, no matter whether or not these beliefs are upheld by the literary theorist (the same way that human behaviour is influenced by folk beliefs about the working of the human mind, regardless of whether or not such views are upheld by psychology or sociology) and that any local historical explanation of the nature and change of literature at a given time and place must therefore take these »theories« into account. Finally, theory assaying. As we have seen, experimentation is hardly a feasible way of assessing the merit of semiotic theories of literature, unless claims about effect or impact on actual people are involved. But numerous conceptual criteria formulated in the philosophy of science (Bunge 1989, vol. 2, 394–400) do apply in this field too. One could mention well formedness, consistency and valid mode of argumentation as formal criteria; linguistic exactness, conceptual coherence (the predicates expressed by the theoretical vocabulary are semantically homogeneous and interconnected) and eventual observational interpretability as semantic ones. Among epistemological criteria, consistency with much of the established knowledge in literary studies and related disciplines, ability to answer many of the underlying questions, depth, unifying power and ability to suggest further research are clearly good making features of any LT. Another important feature would be a theory’s elasticity or ability to accommodate, sometimes through internal modification, new unforeseen cases or ones initially ignored. This is most important in our field, since the object itself is subject to frequent major changes.
How Deep and Independent Is LT?

Literary theorizing is defined by its responsibility for a culturally demarcated domain of phenomena, »literature«, and not by any particular philosophical framework, set of presuppositions, theoretical vocabulary, concepts or methodology. In addition, everybody agrees the object itself is multi-aspectual and involves several levels of organization. There is consequently no prima facie restriction on the number and nature of theoretical frameworks that can legitimately be employed in the study of literature or any of its aspects. This by itself ensures a permanent multiplicity and diversity of approaches in literary theorizing, all of which possessing some initial justification i.e. pluralism. The different approaches coexisting at any point often differ in their basic theoretic terms, model objects and claims, or they refer to entirely different bodies of data (are incommensurable). The field of LT as a whole will thus inevitably be heterogeneous, often consisting of theories that are not inter-translatable. ›Synthesizing‹ them into one grand theory is hence practically impossible. The complexity of the object further implies that no single global theory could account for all observationally given aspects of literature – especially if we want to include both semiotic and social system ones – and that a number of partial theories will be needed for this purpose. Most of the approaches or paradigms brought to bear on literary questions or problems originate in numerous other disciplines, including philosophy. Literary theorizing as a whole is hence essentially multidisciplinary. Since new approaches and perspectives constantly arise in the sciences of culture, mind and society, and since many of them are relevant

and potentially fruitful for some literary problem, the field of LT is one of frequent paradigm shifts, hence radical discontinuity. Theoretical understanding will be continuous, cumulative or improvable only within each given paradigm. As crucial is the realization that the extension or domain of objects to be accounted for by LT always forms a subset of a wider domain, no matter what model object (›definition of literature‹) one employs: cultural artifact, message, media offering, work of art, work of the imagination/fiction, secondary modeling system etc. In traditional terms, it is but one species of a wider genus. Literary theorizing, unlike linguistics or psychology, does not consequently possess any natural domain, such as language or the human mind, and is in this sense non-fundamental. Now if literature under any given perspective is but one area of a wider domain, then all generalizations formulated in some other discipline(s) about this domain as a whole are eo ipso relevant and many are (potentially) applicable to literature as well. In other words, much theoretical knowledge about literature is (potentially) contained in the work of other disciplines dealing with the domain as a whole (linguistics, semiotics, cognitive science etc.) What of all this is immediately relevant to the work of a particular theorist will of course depend on his general perspective and on the questions he is dealing with. Conversely, many of the concepts employed in LT and the regularities formulated in it turn out to be applicable to a wider domain. Even-Zohar has gone so far as to claim that every single high level law formulated in LT on the basis of observation of literature, and having literature as its initial and intended domain, validly accounts for larger semiotic phenomena, and that the literary specificity of such laws resides only in their manifestation through particular materials and variations (Even-Zohar 1986, 79). In other words, the specificity of LTs is confined to the level of corpus- specific descriptive generalizations. Be that as it may, it is cleat that LT is hence an importing as well as exporting activity: borrowing, and checking for applicability to its own corpus, of widerscope generalisations made in other disciplines (»All fictions are«, »All texts contain«), and offering these disciplines its own concepts, categories and claims for testing their wider applicability. In addition to this vertical process there is a constant two way horizontal transfer of concepts, models and claims between same level domain-specific disciplines, such as literary and film narratology. In terms of theory hierarchy, one can distinguish three levels according to one view. Level I theories are on this view mid-range, basically descriptive, and deal with one or more aspects, such as kinds of narrators, of a specific literary corpus. The claims made in them are empirical in the sense of open to textual observation. Level II theories operate with higher level concepts and theoretical constructs, such as the nature of the narrative function or the demarcation of narrative texts from other text types. While level I theories are specifically literary, Level II ones may have wider application as we have just seen, and in this sense may be termed generic theories. Level III theories are generic semi interpreted ones such as communication theory, semiotics, and general action theory. They provide a framework helping us to think of a whole class of entities in a variety of domains, but have no empirical content and solve no problems, but help us discover and clarify basic ideas. In other words, they supply the literary scholar with general research orientations or points of view (on this particular hierarchy see Soerensen 1987, 146–154). But level hierarchy can be drawn in various ways. Siegfried Schmidt, for example, has proposed the following four term hierarchy: theory of action; theory of communicative action; theory of aesthetic communicative action; theory of verbal aesthetic communicative action. As a matter of principle, specifically literary theories are non fundamental and essentially dependent on higher level ones to provide their foundation and placement in the wider field of humanistic enquiry. For example, most problem clusters occurring in LTs are specific cases or variants of problems formulated in general terms in higher level theories, such as those of text theory or communication theory. And the same goes for strategies, conceptual and empirical, employed by literary studies to solve these problems. Since most of such higher level theories are formulated in fields other than literary studies, literary theorizing is essentially dependent on more powerful or deeper theories formulated in other disciplines. On the other hand, LTs seem to have domain specific claims that cannot be derived from claims occurring in higher level theories, even if all the terms and concepts of the LT can be translated into or subsumed under those of the higher level

theory. In this sense, LTs are not reducible to higher level theories in other disciplines, be they linguistics, cognitive science or sociology.
How Should Literary Theorizing Proceed?

As we know from Kant’s critiques, one first asks »what can I know«, and, in light of the answer given, one proceeds to ponder »what should I do?« So here are some suggestions: Literary theories as text theories have inherent limitations as regards causal explanation, prediction and experimentation. Whoever insists on having these theory components needs to move to the literature as social action paradigm. Any quest for a grand unifying theory in literary studies is probably unwarranted. A series of well formed partial theories is all we can expect. But this is true of most of the social and even natural sciences, so it need not be viewed as a deficiency. By the same token, any attempt to create a super theory by conjoining incommensurable theory paradigms is logically suspect. All major problem systems and areas of enquiry in literary studies are multidisciplinary (treated by LT plus at least one other discipline). Moreover, the most basic models and claims about them are also formulated in other discipline(s). A good literary theoretician consequently needs to constantly follow work relevant to his area of enquiry in at least one other discipline, and different kinds of problems in LT will require awareness of different discipline( s). Conversely, it is counterproductive for literary scholars to invent ab initio theories of language, cognition, society or culture where tremendous amounts of valuable work on these subjects are already available in other disciplines. In most cases, the best result would be a reinvention of the wheel. Only in rare cases, and after having acquired a thorough familiarity with available work, will it be possible for a literary theorist to formulate such a higher level generic theory. In view of the above, a literary theorist must ask himself: do I want to move to a higher level of theorizing, which may eventually enable me to construct better, and more vertically integrated LTs? Van Dijk moved from literary to general text theory, Schmidt to media studies, and the Moscow Tartu School to general theories of cultural systems. On the other hand, we have seen that many of the concepts and models developed within LT apply to other domains as well. So another important question for the literary theorist is: do I want to extend my work to distinctly non-literary, sometimes even non verbal corpora as long as my theoretical apparatus applies to them? (horizontal extension). Mieke Bal, for example, has moved to pictorial narratology, and Chatman to cinema narratology. Multiple levels of units and of organization are necessary for a powerful LT. But one cannot skip levels, proceeding directly from evolutionary biology to the portrayal of human consciousness in a novel, for instance. What one ends up with are pure analogies with no mediating mechanisms. The same is true of premature level reduction, declaring narrative to be »nothing other than« a cognitive mechanism, for example. Current LT, especially in the United States, is characterized by the overabundance of general speculation (»Theory« with a capital T) and dearth of midrange theories or systems of descriptive generalizations. The neglect of descriptive poetics leads to grand theories with a poor knowledge base and, lacking the intermediate level, unable to contribute even indirectly to the conceptualization of data (McHale). The balance obviously needs to be redressed, especially since literature itself is after all a concrete historical phenomenon. A wealth of still valuable low and mid-level theories (descriptive poetics of genres, styles, movements etc.) was produced in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in Germany. This work has been neglected since 1968 because of its low level of theoretisation, yet its retrieval is essential if we want

theories that are not only formally strong, but which also possess empirical content and are able to account for more than just some 19th and 20th century works or genres. In this essay I have cited briefly and for illustrative purposes various models, procedures and methodological norms, and kinds of claims occurring in LTs. This was an essential part of my claim that much of what is referred to as literary theorizing is a rational, inter-subjective and repeatable activity. But the truth of the matter is that, to my knowledge, nobody in recent years has taken systematic, not to say exhaustive, stock of the range of these three actually occurring in literary theorizing and its various branches, from textology to the study of literature in culture. One crucial part of theoretical self-consciousness would certainly consist of doing this. In view of the amount of work involved, and the multilingual nature of the project, one would hope that somewhere a group of qualified and dedicated researches, similar to the Hamburg Narratology group, will arise and take up the challenge to the benefit of all literary theorists. Uri Margolin Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies University of Alberta
I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Willie van Peer (München) for a detailed discussion of this paper, which provided me with several valuable insights and saved me from some major errors.

References Mario Bunge, Philosophy of Science, New Brunswick 1998. Itamar Even-Zohar, The Quest for Laws and its Implications for the Future of the Science of Literature, in: Gyorgy M. Vajda/Janos Riesz (eds.), The Future of Literary Studies, Frankfurt a.M. 1986, 75–79. Douwe Fokkema/Elrud Ibsch, Knowledge and Commitment, Amsterdam 2000.
Helmut Hauptmeier/Siegfried J. Schmidt, Einführung in die empirische Literaturwissenschaft, Braunschweig 1985.

Roman Ingarden, Gegenstand und Aufgaben der Literaturwissenschaft, Tübingen 1976.
Brian McHale, Whatever Happened to Descriptive Poetics?, in: Mieke Bal/Inge Boer (eds.), The Point of Theory,

Amsterdam 1994, 56–65. Uri Margolin, The (In)dependence of Poetics Today, PTL 4 (1979), 545–586. –, Of What is Past, Passing or to Come: Temporality, Aspectuality, Modality and the Nature of Narrative, in: David Herman (ed.), Narratologies, Columbus 1999, 142–166. Igor Melcuk, Three Main Features, Seven Basic Principles, and Eleven most Important Results of Roman Jakobson’s Morphological Research, in: Roman Jakobson, Verbal Art, Verbal Sign, Verbal Time, Minneapolis 1985, 178–200.

Home > Vol 1, No 1 (2007) > Margolin
In: JLT 1/1 (2007), 196-207. 2009-03-20 JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990

Albrecht Koschorke Response
1. In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?

A map of the current scholarly landscape would show various paradigms gaining new ground, concepts moving from one place to another, and skirmishes shifting back and forth on the boundaries between disciplines and knowledge cultures. It would be apparent from such a map that, for several decades, literary theory has (in part unintentionally and without knowing it) been pursuing what amounts to an expansionist policy. More than anything else, this expansion is a reflection of the linguistic turn and its consequences. Since the linguistic turn, it has become common practice to consider how not just literature but knowledge in general is bound up with texts, rhetoric, written culture, and consequently mediality per se. This has led to the introduction of a whole series of additional and anything but straightforward terms that had previously appeared to be the preserve of the fine arts: ›poetics‹ and its derivatives, ›performance‹, ›evidence‹, ›representation‹, ›fiction‹, and the ›imaginary‹. All these words have a place of their own, so to speak, in the field of aesthetics in the narrower sense. They are, however, increasingly being applied to the whole range of social aisthesis and therefore to the social production of knowledge itself, which is gradually receiving more and more attention in the context of cultural studies. According to received opinion, scholars of literature study the poetic invention of artificial worlds that are freed of and set apart from the harsh reality to which everyday life is subject. On closer examination, however, the two spheres are not so clearly set apart as it would seem, for social realities unfold in the context of open possibilities too, not least in so far as they relate to the future. A society’s sense of future, the collective ability to imagine things feared and opportunities taken, brings into play an ability very similar to that acquired in and stimulated by engagement with literature and other arts. And we do not even own the past as an unchangeable fact – it is continually refashioned and produced afresh in collective memory. This too is a creative process, one that paradoxically affects with particular intensity the very elements of a culture that are felt to be an immutable inheritance (the key term here is the ›invention of tradition‹). Such ›invented‹ pasts themselves contribute to the self-perception of any given present, which is itself equally dependent on an element of ›invention‹, selection, interpretation, and aesthetic or medial arrangement. Seen in this light, forms of poetic fashioning can be found everywhere – in fact, we could almost speak of a poetics of society. One particularly successful and, so to speak, expansionist category in the study of literature is the concept of narrative. It entered the study of historiography via the New Historicism and thereafter found its way into the philosophy of science. A narrative turn has also been announced in the social sciences, with narratology itself playing an increasing role in the latter field. Generalizing, it can be said that crucial aspects of social meaning are produced through narration. Narrative theory grounded in the study of literature flourished considerably in the 1960s and 1970s (Barthes, Genette, and Lotman; in the German-speaking world, Käte Hamburger, Eberhard Lämmert, and Franz Stanzel). In some respects, it has since suffered the fate of a niche interest, but it has also returned to the stage of theoretical debate thanks to a well-received introduction by Matías Martínez and Michael Scheffel and several large-scale research projects. [1] This is a paradigmatic demonstration of how misleading and unproductive it is to argue, as happens above all in German studies in Germany, about whether to move towards the broader perspective of cultural studies or lay fresh emphasis on the study of literature itself. [2] It is now commonplace in the study of politics, law, management theory, and not least the history of science to point out that the states of affairs under consideration are constructed through narrative. This places new demands on literary theory as the source of the concepts used, but not necessarily in such a way that the study of ›real‹ literature has to suffer as a result. On the contrary: the better the models developed in the study of literature on the basis of objects that are, so to speak, the true responsibility of that field, the greater their

potential for application to other textual worlds that are, to some degree at least, subject to comparable conditions of production and reception.
2. Where Do You Think the Most Important Questions for Literary Theory Lie?

The challenges that result from what has been said above are readily apparent. In what follows, I illustrate them with respect to some key concepts of literary theory. (1) Recent studies have given due attention to the insight that fictions, rather than being subsidiary and lacking in function, organize our social reality in its entirety. This reality is fictional in a profound sense: it is based on fictions. Without persistent concepts of character and representation whose past history stretches back into the world of rhetoric and classical theatre, there would not even be any addressable participants in the social process at all. All institutions depend on such attributions and are to this extent fictive entities, but they can still be treated as part of reality and thereby exert influence. Similarly, we speak of scholarly fictions without meaning simply false scholarship. It follows from this that we need a new analysis of the relationship between fictionality and facticity, one more precise than those currently available. On the one hand, this is a task for epistemology; on the other hand, it brings into play issues of genre with which literary theory is well acquainted. The invented worlds of literature, after all, are a way of dealing with real problems – and they perform this function not despite but because of the fact that they assert the freedom to suspend the reality principle with its central true/false distinction. (2) In like manner, the first everyday way of understanding the quality ›imaginary‹ that comes to mind is the paraphrase ›made up‹, which places it in contrast with the irrevocably factual. Yet – and this was still appreciated in the old rhetorical theory of human capacities – there is no cognitive process not subject to the faculty of the imagination and its synthesizing ability. Only in the imaginary do the parts come together as a whole, only in the imaginary can wholes be perceived and created. This is true also on the level of collective processes. Societies can come into being and organize themselves only if they make the world in which they find themselves a meaningful one. And this they do by drawing up images of themselves as wholes, developing on the basis of such images (the idea of the nation, for example) techniques of political representation that are, in the strict sense of the word, imaginary: the function of the visible representatives is to embody the invisible social whole and thereby bring it, so to speak, into the picture. This artificial creation of wholeness has its less attractive side too – phantasms of the other, the excluded, the enemy. Even enemies, real as their actions may be, are imaginary constructs. Here at least, if not before, we reach the point at which the study of cultural mechanisms touches on pressing contemporary issues. No literary theory can refuse to attempt to provide models for the emergence of influential political myths, their dissemination in the mass media, and their exploitation in practice. (3) Against this background, the narrative organization of complex social interrelationships, more generally the narrativity of knowledge itself, has a crucial role to play. Corresponding possibilities for a narratology informed by cultural theory present themselves. Such a narratology will need to clarify where specifically the cultural achievement of narration lies in relation to other ways of sequentializing data and events; where, in the manner of a field theory of cultural semiotics, narration comes to thrive; and what discourses take a liking to narrative and where, conversely, narrative taboos are dominant. It is important here to distinguish between different levels in the organization of knowledge. Narrative can have the function of presenting knowledge, thereby adopting no more than a minor role in the wings, so to speak. But it can also reach deep into the structure of objects of knowledge, thereby becoming something like an epistemic operator. Sometimes narratives even do this in places where they are not accredited with any ›official‹ epistemological function, as in the field of modern natural science. In fact, narration is not confined to the cultural pole of the nature/culture dichotomy that first took shape in the eighteenth century. A general narrative

theory of the kind outlined here should therefore be concerned with the following overarching questions: on what basis was this dichotomy itself constructed, and what, in fact, is the scope of cultural approaches in the world of modern knowledge? Albrecht Koschorke Fachbereich Literaturwissenschaft: Germanistik Universität Konstanz

References Walter Erhart (ed.), Grenzen der Germanistik. Rephilologisierung oder Erweiterung?, Stuttgart/Weimar 2004. Albrecht Koschorke, Codes und Narrative: Überlegungen zu einer Poetik der funktionalen Differenzierung, in: Walter Erhart (ed.), Grenzen der Germanistik. Rephilologisierung oder Erweiterung?, Stuttgart/Weimar 2004, 174–185. Matías Martínez/Michael Scheffel, Einführung in die Erzähltheorie [1999], München 62005. Notes [1] Martínez/Scheffel 2005. [zurück] [2] This dispute has tended to be pursued in an institutional context rather than in the form of proper debate. A wide range of suggested compromises can be found in Erhart 2004, which contains the proceedings from a conference sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Germany’s research funding agency). See also Koschorke 2004, which argues along similar lines to this brief position statement. [zurück]

Home > Vol 1, No 1 (2007) > Koschorke
In: JLT 1/1 (2007), 208-211. 2009-03-20 JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht Response: An End to Literary Theory
1. Not unlike ›Literary Studies‹ (and German ›Literaturwissenschaft‹) whose emergence as academic institutions and disciplines goes back to the later decades of European Romanticism, ›Literary Theory‹ has a well circumscribed

historical origin. It occurred during the early twentieth century when, for the first time, in several European countries, and under locally different circumstances, young scholars launched the idea that Literary Studies needed a programmatic conceptual underpinning in order to acquire legitimacy as a ›scientific‹ enterprise. Today, we may interpret those converging endeavors as reactions to a crisis that had overcome Literary Studies after a short century of its existence as a new, dynamic, and conquering academic discipline – that is as a functional equivalent of ›theology‹ in relation to Literature which, as a discourse, had taken over, in nineteenth century bourgeois societies, the place traditionally reserved for Religion. During that first happy century of its history, Literary Studies had indeed promoted the reading of Literature as a quasi-transcendental expression of two different horizons of social knowledge and cultural imagination. In those nations whose statehood had emerged from a successful bourgeois revolution, like in Great Britain, the United States, or France, literary texts from all historical ages and in all languages were appreciated as illustrations of central concepts and values of Enlightenment philosophy. In those countries, by contrast, whose birth as nations had taken the more dramatic form of a resurrection from humiliating moments of defeat, as it was the case with Prussia and most other German States, with Russia and, later during the nineteenth century, also with France and with Spain, Literature (and that meant quite strictly in these cases: texts in the respective national languages) was seen as the afterglow of a glorious, mostly medieval national past. While these transcendental horizons of 19th century nationhood had enjoyed a status of unquestioned realities through several generations, they became the object of an all-pervasive and ›scientifically grounded‹ scepticism in the years before 1900. As the frames of reference ›beyond‹ Literature and ›beyond‹ Literary Criticism were fast vanishing in reaction to this attack, a series of concerns began to come up within Literary Studies that had remained mute as long as the discipline was able to simply see Literature as the expression and illustration of Enlightenment values or of an idealized national past. From an institutional point of view, the most fundamental of these emerging concerns was the one about the task of Literary Studies, in absence of its traditional horizons of reference. Secondly, the search for a metahistorical and transcultural definition of ›Literature‹ appeared to be a necessity as soon as it was no longer understood that ›literary‹ were all those texts that could be used as illustrations for the transcendental horizons of reference. In similar fashion, the question became relevant what the relationship between Literature, on the one side, and Music and the Arts on the other side might be (but also, for example, between Literature, the State, and the Economy) now that such fields of practice could no longer be expected to simply and automatically converge in normative cultural frames.

These were some of the predominant concerns for example in the debates of the Russian Formalists who, after 1910, came together as the first intellectual and academic movement that, quite explicitly, wanted to be recognized as developing a ›Theory of Literature‹. Now, while Formalism, in the political environment of the early Soviet Union, failed to impose a thoroughgoing reform of Literary Studies along the lines of its own answers to those new questions, and while neither Formalism nor any other Theories of Literature that followed were ever successful in producing generally accepted solutions to these problems, they all contributed to keeping the discipline of Literary Studies alive by replacing much hoped for solutions through intense but unending discussions. We can then say that, paradoxically, Literary Theory saved Literary Studies by making its early twentieth century crisis potentially eternal. In other words: Literary Criticism is an academic discipline that may have

survived until the present day thanks to its own incapacity of finding an adequate conceptual and epistemological grounding. This is a way of describing the ›improbability‹ of Literary Theory as an academic subdiscipline and as a discourse – and viewing an institution from the angle of its improbability will always make us feel, with relief or indignation, that it would have been possible to live without it. So we must say, grudgingly perhaps, that while Literary Criticism might have had a hard time sustaining itself without Literary Theory, humankind would certainly continue to exist in the absence of both.

During the first half of the twentieth century, most Literary Theories were spinning off, as it had already been the case with Russian Formalism, from the new »structuralist« theories of Language and from related practices in the analysis of literary style. After World War II, by contrast, Literary Theories developed a tendency to adopt their key intuitions, rather than from modes of intellectual concentration on the text, from Philosophy and from other disciplines in the Humanities that were not always centrally and not even necessarily textrelated. Following the short international age of New Criticism, as it had first constituted itself during the 1920s in Britain and the United States through a self-reflexive attitude vis-à-vis literary analysis and as it had been imposed upon Literary Studies in most Western countries during the late 1940s and the 1950s, in reaction to their ideologization through fascist and communist regimes, Marxism and Psychoanalysis, Phaenomenology and Hermeneutics, theories of Gender and theories of History began to develop, in different contexts, their heavy influence on Literary Theory. For the longest time, however, these discourses and disciplines continued to produce new answers to the traditional questions of Literary Theory (to questions regarding the key functions of Literary Criticism, the general definition of ›Literature‹ etc.) – without ever coming close to a consensus. Also, up until the 1980s, there was a certain rhythm of alternation between intellectual configurations that tried to make Literary Theory as ›scientific‹ and ›rigorous‹ as possible (Structuralism, Marxism, Reception Theory etc.) and others (New Criticism, Deconstruction, New Historicism, for example) that emphasized their more impressionistic styles and even their closeness to literary writing itself. For the longest time, however, the multiple episodes of epistemological borrowing and readjustment in reaction to theories and philosophical positions that, in their origin, were not focused on Literature, left the central position of ›Literature‹ and of ›literary phenomena‹ within Literary Theory untouched.

This implicit tradition came to an end in the early 1980s, when the return of yet another academic generation to Marxist principles and concepts, together with a more surprising interest in empirical research methods and a fascination for ethnic and gender identities began to trigger a tendency towards redefining and complexifying ›Literary Studies‹, deliberately and programmatically, into ›Cultural Studies‹. Roughly at the same and almost exclusively at German universities, a similar movement came underway for the transformation of ›Literary Studies‹ into ›Media Studies‹. The undoubted intrinsic conquests and merits of ›Cultural Studies‹ and of ›Media Studies‹ which, by the way, have both maintained an astonishing distance from each other, will not be at stake here. Nor will we discuss the historical reasons for their emergence – among which there might have been both a frustration with Literary Theory’s incapacity of solving its key questions (no consensus about a foundational concept of ›Literature‹ after an almost century-long debate) and the vague feeling, during the 1980s and 1990s, that ›Literature‹, as a discourse and as a medium, was beginning to fade into the past. Much more important and less frequently mentioned is the observation that this double movement of departure into Cultural Studies and Media Studies seems to have left the field of ›Literary Theory‹ without the energy of intellectual innovation. Whoever teaches courses on the history of ›Literary Theory‹ today and uses one of the numerous anthologies with texts from this tradition, will realize that, after many decades of constant transformation and change, no new, internationally successful paradigms have occupied the center stage of ›Literary Theory‹ since the early days of Gender Studies and of Postcolonial Studies, i.e. for more than a quarter century now. After a good ninety years into its historical existence that were filled with constant provocations, changes, and revisions, this hiatus should be diagnosed as one end of Literary Theory, even if the intellectual pertinence and the curricular status of the field may well be more safely established today than ever before.


The end of ›Literary Theory‹, however, has by no means become synonymous with an end of ›Literary Studies‹, as many of us would have feared (and some of us would have hoped) as recently as in the 1970s. On the contrary, the number of academic classes is clearly increasing, internationally and quite steeply, that simply concentrate on the oeuvre of a literary author, on a specific literary genre, and sometimes even on an individual literary text, without any perspectives of theoretical or political legitimation. While more and more sophisticated research projects and paradigms are emerging within the realm of ›Literary History‹, the latest tone in the academic engagement with Literature may be characterized as predominantly ›existentialist‹. If, however, literary texts from the past and present resonate strongly today, once again, with concerns of individual (and sometimes also collective) existence, it appears only natural that Literary Criticism at this point is returning to a renewed, rather un-programmatic closeness with Philosophy. I hesitate to call this new closeness between Literary Studies and Philosophy a ›dialogue‹ because it seems to emerge from a multiplicity of intellectual needs and inspirations rather than from disciplinary planning and politics. A side effect of this distance from programmatic disciplinary claims may lie in the impression that Literary Studies today has a much greater respect for philosophical texts and philosophical traditions than ›Literary Theory‹ used to show during much of the second half of the twentieth century when, quite often and almost brutally, philosophical books were reduced to the little they had to say about Literature. And yet ›Literary Theory‹ has survived as a discursive and as an intellectual space – perhaps only as an effect of widespread institutional inertia. Do we need »Literary Theory« in the early twenty-first century? The only acceptable reaction to this question lies in another question, i.e. in the question whether there has

ever been a field or a discipline in the Humanities that responded to a real and truly irreplaceable societal need. If, as I suppose, the answer is negative, then this means that we, the humanists, should make good, i.e.
selfish use of the spaces that we possess, instead of questioning their right to exist or instead of using them to problematize the existence of our profession – as we have done, to a large extent, throughout the history of ›Literary Theory‹. This self-reflexive obsession may also explain why the range of literary phenomena that Literary Theory has ever intensely dealt with is so reduced if we compare it with the countless proposals for a reform or for a complete reconceptualization of our entire discipline. Today, I find it increasingly tiresome to argue for the disciplinary, political, or even epistemological legitimacy of topics and questions that my students, colleagues, and I are fascinated by. In this spirit and under this premise, I hope that ›Literary Theory‹ will return, rather sooner than later, to the big question concerning the relation, the interference, and the joint effects of textual content and literary form. If, since the eighteenth century, some intellectuals have been complaining about the ›scandal of Philosophy‹, i.e. about the impression that Philosophy, since the age of Plato, has not come any closer to solving some of its key problems, then the ›scandal of Literary Studies‹ may be that we have not developed any good answers to those questions concerning the function of literary form that ›amateur‹ readers expect us to deal with – primarily and successfully. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht Department of Comparative Literature Stanford University

Home > Vol 1, No 1 (2007) > Gumbrecht
In: JLT 1/1 (2007), 212-216. 2009-03-20 JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990

The Journal of Literary Theory (JLT) Vol 1, No 1 (2007).
Ed. by Jannidis, Fotis / Lauer, Gerhard / Winko, Simone Issue: New Developments in Literary Theory and Related Disciplines. Section: “In What Direction is Literary Theory Evolving?” 91-216

"Editorial: In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?" Journal of Literary Theory 1.1 (2007): 191.* 2009 Fricke, Harald. "Response: Theses on Literary Theory [Statement on: In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?]" Journal of Literary Theory 1.1 (2007): 192-93.* 2009 Schönert, Jörg. "Response [Statement on: In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?]" Journal of Literary Theory 1.1 (2007): 194-95.* 2009 Margolin, Uri. "Response [Statement on: In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?]" Journal of Literary Theory 1.1 (2007): 196-207.* 2009 Koschorke, Albrecht. "Response [Statement on: In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?]" Journal of Literary Theory 1.1 (2007): 208-11.* 2009 Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. "An End to Literary Theory [Statement on: In What Direction Is Literary Theory Evolving?]" Journal of Literary Theory 1.1 (2007): 212-16.* 2009

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