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Epic and Novel: A Summary

Novel- current language, theme and content, developing genre, receptive to changes, no fixed canon,
flexible, ever evolving. These unique aspects of the novel can be understood by opposing it to other
genres (mainly epic and tragedy) whose content belongs to an alienated utopian ideal past. They are a
completed form into which artists pour their own experiences and have their own fixed canon.
This is why a theory of novel is difficult to formulate. t was born, nourished and continues to evolve in a
new era of world history.
The novel does not enter into the world of high literature, nor does it form a harmonious union with the
other genres. t unofficially exists outside this world. !holeness and harmony have always preoccupied
the great classical theorists, and due to this, they have always ignored the novel. n the nineteenth century,
there was a gradual erosion of this quest for wholeness and harmony, and the novel was eventually
included to coexist with other genres, though it got on poorly with them, even parodying them.
!hen the novel form co-exists or is included in the mainstream, it manipulates and reformulates other
genres into its own and affects the language and style of other genres. !hen it becomes the dominant
genre, all literature is caught up in a process of becoming and all other genres are somewhat "noveli#ed"
(stylistically) even while the novel is centrally occupied in $parodic styli#ation% of other canoni#ed
genres. There is an "openendedness" which ma&es a definition of the novel form impossible. 'ecause of
the flexibility of its form the novel is the utmost hegemonic genre with the tendency to shape up all
Noveli#ation of other genres ma&es them free and flexible, their language renews itself by incorporating
extraliterary heteroglossia, they become dialogi#ed, permeated with laughter, irony, humour, self-parody
and semantic open-endedness. nfects them with its spirit of process and inconclusiveness.
Noveli#ation of other genres cannot be explained only by the influence of the novel itself but must be
lin&ed to changes in reality that also influence the novel. The novel being the only developing genre
reflects more sensitively reality itself in the process of its unfolding ($ the only genre born of this new
world and in total affinity with it.%
That is why the novel has anticipated and continues to anticipate the future development of literature as a
)iterary theory proves inadequate when forced to deal with the novel and must be restructured radically.
This is because the novel as an ob*ect of study is not formed, definite and clear.
+istorians, theorists and even novelists themselves have tried to give a comprehensive list of unique
characteristics of the novel as a genre but are unable to do so without adding a reservation, which ma&es
its generic characteristic invalid.
n trying to formulate a theory of the novel, authors have come to identify the novel as ,. non-poetic,
-. having a non-heroic hero .. ncomplete and changing, a round character and /. bearing semblance with
the reality of its time. n doing so, authors have not only parodied the $monotony% and $abstractness% of
the other genres but also elevated it to a position of self-critique.
+e attempts to construct a functional definition of the novelistic canon in literary history and finds three
basic characteristics that distinguish the novel from other genres0 ,. t is stylistically .1, multilanguaged
consciousness -. 2adical change it effects in the temporal coordinates of the literary image .. The new
#one of maximal contact with the present in all its open-endedness, opened for structuring literary images.
The epic genre is a closed system that lac&s open endedness. 3pic discourse is transferred through
tradition and its past remains an absolute past and its world a distant world which is not open to multiple
interpretations or personal evaluation. n classical epic, memory of the past is the creative force while in
case of novel it is "experience and &nowledge"which is the source of creativity.
These characteristics are the product of a rupture in the history of 3uropean civili#ation. The rupture
transformed 3uropean society from an 4isolated5, 4semi-patriarchal5 and 4culturally deaf5 civili#ation into
one which started adopting an international approach and introduced into itself a polyglot culture. The era
of canonical 4national5 language, that is resistant to the assimilation with non-native language and culture,
finally came to end and the whole linguistic aspect of artistic writing was sub*ect to the 4internal and
external inter-illumination5 of languages. The novel, as a genre, developed with this changing linguistic
scenario in the bac&ground and had polyglossia as its most essential element. The novel thus became the
pioneer in developing a new linguistic and stylistic dimension in the domain of literature.
6olyglossia had always existed (it is more ancient than pure, canonic monoglossia), but it had not been a
factor in literary creation7 an artistically conscious choice between languages did not serve as the creative
center of the literary and language process.
The new cultural and creative consciousness that gave rise to the novel lives in an ac tively polyglot
world. The world becomes polyglot, once and for all and irreversibly. The period of national languages,
coexisting but closed and deaf to each other, comes to an end. )anguages throw light on each other0 one
language can, after all, see itself only in the light of another language.

n this actively polyglot world, completely new relationships are established between language and its
ob*ect (that is, the real world)--and this is fraught with enormous consequences for all the already
completed genres that had been formed during eras of closed and deaf monoglossia. n contrast to other
ma*or genres, the novel emerged and matured precisely when intense activi#ation of external and internal
polyglossia was at the pea& of its activity7 this is its native element. The novel could therefore assume
leadership in the process of developing and renewing literature in its linguistic and stylistic dimension.
These characteristics of the novel can be best understood by comparing it with the epic.
The epic has three characteristic features0 (,) a national past which becomes its sub*ect (-) a national
tradition that becomes its source (.) absolute epic distance that separates the epic world from
contemporary reality. The epic past is separated from the present by an impenetrable boundary. t
is revealed and preserved only in the form of an epic tradition. 'a&htin says, $3pic discourse is a
discourse handed down by tradition.% 8urther, this epic tradition is absolute in nature, this means that
there can be no room for any negotiations through any personal or individual point of evaluation. The
world of the absolute past is inaccessible to personal experience or individual interpretation. The epic
world represents a voice of authority that bars any scope for alternative approaches to it and relies on an
impersonal and sacrosanct tradition. There exists moreover in the epic world a profound piety towards the
sub*ect described and the language used to describe it, i.e. the language of tradition.
The world of the epic is the national heroic past0 it is a world of "beginnings" and "pea& times" in the
national history, a world of fathers and of founders of families, a world of "firsts" and "bests." The
important point here is not that the past constitutes the content of the epic. The formally constitutive
feature of the epic as a genre is rather the transferral of a represented world into the past, and the degree
to which this world participates in the past. The epic was never a poem about the present, about its own
time (one that became a poem about the past only for those who came later). The epic, as the specific
genre &nown to us today, has been from the beginning a poem about the past, and the authorial position
immanent in the epic and constitutive for it (that is, the position of the one who utters the epic word) is
the environment of a man spea&ing about a past that is to him inaccessible, the rever ent point of view of a
descendent. n its style, tone and manner of expression, epic discourse is infinitely far removed from dis -
course of a contemporary about a contemporary addressed to contemporaries.
The nature of time in the epic contrasts with that in the novel. The structure of the novel seculari#es time
and opens up a temporal and spatial entrance for us, so that we can share our experience in the events
being unfolded. !hereas in an epic, time is never available to us for participation because here the action
begins and ends in a closed world. 'oth the listener and the singer are immanent in the epic as a genre
and stand on the same value plane. 'ut the represented world of the hero stands on a different and
inaccessible time-and-value plane.
The epic as a genre comes down to us well defined, finished, congealed and half-moribund. ts
constitutive feature is the transferral of the world it describes to an absolute past of national beginnings
and pea& times.
The epic past and tradition together constitute the third characteristic i.e. the epic distance. 'a&htin states0
$ The epic world is an utterly finished thing not only as an authentic event of the distant past but also on
its own terms and by its own standards, it is impossible to change, to re-thin&, to re-evaluate anything in
it. t is completed, conclusive and immutable, as a fact, an idea and a value. This defines absolute epic
distance.% This distance exists in epic language, epic material, epic events and epic heroes and the point
of evaluation adopted towards the epic.
This absolute fixity and unfreedom of the epic was overcome by the advent of what 'a&htin calls an
active $polyglossia and interillumination of languages.% 'a&htin discusses the ,9th : $new novel type% in
this context. 8ielding experiments with humour and irony in his novels, labelled by him as $comic epic
poem in prose.% +is re-wor&ings of classical genres such as the epic and romance thus add novelistic
layers of literary language to the epic and cause its $styli#ation% through the permeation of a self-
conscious parodic intent. n the 6reface;1edication to <eorge )yttleton affixed to his novel, The History
of Tom Jones, A Foundling, 8ielding states0 $8or these purposes have employed all the wit and humour
of which am master in the following history7 wherein have endeavoured to laugh man&ind out of their
favourite follies and vices.%
!ieland5s 6reface to his The +istory of =gathon (,>??-?>) , states that the hero, =gathon is an authentic
historical figure borrowed from the <ree& world and one who will evolve in the course of !ieland5s
narrative0 $=ll we can discover of the conclusion of this +istory, is, that =gathon in the latter part of his
life, which finishes our wor&, becomes a man of as much wisdom as virtue.% =ll these culminate into
+egel5s theory about the novel being for the contemporary world what the epic was for the ancient world.
t is important here to notice that for the 2ussian 8ormalists 6refaces are part of the novel itself. 'a&htin
reminds us how prefaces are another formal constituent of the novel. The brac&eting of the novel0
prologue-epilogue etc - should be dislodged because prefaces do not have greater historical validity than
the novel itself, they are a formal intervention on the part of the author that are also part of the fiction.
The use of language in prefaces is different, they have a different truth value but remain yet another
formal aspect of the novel. 6refaces should not be ascribed with carrying author5s intention but derive
their truth value in relation to the novel itself.
The "serio-comical" genre (which may include @ocratic dialogues and Aenippean satire etc.) is the
authentic predecessor of the novel. That is because in them contemporary reality is used as the sub*ect
matter and literary representations are made without an epic distance. 8ol&loric popular laughter
which is a constitutive part of this genre draws it even nearer to the novel form because it destroys any
hierarchical distance and draws the sub*ect to a #one of proximity (in which it can be examined
freely). 8amiliari#ation through laughter and popular speech facilitate the formation of an unrestricted
#one which the novel later wor&s in.
)aughter is a tool for analysis, abuse and dismemberment of the reality at hand ( it helps see the innards -
li&e in 2abelais). This is not possible in the epic mode. =dditionally, there is no burden to memory for
creating new traditions, rather laughter helps in forgetting. The birth of scientific thin&ing is simultaneous
with the rise of the novel - a fact proven by the @ocratic dialogues which have the following
characteristics anticipating the novel0
,.= memoir type genre with transcripts of real conversations
-.:entral hero can afford to behave li&e a bewildered fool
..:omplex system of various styles and dialects come together
/.@ocratic irony and degradation
!ith the serio-comic genre, the domination by epic and tragedy as genres came to be challenged. n an
epic, an event was important and not the author or his interiority. This was partly because of the inability
of the genre to include contemporaneity and partly because of its affiliation to the oral tradition. 'ut with
the coming of the serio-comic genre, the artist gained prominence. The author, his contemporaneity and
his field of expression gained importance. t in turn helped brea&-free from BhighB literature and in the
shaping of the novel as a genre.
3pic, in its internal conclusiveness, is characterised by prophecy which is realised within the limits of the
absolute past it see&s to represent. !hile prediction is a characteristic of the novel as well, it entails
constant rethin&ing and re-evaluation of a contemporary reality. @ince the novel is defined by internal
inconclusiveness, it demands an external conclusion and a formal completeness regarding its plot-line.
Cn the other hand, the epic, located in the #one of absolute &nown past, is indifferent to any such formal
demands and hence it can remain incomplete without disturbing the structure of the epic.
@ome novels may not be "realistic" and may be even without any social motive li&e romances and
adventures. +owever, they are revolutionary in character because they allow their reader to identify with
the characters - something which didnBt happen with the epic. There is a heightened use of extra-literary
genres in the novel0 letters, diaries, confessions etc. There is also a restructuring of the image of the
individual in literature.
= character in an epic is an utterly finished one. There is little possibility of change in his internal and
external position because everything for him is predetermined. There is no real 4selfhood5 to the epic
character because his 4self-being5 is seen through the glass of already established notions of the viewer7
be it himself or the other person. The character becomes helpless in the hands of the author7 because he is
obliged to loo& at himself through the eyes of the author in a role fixed for him by the epic context. The
reader fails to receive anything new from such a character which reduces the character into a dull and
lifeless entity in the reading experience.
This is because of the worldview of such genres, which is fixed and unified7 they are bounded and pre-
formed not only for the character itself but also for the author and the audiences. These traits no doubt,
according to 'a&htin, result in exclusive beauty, wholeness, crystal clarity and artistic completeness of
the character5s image, but this image has its limitations if analysed under the conditions of successive
periods. +owever, with the introduction of 4laughter5, the untouchable and high image of such characters
is contempori#ed and brought low. 2adical re-structuration of the image of the individual in the
novel and in other forms of literature served to destroy the epic distance by creating a 4new order of
image5 of the individual which is dynamic, familiar and free to investigate.
n the epic world, there is no gap between the authentic essence and its external manifestation of a
character. This leads to a certain woodenness of character. The epic hero also lac&s any ideological
initiative. 'ut fol&lore and popular comic sources for the novel bro&e away from this tradition by
indulging in the comic familiari#ation of man. The development of the image of the new hero culminates
in the complexly integrated heroic image of @ocrates.
The durability of the popular masques has great influence on the novelistic image of man because unli&e
the epic or tragic hero who is confined to a fixed destiny, the popular masques always present man in
his;her rudimentary but inexhaustible moods, identities and selves. That is what is meant by the 4surplus5.
This structure is preserved in the novel in a complex ,meaningful and serious (or serio-comical form).Cne
main internal theme of the novel is the limitation of the powers of the heroBs fate in determining the
course of his life. =nd the resulting surplus of humanness is reali#ed in different ways. This reali#ation
happens in a #one of contact with an inconclusive present which ensures that there remains in the hero
certain unreali#ed potential and unreali#ed demands. The novel thus presents a scenario in which the
future exists and has its roots in the individual.
1estruction of temporalities received its crucial generic expression in two periods0
,.n the boundary between classic antiquity and +ellenism
-.'etween the late Aiddle =ges and 2enaissance
=ll other ma*or genres during these eras had become old and ossified and the new, sober artistic-prose
novelistic image and a new critical scientific perception came into being simultaneously. =fter its
emergence, the novel became a dominant genre.
The novel is by very nature non- canonic. The ancient period played a crucial role in the development of
the novel although its true potential novel was reali#ed in the modern world. The 2enaissance helped in
reorienting civili#ation with the concrete idea of a real future which coincided with the novelBs brea&ing
away from the past.