G. C. Kalman - Work in Progress

Ideologies of (and in) interpretations
and interpretive communities

chapters of a work in progress

G. C. Kálmán

kalman@tina.iti.mta.hu

Warning

This manuscript cannot be regarded as complete, ready for publication or coherent in any sense. It contains several mistakes (grammatical and other), loose formulations, missing parts, sections not yet translated into English, and structural incoherences.

This work was supported by the Research Support Scheme of the OSI/HESP, grant No. 1578/1997. But all responsibilities are mine.

INTRODUCTION

SOME QUESTIONS

1. THE POSSIBLE THEORETICAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE THEORY OF SPEECH ACTS

1. 1. THE VICISSITUDES OF TAKING THE FLOOR

1. 2. THE INHERENT UNCERTAINTIES OF THE THEORY

1. 3. NEW VISION, FROM OTHER ANGLES

1. 4. A SELF-DESTRUCTING THEORY?

1.5. A FIRST GLANCE AT THE RELATION BETWEEN SPEECH ACT THEORY AND LITERARY STUDIES

1.5.1. Theoretical Considerations of the Connection

1. 6. APPROACHES TO THE MEANING OF THE LITERARY TEXT

1.6.1. Textual Approaches

1.6.1.2. The Performative Analysis

1. 6. 1. 2. The Theory of the “Indicating Devices”

1.6.2. Intentionalism

1.6.3. Contextualism

1. 7. FURTHER CONSEQUENCES: REACTIONS TO THE PRINCIPLES OF STRUCTURALISM

2. SPEECH ACTS AND INTERPRETATION

BRIDGING THE GAP: INTRODUCTION

CRITICISM AND INTERPRETATION: PRELIMINARY REMARKS

2. 1. Comparative criticism

2. 1. 1. Some Theses

2. 1. 2. Some Antitheses

2. 1. 2. Criticism as compared to other linguistic activities

2. 1. 2. 1. Criticism as a Genre

2. 1. 2. 2. Criticism and Truth or Expression

2. 1. 2. 3. Criticism as a Speech Act: Hancher

3. INTERPRETIVE COMMUNITY AS A PRODUCT OF INTERPRETATION

3. 1. INTRODUCTION

3. 2. CRITICISM AND INTERPRETATION, CONT'D

3. 3. CRITICISM AND INTERPRETATION

3. 4. ACCEPTED AND REFUSED: THE LEGITIMACY OF INTERPRETATIONS

3. 5. WHAT IF NOT INTERPRETATION?

4. DIGRESSIONS

4. 1. DIGRESSION 1: CULT AND CRITICISM

4.1.1. anecdotic digression

4. 2. DIGRESSION 2: CANONS AND CRITICISM

5. AGAINST CRITICISM/INTERPRETATION

6. SOME ASPECTS OF CANONICAL RESEARCH

6.1. CANONIZED INTERPRETATIONS

7. CRITICISM IN THE SYSTEM OF INTERPRETIVE COMMUNITIES

7.1. INTERPRETIVE COMMUNITIES

0. Introduction

1. "Community"

2. "Interpretive"

3. “interpretive communities”

4. Further Problems

5. To the point

6. Notes on the History of the category

7. On the Foundation of Interpretive Communities

8. history

9. The Limits of Interpretive Communities

10. Inconclusion

8. INTERPRETATION AND PROFESSIONALISM

8. 0. PRELIMINARY REMARKS

8. 1. METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS

8. 1. 1. Obstacles of Inquiries into the Problem of Professionalism

8. 1. 2. Some Approaches to Literary Professionalism

8. 1. 3. Notes on Institutions

8. 1. 4. To the History of Professionalism

8. 1. 5. Professional Operations

9. THE PROFESSIONALS' FIELD OF OPERATION: CANONS

9. 0. INTRODUCTION

9. 1. CANON: "TEXTS" OR "LANGUE"

9. 2. CANON: FUNCTIONAL APPROACHES

9. 3. CANON AND THE POLITICS OF INTERPRETATION

9. 3. 1. "Canonical Criticism"

9. 3. 2. Digression: Visions of Canon

9. 4. BUT ARE THERE CANONS AT ALL? OR, THE GOOD ADVICES OF THE SAVANT

9. 3. 2. No More Canons

9. 4. MORE CANONS

9. 5. WHOSE CANON?

9. 5. 1. Digression: The Provincial Nature of the "Theories" of the "Canon"

10. PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITIES (IN HUNGARIAN)

11.CANONIZED INTERPRETATIONS

12. LITERARINESS OF THEORY*

13. PRACTICE

13.1. DO CONTEMPORARY THEORIES HELP IN THE PRACTICE OF INTERPRETATION?

13.2. CANONS AND WRITING LITERARY HISTORY: LAJOS KASSÁK AS PUSZTASZABOLCS (IN HUNGARIAN)

13.3. WAYS OF REPRESENTING DISCONTINUOUS MEMORIES

14. UNFINISHED APPENDIX: SYSTEMS: BACK TO STRUCTURALISM?

INTRODUCTION

14. 1. A WAY OUT, A DIGRESSION, OR A WAY BACK?

14. 1. 1. Systems in Other Frameworks

14. 1. 1. 1. Some Examples

14. 1. 1. 2. Fokkema

14. 1. 1. 3. System vs network

14. 1. 1. 4. System vs Field

REFERENCES

Introduction

The present study was largely triggered by a number of phenomena (conservativism, anti-professionalism, uncertainty about the position of the criticism and the canon, the slowness of the changes in the canon, the old fashioned and inflexible institutions, etc.) present in the cultural life I am most familiar with. If one is not satisfied with the state and processes of the literary life around her or him (and who of us will claim that she or he is?), it seems to be a sound reaction to look around and try at least to give a good description (which is not at all as an innocent activity as it may seem) of what is wrong and, meanwhile, try and find appropriate means for that description. My own cultural background, however, has soon forced me to realize that although it may well be true all what has been told about the definitive authority and power of those in the academe, about the interpretive strategies forced upon the lay by the mandarins of the universities, about the canon changes motivated by the naked interests of some mighty and influential people-in-culture, it is far from being universal: it must be taken very cautiously and with several reservations in several parts of the world. In this sense, literary theoretical speculations, or whatever you call it, is language- (or culture-)bound, provincial or parochial, if you wish; literary scholars coming from different cultures may tell each other extremely interesting but not necessarily relevant or applicable things. I do not know whether one should strive for universality: would that be an universal demand? Anyway, the best I can do here is to admit that I am not really familiar with the special American problems (because they are special) and my knowledge of the Asian or African areas is less than negligible. Nonetheless, I hope that my special point of view (because this, too, is special) may offer some insights.

Some questions

Who are we, smart and well informed professional readers of literature? On what grounds do we exclude other people from our guild of those interpreting literary works? And when do we say, This is an interpretation? And when do we speak of interpretation at all? When is interpretation an interpretation? When do we use the term "interpretive community"? And is there non-interpretation at all?

These are some of my main questions in the studies which follow; the reader is kindly warned not to expect any definitive answers, rather, she or he is invited to participate in elaborating on the problems to be exposed.

The current handbooks and renowned studies of hermeneutics, text interpretation, and general studies in literary understanding, present in an appealing amount and quality on the marketplace of literature, pose, instead, questions of the following sorts: How does a work mean? How can we read this meaning? How do we understand and how do we explain? What foundations may our interpretations have? My questions, as can be seen, differ from these inasmuch as I would focus on the first person plural. Keeping in mind the extraordinary explanatory force of the concepts of horizon and tradition or heritage, which gained an outstanding place after Gadamer's work, I turn towards an approach which is more sociological or, if you wish, more down-to-earth in nature. There is an increasing interest towards quasi-sociological issues of literary interpretation: the ways people interpret literature; the system and rules of the operation of interpretive communities; the rise of professional interpretation; the institution, legitimation, power and politics of interpretation; canon formation as a means or as an indicator of the communities; etc. But what I am aiming at is still not an account of the individual interpretations or a review of interpretations belonging to specific, sociologically describable strata - although there are some excellent analyses of this sort. I repeat, however, that I wish to break with the generality of we, and I formulate questions which, I hope, refer to the operations of the interpreting we, whatever and whenever it may be.

In what follows, as usual in our profession, I will go back to and rely upon some ideas of my earlier works which remained implicit or were left touched upon only superficially there. When the present work first took a faint shape, my first book, entitled Literature as Speech Act: A Chapter in the History of Literary Theory, had been more or less finished and published soon after. Nevertheless, the contours of the studies to follow it were not at all clear; quite a number of problems arose there, and it was not evident which of them should be pursued. I am still not sure if these contours are now more clear-cut.

First I will remind the reader the problems raised by putting criticism into a speech act theoretical framework (regarding criticism as a special, explicit verbal expression of understanding). Then I will try to defend the thesis that interpretive communities are themselves products of interpretive communities. After providing a bit more detailed description of the concepts of interpretive community and institutional control influencing that interpretive community - and to this problem belongs the relationship of the cult and the institutes of interpretation - , in connection with the cult, canons must be touched upon. Finally, there is a chapter on the systematic study of literature a (perhaps simplified) version of which is used throughout these essays and which may prove to be useful in further inquiries.

1. The Possible Theoretical Consequences of the Theory of Speech Acts

If one attempts at consequently thinking over the theoretical considerations characterized by the work of Austin and Searle and speech act theory in general, but certainly extending these names and this school, she or he must see that it is inevitable to arrive to theses which will be, in every important point, in opposition to the theses described above. Let me shortly refer to these contradictions.

The “input data” of the Structuralism are facts deprived of their contexts, independent of any conventions; in our case, they are texts; in contrst, it was the first finding of the theory of speech acts that it was utterance which had to be examined, rather than the text, and to this belonged the entire situation in which the utterance occurred. Hence, the facts/texts do not “have” their meaning in and by themselves (as Structuralism supposed), but they gain it: the illocutionary force of an utterance (which is not the same as its meaning) is warranted, for some positions, by the intention of the speaker or, for some others, the interpretation of the receiver. Thus, meaning is not something which could be directly “read” on the text, what must be taken into consideration is (depending on the theoretical position) either the intention of the producer (to which conference may be made through conventions and which is itself determined by conventions) or the virtual interpretation (which is conventional activity and is directed towards the exploration of the conventions governing the text). No meaning can be described without interpretation any meaning is in itself interpretation, and the text itself is also, as it stands, interpreted, it exists only as such, as interpreted.

And if the text exist only as intended or as interpreted, but in any case: only in the framework of (intended or interpreted) conventions, then one must be extremely cautious in respect to the its structure and its objective markers. Intercultural inquiries warn us that facts and markers which may seem to be entirely objective in a given culture, people living in another culture will simply not take heed of, realize or even perceive. Text, then, must be seen in its communicative function; and the communicative process is always sociallly and historically concrete, the text cannot be dismembered from this. It is not a question of whether it is “allowed” or whether it is “fair” to dismember it, whether there is a (methodological) spot in doing so it is that no interpretation is possible stepping out of this process, since interpretation itself is part of that process. Of this seemingly purely theoretical conclusion, there may follow some consequences on the “practical” fields of literary studies such as criticism, literary historiography and literary pedagogy.

The literary studies conceived in the new spirit opposing the literary Structuralism, will not divide, it will not regard as dividable, interpretation from description, evaluation from description. Since text itself is already always interpreted, it would not even be possible: description is in itself a sort of perception or conception of the text. The objective markers seem to be objective only within a certain culture (and a certain interval of time), their description is, from the very outset, within an interpretative framework - their description, that is, is an interpretation. And the language of the interpretation cannot be value-free: this meta-language cannot be isolated from the natural language, whereas this latter is always dependent upon beliefs, prejudices, (“false”) consciousnesses, social formations, and, in this respect, is always saturated with values.

The concept of the context should naturally be handled quite differently by this study of literature. Ultimately, the meaning of a text is but its context so the most radical formulation goes, taking context in its wides sense possible. But even if one takes other formulations, it is clear that the relation of text/represented reality (that is, that of sign/denotatum) is just one aspect of the text/context system, not necessarily the most central one, and since the object of the inquiry is not the mere sign (text) any more, but the process of communication, it is not a question whether relation falling “outside” the text, such as channel, code, sender, receiver (in the Jakobsonian senses) or the working or functioning of the text in these relations can be subjected to inquiry.

Differentiations between normality and abnormality, everyday and poetic language, literal and metaphorical meaning will loose, after a thorough following through the consequences of speech act theory, their absolute validity; all one can speak of is different language games, literal language and normality can be interpreted only within these frameworks. It is not the language (or the structure, then, which is “marked” in literature, but it is the “language game”, the literary use of language, the literary communication process which differs from other types of communication.

1. 1. The Vicissitudes of Taking the Floor

The logical possibilities, sketched above, of taking the floor by the new (or let us put it this way: other) view of literature, which has been confronted with the orthodox Structuralism, were far from being all and fully realized in this period of the history of literary studies. Just as the paradigm changes in general take place with a number of contradictions, retreats and quick and sudden impulses, the historical path of change in view now under investigation has also been much more crooked and lumpy than it could have been predicted by logic.

1. 2. The Inherent Uncertainties Of The Theory

First of all it must be mentioned that Austin's theory, which has not been created as a theory in the traditional sense of the word (that is, in Structuralist or Logical Positivist sense, or in any sense of modern philosophy of science), is loaded by contradictions in a number of issues. The thesis of “parasitical” speech acts, for instance (of which see some more later), reiterates the dichotomous oppositions of “everyday/poetic” or “literal/metaphorical” etc. proposed by classical Structuralism.27

The contradictions are even more serious in Searle's book (1969). Searle's doubtful achievement, that is, that speech acts can be divided into illocutionary force and propositional content, has already been mentioned (see ch. 1.2.1., above, and 1.3.4.2., below).

Not only did these contradictions remained supressed and unnoticed in the theory of speech acts but it did not become clear either that the virtual program underlying its main thess is fundamentally opposed to the program of classical Structuralism and, hence, these theses should be presented accordingly. To put it more simply, the theory of speech acts did not realize its own novelty, and, consequently, it lacked all the fury and militant spirit frequently characterizing the newly emerging and offensive trends and schools. That the theory reflects a surprisingly or at least hitherto scarcely foregrounded vision of language and that all the results achieved by the studies developing within the framework of the Structuralism can be understood and assessed adequately only in this light, did not become conscious for those working in this theory. Generative grammar, from the moment it appeared on the scene, has refused any other possible linguistics, and has been searching for its own precedessors, ancestors in the history of linguistic theory (cf. eg. Chomsky 1967a). This scholarly attitude, it seems, falls far from the representatives of the theory of speech acts.28 (On this, see also 1.2.4.3.)

And even if it sometimes happens that those writing about or working in the theory of speech acts realize the novelty and significance of the theory, then it is often the case that some of its partial elements are shown up as a sort of manifesto, with a theatrical gesture, without fulfilling, however, the promise of drawing the due consequences. Searle himself, too, can be found guilty in this charge: while flourishing the banner of Austin, he adopts a number of the theses of Structuralism so that he does not realize the need to change them. Literature on the theory offers quite a lot of examples for such an attitude as well as for the unconsiderate metaphorizing of the theory (Martland 1970; Matthews 1978; Atkins 1983: 10; etc.).

1. 3. New Vision, From Other Angles

It belongs to the history of the vicissitudes of the new pattern, and I can only give a brief sketch of the issue, that in a number of territories of the humanities it was in the middle of the twentieth century, between the fifties to the beginning of the seventies, that the time was ripe for changes to take place in disciplines tortured by chronic crises. In this renewal, sociology, ethnography, anthropology and philosophy was affected as well as literary studies. A source of the renewal was, as was indicated, the “British Line”: that is, Wittgenstein and his followers, the analytical philosophy and the Oxford philosophers who asked the old questions of understanding, human mind and language in a radically new way. Another source might have been the “Continental” (especially German) philosophy (and philosophy of science, sociology, cultural criticism, etc.) which had, as of the sixties, wider and wider scope of influence. The theory of speech acts is from the kennel of the Oxford school of philosophy, and it has always emphasized this family relation, while neglecting, in general, the Continental considerations displaying high family resemblances to its own ideas. (Simply speaking, representatives of speech act theoretical school just ignored any contribution to their ideas coming from the other side of the Channel.) Hermeneutics, however, which got a new impetus after Gadamer's 1960 book, has relatively quickly find its way to the English-American tradition, moreover, some representatives of the aesthetics of reception (Iser, Jauss), as well as the theory of society connected to Max Weber and the Frankfurt School (Habermas), regularly refers, as of the seventies, to the theory of speech acts. The connections are complex: as I. and W. Kummer puts it (1976: 84), the theory of speech acts is connected to the empirical study of literature, to Marxist theory of economy and psychology, etc. via the theory of action. Fowler (1979: 188) asserts that there is a likeness between the Rezeptionsaesthetik of the Konstanz School and Fish's approach concentrating on the communication. Schmidt (1978: 48 49), horeover, draws a wider circle when he opposes approaches preoccupied with structure (see ch. 1.4.1.) and those dealing with the process of communication, the latter comprising Séve, Vygotskij and Leontev, the representatives of ethnomethodology, etc.

All this implies that the new pattern emerges in several places and simultaneously, and, moreover, that it does not become always clear which partial theory plays what role in stretching out or dissolving the older pattern of thought, the older conceptual frames. The literary studies following the lead of the Wittgensteinian idea of language games will conclude in results quite similar to some conceptions of literature relying on the theory of speech acts (even though these latter may not refer to Wittgenstein at all), and these latter are sometimes parallel with literary interpretations born in the spirit of hermeneutics or theory of reception which, in turn, ignore both Austin's and Wittgenstein's theories. Moreover, each of the traditons approach the problem formulated in its specific way in terms of its specific bias, thus, the theorists themselves are unable (and unwilling) to connect their own modes of problematizing to any other theory. To the very same results where the literary studies exploiting the theory of speech acts have, in its best achievements, arrived, can be reached also from “elsewhere”, therefore, it is not at all certain that what is needed for the renewal of the theory of literature is just the theory of speech acts. The theory of speech acts can be an example of the taking of the floor by the new patterns of thought, and, thus, one specific form of this renewal, but is not, in itself, the incarnation of the new views.29

1. 4. A Self-Destructing Theory?

One may label the theory of speech acts, but especially the theories of understanding, meaning, literature, and communication founded on its basis, as a kind of self-destructing theory, even if this formulation seems to be incurably metaphorical.

The first to realize that one of the theory's, perhaps very remote, implications might have been dangerous for the theory itself must have been Fish (1980a: 197 245); if all one can speak of is non-hierarchized language games, if the distinction of “the normal” is always an arbitrary act, if the explanation is not “unfolded” out of the work, but it is through explanation that the work is created, then it is true for any scientific or explanatory apparatus that it is just one of the “stories”. What this theory emphasizes is that none of the theories is better, smarter or more beautiful than any other one, and that the choice among theories is a matter of conventions; thus, they theory itself is just one among the theories, it is no more “true” than the theories asserting the opposite theses. The solution for this dilemma (a bit transformed and maybe sharpened here) seems to be found by Fish later (1980b, 1980c, 1980d), in the category of interpretive communities.

Another manifestation of self-destruction is that thinking over the theoretical implications of Austin's and Searle's work and drawing their conclusions will threat one or another of the very theses of these theories. Just think of the inherent contradictions emerging from the inner uncertainties (see ch. 1.2.4.1.). Moreover: the grammatical theory which admits and assimilates the Austinian idea that linguistic utterance must be viewed in its entire process of communication, and thus reaches the conclusion that there can be no clear distinction made between purely linguistic and non-linguistic competence (or, less radically, that there is no sharp borderline between the two), may gradually cease to be a linguistic theory proper since it must integrate into the linguistic description each and every factor of communication, the whole field of pragmatics. Likewise, a theory of literature must become a theory of social structures, communication, and science, as well as an anthropology, a hermeneutics and a psychology. The individual human disciplines destruct their own independence.

1.5. A FIRST GLANCE AT THE RELATION BETWEEN SPEECH ACT THEORY AND LITERARY STUDIES

1.5.1. Theoretical Considerations of the Connection

In the theory of the speech acts, neither in Austin's nor in Searle's formulation, there is no predetermined place for any theory of literature.

This simple statement has to be underlined very emphatically, because the question it answers is a remarkable one. It is quite natural that similar kinds of questions may be asked in connection with every trend, school, system of thoughts, and they are in fact are posed. Logical Positivism, for instance, which can be connected in several respects to Structuralism, did not leave, in the system of the science determined it determined, no place for any “metaphysics”, thus, aesthetics got excluded and it is a question whether a Logical Positivist literary studies can be conceived at all. In this case, what one must face is the strict form of the “lack of place”; Logical Positivism has explicitly excluded some fields of inquiry from the scope of science.

According to a possible conception, the theory of speech act is no more than a sub-theory of linguistics, which may serve to help in answering some particular questions of linguistics. If it is so and, to be sure, it is also the case , then the theory of speech acts conceived in this sense will not, naturally, delimit or pick out any literary studies, moreover, it will not even remotely imply any considerations for literary studies. For one would not say, for instance, that the theory of functional sentence perspective is in close connection with any theory of literature. If one regards speech act theory as a sub-theory of this level, then the most one can state is that some concrete approaches offered by the theory can be transferred to the analysis of literary works, and that the literary text just as any other text can be analyzed by making use of these instruments. Then either they prove to be of revealing power, or not.

But one could also consider the theory proposed by Austin and his followers by speculating that it can be put in the same row where, say, the generative grammar stands. That is, the theory of speech acts can be regarded as a theory which determines a general framework for the study of language. There has been experiments to create a generative theory of literature, on the model of generative grammar which shows, among others, that in this conception the linguistic theory is not simply something applied, but is serves as a model for the theory of literature , thus, it can be supposed that on the model of the theory which is confronted with the generative model, but is its equal and having a similar scope, there can be constructed a speech act theoretical theory of literature. It must be seen, of course, that the difference is significant: the theory of speech acts did not develop a system of concepts and methodology of analysis which is operative and can be continually verified or modified via the practice of analysis, whereas the generative theory did, or at least made its best to do so. Nevertheless, if the theory of speech acts is a theory of language (and not just an ad hoc method of analysis forged to solve some particular problems), then it may give some points of reference to the theory of literature.

And, lastly, an even more daring interpretation of the theory of speech acts is the one which does not regard Austin's theory merely as a linguistic theory, but also as a theory of cognition, meaning and understanding. This conception starts from the further implications of the speech act theory and connects them with similar consequences of other theories. It is clear that from the speech act theory itself no new system of the philosophy of science or guidelines of a new generally scientific paradigm can be developed. The theory of speech acts may fit into the framework of a paradigm, but itself is not a direct creator of that paradigm. Anyway, if one puts the theory of speech acts into such a large context just as the generative grammar has always been striving to indicate the paradigm it has been part of , then one can say that this paradigm must have its own theory of literature as well.

1. 6. Approaches to the Meaning of the Literary Text

The definitions of literature, approaches to the genre theory, etc. which made use of the theory of speech acts do not necessarily transcend the point where the theory of speech acts, taken as a purely linguistic theory (and not, say a theory of language or of meaning, etc.), is adopted in order to help in solving a particular problem. Thus, the theory of literature surrounding the problem to be solved remains entirely unchanged, the replies given to a question of a part of the field will call forth the transformation of the whole theory.

When the student of literature believes that she or he will find a solution to, say, the definition of the concept of literauture, then it is hard to imagine that she or he can render the theory itself independent of the theory of speech acts. That is, if she or he regards the literary work of art as an utterance and, moreover, an act, a speech act, then this will imply to take a spet, at least, from the Structuralist insistence on text towards a version of communication oriented theories - the question is, however, if the theoretician realizes the necessity of such a step. Jonathan Culler, as early as in 1973, proposed that

"the special illocutionary actions of the poetic and novelistic conception should be identified and described, since these have their own constitutive conditions ... Austin's theory offers an analogy, with the help of which critics may think about the various conditions of the literary discourse but which is unable to be applied directly." (1973: 360)

Let us now suppose that per analogiam of the theory of speech acts, it is possible to construct a new theory of literature. We have nothing to lose with this supposition, but we may gain a good perspective on the problems a theory like this must be confronted. Now if the linguistics of the speech acts has as its most principal question, “What warrants the meaning of an utterance?”, then a theory of literature will certainly pose a similar question. This question could be confrontably fitted into the framework of Structuralism (although it seems that Structuralism would hold the following question more important and more fundamental: “What is the structure of the utterance like and in what respect does it differ from the structure of another utterance?”). The theory of speech acts assumes, however, that by our utterances we always do something; an utterance has always an illocutionary force. Hence, this would be a question specifically tailored for this theory: “What warrants the illocutionary force of an utterance?”

As far as the literary theoretical reformulation of these two questions is concerned, there are no particular difficulties here.

The first question would run, “What warrants the meaning of a literary work? Why does the literary work (text) mean what it does?” By this reformulation, we did not get an inch closer to the problem itself, naturally; the word “meaning” is just as obscure as it was in the question of the linguist. Seemingly, there are two tasks to overcome: we should circumscribe what meaning means, and then associate it somehow with the text (utterance). However, I suspect,these two tasks are one and the same: what is at stake is always the meaning of something (moreover, the meaning of something for somebody).

The replies which can be given to the second question, as I will try to demonstrate, are very similar to the answers to the first question. The question itself, however, is much more difficult to interpret within the theory of literature. Let us see. Just as linguistics assigns (among others) illocutionary aspect to the utterances, so a theory of literature must also assume that there is a “special” illocution of the literary text corresponding to this or that illocutions of the “everyday” texts. Just as in everyday communication one may assert, ask, threat or command by her or his utterances, so in the literary communication one does something by the texts. Just as for the understanding of any text it belongs to (moreover, is a prerequisite for) the understanding of a literary text that it should indicate what it “wishes” the reader should do. Thus, speaking of the “literary illocution” of literature, it is not a simple analogy but the extrapolation of the term illocution (perhaps unjustifiedly) well beyond the unit of sentence: to the text. Supposing that there is such a thing as “literary illocution”, the question could be reformulated as follows: “What warants the literary illocution of a literary text?” Or, else: “By what do we understand something as literature which we understand as literature?” This formulation suggests that the reply to be given may bring us closer to the solution of the problem of literariness.

I am reluctant and perhaps unable to outlien the borders between the first and the second questions, that is, to clarify the extremely complex relationship between meaning an illocution. I think it is much more important to sketch the possible answers to the questions above; it well may be that there will be a sort of mixure there as far as the illocution and meaning are concerned, but I do not believe it to be a serious danger.

Here I must remind the reader, again, to the debates about the literary work taken as a speech act. The problem, of course, is more far-reaching. If one does not acknowledge the validity of a linguistic approach to the literature (or art), then the speech act model of the theory of meaning will be seen as “inherently weak” (Margolis 1974: 131-132). Thus, the question is not only whether the literary work is a speech act but also whether a speech act theoretical theory of meaning is possible.

Whence, then, the illocution of the literary text?

In what follows, I will list four conceivable replies. I will call the first two (1.4.1.1. and 1.4.1.2.) as textual approaches: the other two (1.4.2. and 1.4.3.), communication oriented approaches. The former two search for the element which will warrant the specific illocution and/or meaning of the text in the text (utterance) itself; for them, the illocution is inherent in the text. The latter two positions sees the guarantee of the illocution (meaning) either in the intention of the source of the text (author, writer, speaker), or in the surroundings, reception, communication of the utterance. For one of them, it is intended or intentional, for the other, it is attributed or assigned. These, communication oriented, positions can be regarded as theories of meaning, or, at least, there is a core of a theory of meaning within them, while the textual approaches remain of restricted validity.45

 

1.6.1. Textual Approaches

1.6.1.2. The Performative Analysis

The method of the performative analysis, which is associated primarily to Ross's work (1970) is destined to illuminate the following problem: how is it possible that when a sentence is uttered which does not contain any performative verb (like “I swear that...” or “I state that...”) the listener will nonetheless know what the illocutionary act performed by the sentence was? This phenomenon did not escape Austin's attention either (1962b: 16). The point, then, would be that one should hypothesize the existence of a performative verb in the deep structure (as conceived within the framework of the generative grammar) of the utterance. As Lyons writes (1977: 781), there was no convincing syntactic argument hitherto presented in defence of the performative analysis; and Kiefer (1975: 378) asserts that “for this analysis, no semantic argument has been given”.46

What the performative analysis suggests to the theory of literature is that the literary illocution is, in a way or another, hidden in the deep structure of the literary text. Obviously, what is in question is not a performative verb; scarcely could we find a verb which could indicate that the text subsequent to it is to be taken as literature. There were only some attempts at proving that performative analysis can be employed in literary theory; one of them is Suhor's study (1975)47, the other being Tanaka's article in which the author, without any argumentation, declares Ross's hypothesis to be important and interesting from the point of view of the literary theory.

Kuroda's study deserves some attention (1976). He, on his part, accepts Ross's theory (1976: 108). The “narrator theory” of the narrative can be interpreted just by the performative analysis (111).

There is a similar idea in a study by M.-L. Ryan (1981b: 521): the narrator theory of “nobody speaks” is incompatible with either performative analysis or Grice's theory of meaning.48 For Ryan (1981a: 139), there are syntactic argument for the acceptance of Ross's analysis. Ron (1981: 30) argues that the “mimetic reader” is, as it were, forced to create, during her or his participation in the “mimetic language game”, a higher performative verb. Baron, in his informative essay (1975), maintains the hypothesis of the performative analysis contrary to all arguments against it, but every now and then he refers to the context; he assumes some half a dozen performative to be deleted in the deep structure of the literary text without offering any syntactic argument for it whatsoever. Levin (1977: 116) speculates that behind every literary work there is a “higher sentence”49 . For Levin, the verb “imagine” is performative; this is hardly defendable. And I also could mention Van Dijk's book (1972), in which the author raises then refuses the possibility of the literary theoretical employment of the performative hypothesis (143-154). Later on, though, he introduces the “Narr” pragmatic operator, which is a “performative symbol”, and which gives the special rules of the narrative (1972: 289).

It is obvious that those followers of the performative analysis who seek for help in references to the context, will get involved into a self-contradiction.

1. 6. 1. 2. The Theory of the “Indicating Devices”

If one can say that the text can be analyzed from the angle of the inherent characteristics of the sign (text), then, in this division, there is syntax on the one side and semantics and pragmatics on the other. Syntax, traditionally, is the hinting field of the Structuralist approach, thus, there is something controversial in the fact that a theory with the ambition of undoing the Structuralism, namely, speech act theory, is used in order to give account of the syntactic charactristics, inherent traits of text. The performative analysis was just this kind of syntactic attempt; the other reply, which does not have too serious theoretical concern either but may seem convincing, starts also from the syntax of the text.

It may have been Searle himself the first to mention (1969: 30) that the “illocutionary force indicating devices” can also warrant the illocutionary force of an utterance. This idea precedes, at least logically, that of the performative analysis (though Lyons's bibliography shows that simultaneously with the first publication of Searle's book there has been propositions to adopt the performative hypothesis), the performative analysis attempting to give an explanation to the very phenomenon which cannot be clarified by the “illocutionary force indicating devices”. These devices are of syntactical (that is, not semantical) nature: among them figures the word order, the accnt, intonation and pitch, punctuation, the mode of the verb and, naturally, the most important and most unmistakable, the performative verbs (Searle 1969: 30). Thus, these devices may guide the reader-listener as to the illocutionary force of the utterance. The circle of the devices is relatively restricted, and there is but a few among them, apart from performative verbs, which could give a guarantee for the illocutionary force. Moreover, performative verbs themselves need to be interpreted; they do not, in themselves, mark out definitely the illocution of an utterance, since the sentence “I ask you to shut the door” is not only a request but can be a threat as well. It may also be added that Searle, though hesitatingly, raises the idea of deep structural analysis: “ “ (ibid.).

It may cause problems to locate the point where these indicating devices are to be gound. Their description, says Fotion (1975: 230-1) may not be successful until one insists on staying within the single speech act since speech situation the preceding and following utterances may modify the illocution so much that one will find the device itself just in these utterances, that is, separated from the speech act under examination. The more serious difficulties start when one considers the “purely syntactic” nature of these indicators. For Searle himself could not possibly deny that mimics or gestures will certainly belong to the field of pragmatics and, thus, he would certainly refer them to the context. I doubt, however, that a sharp borderline could be drawn between our competences making possible to realize syntactical features and those enabling us to understand contextual traits; it seems that syntactical indicating devices of illocutionary force can not be separated from the pragmatic-contextual indicating devices of illocutionary force, and, thus, the whole idea can be formulated within the framework of contextual theories.

The idea of the illocutionary force indicating devices can be applied to the literary texts the following way: there are segments of a text which conventionally unambiguously (or less unambiguously) indicate that the text count as literature. Obviously, among these devices the performative verb will not figure (there is no sentence like “I hereby literature that...”) - though, as Bruss (1977: 29) notes, thee performative use of verbs like “tells”, “creates”, “describes” etc. can be studied within the text (but not as a verb determining the illocution of the text). Mapping and describing the remaining syntactical indicating devices, from the rhyme to alliteration and text coherence, has been an ambition of the Structuralists in literary studies. (Of this, see, e. g., the bibliography of Wienold 1978.)

If one could succeed in establishing the concept of “literary illocution” within a Structuralist framework, that is, if one succeeded in pointing out a set of syntactic features warranting the literariness of any text, then a theory turning from the syntax to the pragmatics would loose all of its significance whatsoever. The Structuralist experiment turned out to be, however, a fiasco; to use the witty simile of Kiparsky (1973: 179), numismatics will never be able to define money.

Beardsley (1973: 37-38), for instance, speaks of the special nature of the “semantic” tension, assigning, however, only a subordinate role to these traits, asserting that their mere existence is due to the illocution (more precisely, the lack of illocution). The approach is the reverse, but basically starts from the same stance in Olsen's (1978: 5) and Smith's (1971: 271) work. For Olsen, the reader must realize some characteristics of the texture and the structure in order to be able to receive the text as a literary text; and in Smith's more cautious formulation, there may be, though there not necessarily are, qualites which will indicate the fictitious nature of the utterance for the reader.

 

1.6.2. Intentionalism

There is a rather sharp borderline between intentionalism and the two approaches sketched above. Firstly because this is not simply an ad hoc explanatory guess but a theory of meaning which has contributed to the literature of linguistics and philosophy with a number of valuable and interesting works (see, e. g., Aschenbrenner 1950; Strawson 1964; Lewis 1969; Schiffer 1972; the works of Grice; Searle 1983; etc.). Second, while performative analysis and the conceptions relying on the illocutionary force indicating devices may be regarded as approaches centering around the text (or sign), intentionalism focuses instead to the communication process, and this is in harmony with the suggestions of the speech act theory.

Intentionalism is an object, in its own right, of linguistic, philosophical and literary theoretical studies; here it will be discussed only in so far as it receives a speech act theoretical formulation, since it is evident that quite a number of ways may lead to this position.50 It is also a question to be considered seriously whether the theory of speech act will not make the way for or even prescribe an intentionalist theory of meaning. In the formulation of Austin and especially in that of Searle the theory is based, in a very high degree, on the intention of the utterer; it seems, then, to be a necessary outcome that of those connecting speech act theory with the theory of literature, many will vote for the position of intentionalism. The question may be answere dpositively: yes, it is possible that following the traces of Austin and Searle one will arrive to an intentionalist theory of meaning.51 But one must immediately add that the theory of speech act offers further conclusions as well, so that a contextualist approach will seem to be at least as justified as this one.52

In a very simplified manner, we could say that intentionalism emphasizes one “end” of the process of the communication and make this the guarantee of the meaning and the literary illocution. One will not, naturally, find this formulation anywhere in the studies devoted to the issue, since the range of the intentionalist replies given to the question of the meaning and illocution of the text is very wide. Simplifying the problem, again, the range starts somewhere at the position according to which it is exclusively the intention of the speaker/author/utterer on which the meaning and illocution of the text depends; and it ends somewhere at the speculation that authorial intention is no more than a product of the reconstruction of the receiver (which is very close to the contextualist position).

Quentin Skinner, a follower of a version of intentionalism himself, in his study in 1972 makes very subtle and interesting distinctions between the ways and modes of relating intention and meaning (especially the meaning of the literary work).53 It may be useful to remind the reader Skinner's well-founded and essential distinctions, even if they will not be made use of in the followings.54 For Skinner, then, the introduction of the concept of intention may be criticized from several angles.

Intention, of course, is not simply negated by those voting for a contextualist position. Beardsley, for instance, a long avowed critic of intentionalism, refers to the detached, non-natural nature of the literary text55, as opposed to “living context”; the former does not allow inference to intentions.56

 

1.6.3. Contextualism

The other theory of meaning which attempts at replying on a general level the questions formulated earlier is called contextualism, conventionalism or institutionalism. “One could speak, instead of conventionalism, of contextualism”, as M. Szegedy-Maszák writes (1979: 15). For the contextualist conception, the illocutionary force of an utterance or a text is guaranteed by the context. Thus, the literary nature of a text, its “literary illocution” is also endorsed by the context, and, according to the most versions of contextualism, the meaning of a text is, too, dependent on the context. Either context influences meaning, or context is meaning itself - there is a wide range of views between these two formulations.

The use of the term “contextualism” (as opposed to conventionalism or institutionalism) can be justified by the fact that for this theory the decisive element is the environment of the text (or its reception as its environment). Though this environment may happen to be the system of institutions surrounding and mediating the text, or the convention according to which the text is understood may be central, but in both cases one necessarily confronted with the issue of context. Text is institutional - it is surrounded by institutions, its coming into being, its existence and its reception is determined and warranted by institutions.57 At the same time, the text is also conventional: its creation as well as its reception can take place only against the background of conventions. But the institutions as well as conventions can be perceived as cases of context present in the receiver's mind, thus, of the three terms, contextualism seems to be the most comprehensive one.58

Actually, it may be a bit too general. The first task of a contextualist theory should be to articulate in way or another the concept of the context itself, to make assertions of the nature of the context. It should answer the following questions: I what “dimensions” is context to be conceived of? “Where” is the context?

First, let me give a short review of how, in what ways a small portion of the literature on the issue has used the term “context”.

A group of the authors does not strive at a definition, leaves the term, naively or deliberately, blurred, global, general, “total”. One of the reasons for this may be59 that the principles of contextualism are being formulated as against a strictly text-centered position, and the attitude of confrontation is more important than elaboration itself. The more important case, however, is when the authors themselves reflect upon this obscure use of the term, or when it is evident from the context of the study that context is understood together with all its determinations and aspects just what exactly these aspects are is not elaborated upon. One will encounter such general, almost inexplicit interpretations very often.60

To this group belongs, for instance, T. Cohen (1975: 680); for him, the illocutionary force of an utterance is delimited by the properties of the utterance itself, but the fixing of the illocution remains to other element of the speech situation. N. and A. Kasher (1976: 79) argue that understanding a poem is the creation of an appropriate utterance context. It is the context which is the central issue of poetics, since there are two ways in which a text can be “no-standard”: either there is something “wrong” with the text itself, or the relation of the text to its context is not standard. This latter is the case of the interpretation of the poem. Unfortunately, however, the authors do not offer any more elaborated explanation of their concept of context.

Iser (1975: 9) mentions “the full range of context”, but, apart from extratextuality (21), he, too, permits a too wide space for the interpretation of the context. But it belongs to Iser's conception that he does not take text/context relation only from one aspect (say, from that of the authorial intention or that of the relation of text and its surrounding text), but, instead, regards it as a relevant component of meaning from all possible angle.

Similarly, there is a systematic indeterminacy in Olsen's (1978) and Fish's (1973b, 1978) remarks. Here, context is to mean whatever makes meaning possible, whatever creates or warrants it (see also Ducrot 1973: 132-133). A “total” concept of context is found in Pride (1976), for whom context, despite all its totality, is not an abstract entity, neither a sort of practical seasoning which can simply be spread on any raw meaning whatsoever to make a text with digestible meaning. His demand to concretize and interpret the context, that it should not be regarded in its abstract generality but in the process of reception and interpretation, leads us to the systematizing approaches.

From the point of view of the history of linguistics, R. Lakoff's study on context (1972) is of primary importance; there explodes, as it were, all the discontent with the narrow-mindedness of the generative and transformative grammar to which I have referred earlier. Though Lakoff mentions (926) that the aspect proposed by her is not new, namely, to take into account the contextual factors, but it is her aim to revive this demand. For this, no systematic theory is construed, just a list of examples is provided which is enough to illustrate that to deal with the linguistic facts honestly and exactly is possible only if context is taken into consideration.

If we say that there is a method in the use of the word “context”, then one of the principal cornerstones of this system must certainly be the very popular use introduced by Jakobson:

I have to repeat: a theory of meaning, either it refers to any natural language utterance or to texts formulated within the literary communication, which regards meaning as something that can be ecamined only in relation to the context, must have some clear conception of what this context is. The studies produced in this direction have tried to articulate the context but the main deficiency of some of them has been that they have not been able to get rid of the identification of reference or denoting and meaning. And this position is in contrdiction both with the suggestions or implications of the theory of speech acts and, in a broader sense, with the principles of contextualism as far as it is conceived as a counterpart (or party) of intentionalism, as one of the communication-oriented theories of meaning.

I believe it makes sense to start from the concept of context for which context is a set of signs; context is only something that the interpreter takes as a sign, what counts for her or him as a sign, what is, then, interpreted by her or by him. The context of a text is whatever guarantees the meaning of the text for the interpreter. Saying that everything is text and also that context is made of signs, then, of course, the thesis that enything received is a text is unaboidable. This may seem to be too far-fetched, but maybe it is not entirely useless. Then relating a text to a context, their mutual correference is a process taking place between text and text.

From this it follows that a text, for the position of the contextualism, does not mean “by itself”, it does not “have” a “meaning” (it does not possess it), but meaning is transferred to it, it is the interpreter who assigns it to the text. This assignment must have its own rules, thus, it cannot be sufficient - although, no doubt, it is sympathetic - to define the context as an “entire environment”, as “whatever there is”; this “everything” can be articulated, just because there are always certain aspects of this everything which take part in the creation of meaning. Of course, any of such articulation tobe drawn can be redrawn ad made more sophisticated an detailed. By these refinements or corrections one is still moving in the field of “theory”, and this is not really fortunate. The real refinement is implicit in applications, in concrete, if you like, sociological, studies of understanding.

In my earlier studies (1979b, 1984), I made a difference between the following context of a text: syntagmatic and paradigmatic context; textual and non-textual (homologous and heterologous) context; context within and without the text (intratextual and extratextual context); speaker's (writer's) and receiver's (reader's) context. The first difference, that between paradimatic and syntagmatic context, follows the distinction made by Saussure, Hjelmslev and Barthes. It is, in fact, the difference between the “virtual relation of substitution” and the “actual contingency relation”. A relation between a text and another text “besides” it can be regarded as a syntagmatic relation, while the relation between a text and another text “in the background” (generic forerunners or contemporaries, texts of similar type but not “besides” the text, etc.) can be a paradigmatic one. To differentiate between textual and non-textual contexts is a step which presupposes that there may be difference between a text and a text according to the type of the sign; that is, that inside as well as outside the text htere may be texts whose type (to use this loose term again) is not the same as those of the text. There are quite clear cases: drawing in the (linguistic) text (from Sterne to Esterhazy), creates an opposition within the text between visual and linguistic sign; a poem of Donne as opposed to another poem of Donne, on the other hand, can be regarded as a relation of the text with another text outside it, but homologuous with it. To decide what will count as homologous, what will constitute “the same type” and what not, may, certainly, be rather intuitive; and intuition cannot be excluded from the following (third) pair of oppositions either, that is, from that of intratextual and extratextual contexts. Though no problems will be solved by it at all, still one is tempted to give the elegant definition that the series of signs located within the boundaries of the text is the intratextual context of the text, whereas anything else whatsoever belongs to the extratextual context. The fourth difference may be established between the context as taken from the point of view of the speaker (producer) and that of the hearer (receiver); this difference may be important whenever the question is the intention oriented anture of the interpretation. The receiver may always make an attempt to (re)construct authorial intentions, but she or he may also choose to ignore them. Finally, the fifth pair of differences was invented in order to express, hopefully, that meaning can be influenced by effects of several levels.There are factors like noise in the channel, the gestures of the speaker, the momentary state of the receiver's mind or soul, or the texts directly following or preceding the text, instructions for use, title, foreword, afterword, etc. On the other hand, there are the social-historical conditions and circumstances, the system of habits of the society, its culture, the conventions of creation (production) and reception, etc. Between these two types of contexts one will necessarily feel some kind of difference, although faint are the chances that exact formulae will ever fix the rules of use of these categories, namely, those of direct and indirect context.

The differentiations, the dimensions are evidently mutually crossing; thus, the ones in one pair will not characterize simultaneously the context that is, for instance, a context of a text cannot be simultaneously textual and non-textual, intratextual and extratextual, etc.). But if one scrutinizes the nature of the oppositions, it will soon turn out that, to our greatest sorrow, very few will survive the analysis.

If we mean it, for instance, that context is always in the receiver's (interpreter's) mind, that context is only according to what the receiver will read and interpret the text, then it is a question whether there is a context at all which is not “there”, which is not “present” besides the text in the receiver's mind; that is, whether the paradigmatic context of a text is not besides the text in the receiver's mind just as the contexts called above syntagmatic? One may well feel that there must be a difference between the tradition or descendence of a text and its textual environment; and scarcely can one call the existence of paradigms into doubt; the difference between paradigmatic and syntagmatic contexts, however, cannot be explained away that simply by using the categories of presence and background. (For the background is present.)61

There may also be serious problems with the differentiation between textual and non-textual contexts. Where is the boundary? Are two poems by Donne written in the same language? And what about a poem by Donne and another by Pope? Do a work of literature and the dust cover text of the same work (or a criticism on it, or a television version of it, or its loud recitation) use the same language? How far is an image in the text a visual sign and, thus, the text belonging to another text type? Is it still visual in Apollinaire's Fountain, but it is not visual any more in a text with a strange tabulation or set with several fonts? Is it visual in Mallarmé?

Third: what is “in the text and what is “outside” it?62 How should one locate the paradigm itself? The language? Are they within the text?

The four pair of categories gives rise to well known issues since it seems the context of the speaker (sender, producer) and that of the receiver (interpreter) are simply not on the same level: whereas our own context as receivers is always available, “at hand”, within reach, the context of the author is always necessarily a (re)construction, a product of the receiver's activity.

Finally, in the case of the fifth opposition, it must be repeated that there is but a trifling chance to provide exact definitions ever. It is a question whether this difference can be theoretically founded.

In spite of all appearences, there is some use in constructing, on the bases described above, then smashing into pieces a system of context dissection. This operation, may it seem a play for play's sake, will confront us with the problems of the theoretizing about context and, thus, one may arrive at important conclusions. First of all, it follows that one must face the issues of the “whereabouts” the “ontological status” of the context. I, for one, believe the problem could be solved by regarding context only as part of the receiver's mind, and take as a context of a text only what contributes to the meaning of the text (in any sense of meaning whatsoever). But meaning is “carried”, just because of this, not by the text, but is produced or created by the receiver.

A contextualism formulated this or a similar way may then have close connections to philosophical problems which seemed to be too remote, and which has haunted epistemology at least since Dilthey's time. The line can be drawn from Weber (1904: 41) and from the Lukács of the History and Class Consciousness (1923: 210-221) to Gramsci (1928: 204) and Habermas (1968). The issue is the possibility of objectivity, that is the possibility of the independence of object and knowledge or cognition. And the reply can be connected, again, to the hermeneutics represented, among others, by Gadamer: understanding and cognition are embedded in a situation, thus, the relativity of the objectivity of the “thing” understood or cognized is emphatic. It is the contexts which have been socially and historically developed and continually developing and which are in the mind receiving the text that determine and even make possible the specific understanding, the understanding-just-this-way of the text. Thus, the contextualist theory of meaning does not suppose an “empty” consciousness, furnished with some elementary conventions, but the entirety of linguistic and non-linguistic conventions, textual and non-textual contexts. Conversely, it acknowledges the text only as a text constituted within this mind, as something “used”. In what follows, I will explore some of the consequences of such a position.

1. 7. FURTHER CONSEQUENCES: REACTIONS TO THE PRINCIPLES OF STRUCTURALISM

Connecting speech act theory and literary theory may be an example of a turn in literary theoretical thinking due to the fact that some fundamental theses of the Structuralism have lost of their credit, or at least have been seriously challenged, thus, literary theory sought for a non-literary theoretical trend which, in the field of linguistics, has also served as a reaction given to the Structuralism. It would be hard to tell for how long the Structuralism has been in crisis: it has been and always is in crisis, or never has been and is not; it flourishes today, and there were always problems with it. But when the theory of the speech acts and the philosophical problems of everyday language came into the fore, when they became known and popular, it offered an assistance for all those who saw Structuralism with a critical eye.

All that the speech act theoretical approach to literature can be regarded as is an example of a new, ever developing (and perhaps again and again dissolving) vision, and it is even doubtful whether it has replaced or is to replace, in any sense, the old one. An example, though, is interesting not only insofar as its history can be explored or as its present state can be given account of, but also as an impetus to draw conclusions concerning the whole.

Earlier, when some principles of the Structuralism were sketched, it was presupposed that Structuralism is more or less unified, thus, its principles are to be understood more or less generally. Now, when it comes to the antipodal approach, some restrictions must be made, and, accordingly, a short digression is needed.

In grouping the theories of the literary meaning, two clusters of approaches were distinguished, the first putting its emphasis on the text while the second, on the communication. As it could be seen, the latter group, that is, approaches centering around communication, is somewhat more promising, all the more that the theories of meaning centered around the text seem to reproduce, although in another theoretical framework, the solutions of the Structuralism. To make a choice between intentionalism and contextualism is a more complicated business, and perhaps in part it is a question of conviction and belief. This choice, at the same time, is also a matter of convention and it has to be regarded, in a number of theoretical contexts and periods, as a dilemma (from the explanation of the holy texts to the controversy between psychologism and impressionalism). No need, I thing, to make a compromise; although some formulations of intentionalism may point towards contextualism, and the theory of meaning based on intention can scarcely deny the decisive role of context (in any sense of the word), while contextualism cannot exclude a well circumscribed and restricted introduction of the intention to its account, there are, still, much more arguments for contextualism. It is not necessary, then, to attempt at some mixing of the two views of meaning.

It remains, nontheless, a question which of the two views is suggested more forcefully by the theory of speech acts which serves as a starting point here. Olsen (1973), for instance, confronts generative grammar with intentionalism, and, once he has put it this way, intentionalism is unequivocally a consequence of the theory of speech acts; Hirsch (1975a: 574-577) tells the same story quite differently. But turning from the examples to the entirety of the vision, it may seem that approaches related in this or that way to the theory of speech acts or those parallel with it point towards contextualism (for instance, the theory of reception, the empirical studies of literature and their companies). I repeat, however, that it is a matter of decision. As Hermerén puts it, the intentionalist as well as the non-intentionalist position relies upon a theory of ideological function (1975: 81). None of them is arbitrary, just the fundamental problems are not empirical; they are connected to normative issues.

It may be raised, and justly, that on this point the literary and linguistic concepts of meaning are sharply devided. It may be argued that a difference between literary and everyday communication lies in that the latter demands not only an activity on the part of the receiver, a (re)construction of the context and of the intention, but also a co-operation of the parties involved; accordingly, participation in the everyday communication processes does not open a wide field for the display of the virtues in interpretation, neither does it challenge interpretatory skills. Maybe the case is different in interpreting literary texts, but intentionalism is still a tenable position for, a possible argument would follow, everyday communication is taken as an “unmarked” standard case.

Contrary to this, I would put my argument as follows: why should not one, even as if an experimental idea, take the literary (“more complex”) communication as the paradigmatic case, and all the rest as just a simplified, reduced, marginal cases. That is, one could try to regard literary communication as the starting point for and standard point of reference of the theory of meaning; the basis of meaning being its creation by the receivers (audience, interpreters, readers), and everything else (thus, the intention of the “other”) depending on this. From this aspect it does not count whether (and when) the receiver is “sensitive”, for instance, for the “ambiguities”.

 

2. SPEECH ACTS AND INTERPRETATION

Bridging the Gap: Introduction

The theory of speech acts has had some influence on literary theory, and it is also evident that a literary theory must give account of interpretation; and this would perhaps lead us to the concept of criticism as well as interpretive communities. But I would like to make the short story long, and will proceed by sketching first the ways the theory of speech acts could, and sometimes in fact did, influence literary theory in these specific issues, and then, second, show that a new conception of literary theory will inevitably face these questions and possibly force new replies.

Similarly to its role played in the theory of literature, speech act theory has two ways of penetrating into the (special) theory of criticism or interpretation. One is direct application: one can consider how the concepts developed within this pragmatic theory of language can be projected onto the realm of critical discourse. However, an extension of the model would be to rely on the most general findings of speech act theory and its relatives, when one may suggest ways the plurality of interpretations should be handled, the institutional character of the interpretation (or criticism) be described, its place in the system of literary communication be established, and so on.

In what follows, I will proceed by giving a short account of the applications; then - and this is the more important division of the essays - try to draw the more general conclusions springing from the extension model.

Criticism and Interpretation: Preliminary Remarks

Speaking of interpretation, it is hardly avoidable to say some words on the interrelation of interpretation and criticism. I will do this by way of shortly examining two approaches to criticism, one more traditional and another in the vein of pragmatics, and then searching for the links between the two concepts in question, criticism and interpretation.

2. 1. Comparative criticism

2. 1. 1. Some Theses

"Seeking comparisons between texts, over national frontiers", goes the traditional definition of the task of comparative literature. Comparing Heine to Petôfi, studying international phenomena like Postmodern, exploring the reception/translation of Baudelaire in early 20th century Hungary are topics which fairly well fit into the tradition of comparative literature.

Comparing literary texts almost amounts to comparative criticism proper. For it seems to be a too hastily accepted assumption that what we have and what we study are texts; literary studies are never simply about texts as such. We always face texts with their entire context, we face them in a tradition (that is, which we are parts of), and even the act of understanding them presupposes a number of "non-textual" sorts of knowledge. I admit, however, that there is a difference (at least, a gradual one) between the study of literature and that of criticism, inasmuch as the latter aims at treating the explicit and often institutionally sanctioned reports of understanding (or interpreting) literary works.

A well known, established and widely employed method of analyzing critical texts is comparative criticism.

Let me make some distinctions in order to illuminate, a bit, what we are actually studying. One may take into account the following differentiations:

1. A study of criticism as seen in the context of criticism; differences between critical texts (their function, structure, reception, etc.) and cultures making use of these texts must be taken account of.

2. Criticism within the system of (speech) genres. What sort of linguistic activity is criticism? Comparing criticism to curse, éloge, etc.

3. Criticism within the system of the single language community (on a national level): as opposed to other products/activities of other interpretative communities. Comparing criticism to laymen's café chats, opinions, to literary history etc.

We can also pose the problem of difference between ideological/political activities and critical ones. Judgements of literary critical and political/ideological sort may be completely intermingled.

Now if we are to study interpretations or critical activities of different language communities, we may rely on various traditional approaches. We may choose to study critical texts either (a) cross-culturally, or (b) intra-culturally; either (c) on a diachronic or (d) on a synchronic level. This inquiry presupposes a kind of map of the realm of critical texts. Thus, distinctions can be made along the dimensions of (the list is random and not exhaustive) channel (oral vs written), origin and implied readership (e. g., academic vs popular), reference (comprehensive literary histories vs short review articles), style and structure, possible (reconstructed) intention ("autotelic" vs "purely referential"), political function (extension of the administrative power or just one voice among the equals), and so on.

Moreover, special attention can be paid to "borderline cases" of criticism, such as fictitious criticism, on non-existing or lost works (Borges); meaningful or significant absence of critical reactions; self-criticism (Cernisevkij); idiosyncrasies of structure or genre; anonymity; etc. The status and relation of texts around criticism proper must also be examined. Leaflet information, postscripts, advertisements, author's comments and the like may also be taken into account. Partly because they themselves may serve as parts of the literary process, and partly because as subjects of metacritical studies (comparative or not), they are sometimes ignored, sometimes taken very seriously. This may have a historical/cultural/social regularity.

Explicitly or tacitly, we rely on a knowledge of this map when we set to compare critical activities/critical texts of two language communities. We then should be aware what sort of criticism we compare to what, and, if we deal with, say, the whole critical discourse of an age or a country, we must be aware of the inherent diversity of its manifestations. We also must know according to what standards the comparison is made; and, of course, which strategies of the tradition of Comparative Literature are adopted.

2. 1. 2. Some Antitheses

One of the most fundamental questions that a comparative critical inquiry will never pose is what criticism is. Up to this point, we have tacitly presupposed something we could unequivocally call criticism. That is, speaking of comparative criticism or of comparing texts we the question of their identity remained unasked. What is criticism anyway? Is there something we can call "criticism"?

Although it might be quite understandable and even legitimate to avoid this issue, just as literary historians rarely, if ever, inquire into the suspicious term "literature", it may also lead to some confusions. The historian of literature, whatever it may be, has at her or his disposal the compass or authority of tradition which will pick out for her or him a certain body of texts called "literature"; this is not the case, however, in the case of comparative criticism. On the diachronic level, it may be highly doubtful, for instance, whether random reflections on literary works in the Middle Ages or before can be counted as genuine critical texts; on the synchronic, what will constitute the field of critical discourse. The similarity/identity (or difference) of critical or interpretive texts, then, can be formulated on different levels. It may be in terms of history, of sociology; but it also can be of a textual sort. Besides (I'd prefer to say: above) them, there is the functional/receptional identity or difference.

Another problem we must face here is embodied in the expressions "THE national criticism" and "THE other national criticism". Is there a national unity? The answer, almost a priori, is negative. Not only do one have to take into account the historical dimension, but, clearly, there are strata within a corpus of critical activities of a given moment: there are subgenres of criticism, and there are different aims, means and audiences of the groups of critical texts. All in all, a comparative critical method can have the chance to be successful only if it strives at comprehensively situating both the texts (or acts) it examines and the context they function.

All these considerations may lead the comparatist of criticism to reflect on the specific text (or rather, specific communication) she or he is supposed to deal with as well as on the variety of positions held by this text (or communication) within specific cultures, groups, communities.

2. 1. 2. Criticism as compared to other linguistic activities

2. 1. 2. 1. Criticism as a Genre

If there is a comparative criticism, if we can and do compare critical texts, the same question arises as in the case of genres. Are there transcendental or ideal genres which the national phenomena are merely emanations of? Can we speak of criticism as a Platonic sort of ideal object? Are the conventions and conditions of criticism universal?

Asserting may be an universal speech act, if it can be proved (or cannot be falsified) that there are, for people everywhere in the world, things that these people take as facts and these people speak of them (or believe or intend to speak of them, or receive some sentences as being about them, etc.). A speech act may be universal if (and inasmuch as) the institution behind it is universal. Curse or excommunication is "catholic", because there is the canonical institution of the church behind it.

2. 1. 2. 2. Criticism and Truth or Expression

Just as the theory of speech acts has pointed out that reference, for instance, is not an inherent property of the sign but an action which is made with the sign, by the user of that sign, and, consequently, this is a problem for a pragmatic, rather than semantic, theory, the idea has also been raised that evaluating expressions, moreover, evaluative texts, are not by themselves, "the way they are", evaluative ones, but are used to evaluate, they are what they are by virtue of their use. This conception is in harmony with Wittgenstein's definition of meaning as use (1953: 556); but, on the other hand, it supposes that the rules of use are really rules, and both he who evaluates and the receiver must be aware of them so that the act of evaluation could be successful.

To this line of argument pertains also the question of truth value of critical statements. The idea that the statements of philosophy, aesthetics, and, consequently, literary criticism and literary theory, are "expressive", "pseudo-descriptive", "emotive" expressions, and, thus, cannot be assessed in the same way as those of "real" sciences, dates back at least as far as to the Positivists. This problem has also haunted philosophers of language (see e.g. Cooper 1973: 54-62). Now Austin's conception that truth value cannot be assigned to even any "normal" descriptive statement (1961b, 1962b) may imply a seemingly very evident solution. Why not classify evaluating expressions and the like among the group of performative utterances? Some have adopted this position (see e. g. Matthews 1977: 5, 1978: 110-111). But as Tormey (1971) has noted, in his criticism of Carnap, expressive and performative utterances should not be confused.

To draw the distinction between emotive/expressive and factual/descriptive, then to identify this distinction with that of between performative and constative, and classify critical judgements and evaluations to the former categories is a nonsense. Not only because this operation will not provide us any illuminating theory about the differentia specifica of criticism, but also because it overlooks the second (and more important) theory of Austin, which overrides his first, more elementary, one on utterances as acts; that is, that performatives are just a special case within a more general framework, where each and every utterance counts as an action. Second, to state that certain utterances are a priori expressive (or descriptive or whatever) is to ignore the principal suggestion of the theory itself, that is, that no utterance can be interpreted independent of the way it is used. Thus, what we need in trying to delimit our field is evidently not the sort of conception I referred to above. (I could also add that the problem of referentiality ("about-ness") or autotelicity of critical discourse, in this perspective, does not seem to be too interesting. The question is how these texts are taken, what are they taken as.)

Evaluation, judgement or criticism, if defined as such by a special use of language (including institutions and contexts), can be taken as language uses. Thus, Beardsley (1970: 65) regards criticism as a special speech act among the actions performed by (or in) language.

Among the studies preceding Searle's influential book (1969), Morris Weitz's book on Hamlet should be mentioned (1964), in which the author, referring to Austin and Wittgenstein, refuses the conception of language presupposing the referential nature of language (and, thus, critical language), and, accordingly, ordering critical utterances in the dimensions of true and false. For Weitz (1964: 219-226), language is not a mirror of the world, but an instrument to transform it, and the theory of literature is not to assess the truth of the criticism but rather to focus its attention on the peculiarities, ways of use, functions of language of criticism. Later, in 1970, Beardsley said that the work of the critic, judgement or assessment is also an act: it is, just as any illocutionary act, differentiated by the set of conditions (65). Critical judgement is classified in Austin's "verdictives" (they are a class of the performatives in Austin's book, cf. Austin 1969b: 153-155), but, contrary to Austin, Beardsley suppose that truth and falsity are valid parameters in their case.

2. 1. 2. 3. Criticism as a Speech Act: Hancher

Now we could ask, What institution must be behind criticism? If criticism is a speech act (or can be taken as something similar to it), there must be a cross-cultural institution, to the extent that this speech act exists in more than one culture/language. On the other hand we could ask, What sort of speech act is a critical text? what are the characteristics of critical texts in terms of speech genres?

As to the latter questions, we speak of critical remarks, criticism, critical attitude when one says something unfavorable, wrong, pejorative about something. But this sort of approach does not really help. We know that there are quite a lot of other things a text (critic) does in a critical text. Just to list some: narrating (literary historical texts), describing, prophecizing (mainly in evaluating contemporary works), asking questions, giving orders and advices (normative criticism), repeating of something said, and a number of other actions.

As to the question of institutions behind criticism, we could reply with the magic word of literature. And we have it everywhere. Hence, it can be expected that criticism will prove to be an universal genre. But is it?

The first interesting attempt at defining interpretation as a speech act was certainly Hancher's article (1981). Hancher starts from the various speech act classifications, and tries to find a place in these taxonomies (notably that of Austin) for the verb "interpret". He underlines the inherent "non-easiness" or "expertise" condition involved in the term, and, accordingly, he proposes contrasts like "diagnose", "analyze" (verdictives), "veto" (exercitive) and "affirm" or "state" (expositives). No satisfactory solution is found when he turns to Searle's classification, either. Finally, he interprets interpretation as "brokerage or mediation: its business is to bring about a meeting of minds, and when that business is done a celebration is in order" (1981: 278).

It must be noted that what Hancher speaks of is not criticism proper. For Hancher, interpretation is a "discourse genre" which "in aesthetics [is] usually considered to be a subgenre of 'criticism'" (1981: 265).

One could argue, however, that criticism is a subgenre of interpretation, the latter being an activity of an extremely large scale, present in every understanding, perception or description. There is, of course, an element of interpretation in every instance of criticism; but we interpret (if not works of art, but the texts of everyday speech exchange or even the text of the world) in all sorts of contexts quite different from that of the Artworld. Thus, at least, some corrections are needed if we are to take into serious consideration Hancher's ideas.

On the other hand, it is a question if we have to take them to seriously at all. I tend to accept interpretations of speech act theory like those of Felman (1980) and Rosaldo (1982) which emphasize the element of irony in Austin's theory. That is, I am not entirely convinced that the speech act classifications we are presented either by Austin or by his followers are to be taken as final, universal and self-sufficient taxonomies. Rather, they are tools of an inquiry which will transcend the task of putting verbs into boxes; or, even, they may be exciting games by which we sharpen our knowledge of our own language use. But what Hancher's study proves is just that these games may yield a very interesting moral and they are by no means aimless. It is, roughly, that interpretation (and, mutatis mutandis, criticism) is an activity which must have a place in the (social) system of all other activities; and, thus, to contrast this activity to all sorts of other activities may be illuminating.

3. Interpretive community as a product of interpretation

3. 1. Introduction

The problem with Hancher's paper is not, as Fish once warned, that speech act theory is metaphorized here, but rather that it is not metaphorized enough. That is, that Hancher (and a number of other authors, Hancher being one of the best among them) tends to take speech act theory on face value, as it were, and is reluctant to regard it as an instructive but not directly translatable model. It is not the question of application and extension any more; extension can still be very close, too close to the "original", and it may affect unfortunately the possible outcome.

Moreover, there are quite a number of theoretical problems which the literary theories wishing to adopt speech act theory did not face. First of all, it has been supposed (and, in fact, supposed also throughout in the pages above) that a speech act has a lot in common with a written text, that a text, or, more precisely, a literary work of art can be approached by querying its illocutionary force. It is suggested, then, that the difference between oral and written communication is just a matter of medium.

Literary theory warns us, however, that the speech/writing identification is not that simple. Peter Docherty, to name just one (and trickishly avoiding the problematic raised by Derrida), writes:

a written text, although significant, is no more a speech-act than is any kind of non-verbalised historical activity, like shaking hands, striking an adversary or eating. (Docherty 1987: 15)

Moreover,

The illusion is that the poet 'speaks' to us, but simply through a medium which veils her or his intention. This medium is taken to be language itself, irrespective of the various technological mediations of that language. The text becomes not even a substitute or parallel for a speech-act, but becomes theoretically accepted as itself constitutive of a speech-act: it is as if books, like humans, really did 'say' things. (Docherty 1987: 15-16)

(Compare Docherty's point to Barbara Herrnstein Smith's distinction between natural narrative and literary communication.)

Bourdieu's criticism, from quite another angle, points out that although the speech act theory tries to give account of the power/domination/role relations governing linguistic behavior, it repeats the attempt of structuralist linguistics at striving to the position of dominating science; instead of explaining phenomena from the operation and praxis of the society (its institutions, conventions, roles and power), it arrives there through the description of linguistic phenomena.

There are a number of insights remaining, even if one has to discard with an unconditional and enthusiastic reliance on speech act theory. The theory - if it is a theory - was based on the understanding that utterances cannot be described in isolation, they are parts of a communicative process, they have a context, and every utterance should be given account of as an act, both on the part of the speaker/writer, and on the part of the listener/reader. These elements of the theory, along with the arguments for the role of authorial intention, penetrated very soon into literary theoretical speculations. From that time on, some aspects of Structuralism became apparently contradictory to the new trend. Structuralism excludes as many aspects of the context as it can; since a proliferation of contexts would contradict to its text-centered nature. What remains, then, is the represented world, the world which is denoted by the text, and some, very few, aspects which Structuralists take as inseparable from the text itself. And this trend is a good case in point because it is connected to linguistics: just as Structuralism in literature was originally influenced by Saussurean and Structuralist linguistics. So what point of connection can be seen between speech act theoretical linguistics and literary studies?

3. 2. Criticism and interpretation, cont'd

However unsatisfied one might be left after Hancher's analysis, it is evidently worth while to have a look at the issue of how the words "interpretation" or "criticism" is used. This could be a Wittgensteinian (or ordinary language philosophical) analysis of interpretation: far from being the only solution, it can be illuminating concerning some characteristics of the use of these words.

There is an analysis of similar kind in Schmidt (1983). For him, the word "interpretation" has four senses (that is, four uses), one being the term used in everyday speech, the second in the domain of the artistic production, the third a technical term, in logic, for instance, while the fourth is the interpretation in the literary studies. Within this last instance, difference can be established between description, explanation and evaluation.

Now as we experience day by day, the word "interpretation" used to assume more or less two, distinct, meanings, depending on whether it is used as a devaluation of the activity in question or, on the contrary, as an appreciation of a special gift or skill. Thus, in the latter case, the following sentences are very likely to be heard:

(1a) "He does not interpret, just describes."

(1b) "He is not able to interpret."

(1c) "He is not able to give a coherent interpretation."

We could, however, create another series of sentences:

(2a) "I told him that what he said was an interpretation and then he insulted me."

(2b) "This is only an interpretation of the facts."

Or let us run through another interesting linguistic phenomena, an exciting asymmetry. Let us examine the following pairs of expressions:

(3) not understanding - not interpretation

(4) misunderstanding - misinterpretation

(5) understanding - interpretation

How far does the structure of these three pairs of expressions resemble each other? In the second pair, the two nouns seem to mean the same. In the last, "understanding" is a condition of "interpretation"; whereas in the first pair two very distinct concepts seem to be juxtaposed. Why is this conceptual asymmetry? When stating that an I interpreter does not interpret t text, we seem to state at the same time that she or he does not understand it, and vice versa; however, if she or he understands the text, she or he does not necessarily interpret it. Understanding is a necessary but not sufficient condition of interpretation; not-understanding is a sufficient but not necessary condition of not-interpretation.

In sentences (2a) and (2b) - as it is presupposed in the sentences themselves, perhaps not in the fairest way - , "interpretation" is an activity of a very low prestige. It is a sort of distortion, a digression, a trap or a misrepresentation. In sentences (1a, 1b, 1c), however, it is something assuming the mastering of some special skills. It is trade, a profession, an expertise or an aim to be achieved. Thus, interpretation can be a denunciation as well as it can imply a positive value judgement.

No wonder that in the literature on literature (in fact, in the literature on any interpretation whatsoever), it is the second sort of usage which is dominant: while it may very often happen on the political scene as well as in everyday discourse that interpretation has a low prestige, professionals in the humanities assign a certain inherent value to this activity. Thus, just to give some examples, Sagoff contrasts interpretation to description by asserting that the former is oriented towards "interesting" and possibly more hidden relations:

Notice that interpretation, insofar as it can be said to differ from a description, tends to go outside entrenched reference classes in order to focus attention on aesthetically interesting relations between the objects and others with which it is not usually associated. (1978: 83-93)

There is also a certain oddity in the use of the word "criticism". Most frequently, it is used to refer to an act of dismissal, admonishment, denunciation, objection. If somebody is "critical" towards a behavior, event, text, then she or he is not likely to be too sympathetic with it, to say the least. Not to speak of the expressions like "critical position" or "critical state", which are used when the position or state do not bid any fair.

The adjective "reputed", "putative", and even "recognized" also carry negative connotations. In the wine industry, a "reputed" pint is only one-twelfth of a gallon, whereas an "imperial" pint is one-eighth of a gallon. A "putative" marriage is a formalized marriage rendered invalid because of impediments like consanguinity. It is notable that to "recognize" a state is not commonly to judge it excellent as a state. It is rather to acknowledge, sometimes reluctantly, its status as a state, a decision frequently prompted by influential acknowledgements from other members of the international community. (Rodden 1989: 56)

And is each and any text reflecting on another text a piece of criticism? Or should this term be reserved for a very limited body of writing? Olsen, for instance, differentiates between "atheoretical" and "theoretical" criticism:

The theoretical concept of criticism has greater extension than the atheoretical concept. The concept permits no logical distinction of the sort Wellek argues for observing between literary theory and literary criticism. Any writing about a literary work, if it is to count as criticism, will be an extension of theory, will be theory in practice. This does not make the theoretical concept of criticism radically different from the atheoretical concept, since, as Wellek suggested, the distinction was not consistently observed before the arrival of the theoretical concept of criticism, nor is it consistently observed today by those who practice atheoretical criticism. (Olsen 1992: 85-86)

However, theoretical criticism is exposed to (for Olsen, harmful) modifications, which turn it "radically different from the atheoretical concept": one is to blur the distinction between literature and criticism, to render the critical depending on pun and rhetorical satisfaction, the other being "the ambition to be text-theories rather than just theories of literature", and introducing any text whatsoever into the discourse of criticism (86-87). These "extensions" mean, according to Olsen, that

... there are no standards in critical argument and no criterion of good argument other than the ability to please or convince (ibid.)

and that criticism loses its norms and its normativity; thus,

The theoretical concept of criticism is thus not merely normative but also revolutionary. It is not aimed at explaining present practice but at changing it. The real issue which this concept raises is therefore not theoretical but political. (Olsen 1992: 89-90)

From quite a different point of view, Glowinski (1990) ponders whether an excessive use of intertextual moments will not lead to the dissolution of criticism; this sort of criticism gives up much of its task of informing the reader, thus the very function of the critical text is in danger. His conclusion, however, is that

Intertextuality does not become here the opposite of metatextuality, on the contrary, being based on the dialogue of two (or more) languages, it absorbs elements of metatextuality and, in consequence, the fundamental critical functions are preserved. (205)

Political interpretation, Gates suggests, tends to confuse "what a text could mean (the possibilities of its signification, the "modalities of the production of meaning", as de Man has it)" and "what a text does mean (the issue of its actual political effectivity)". The danger is, then, that starting from the former serious insinuations follow as far the latter is concerned: without any actual sociological examination, consequences are drawn from this ambiguity. (Gates 1990c/1992: 183) This, instead of being a politics of interpretation, is a politics of interpreters, Gates comments. (Though one should wonder if there is a politics of interpretation at all without a politics of interpreters.)

One may wonder, what is at stake in the fierce debates in what Olsen seems to participate in, about the theoretical or atheoretical nature of criticism, about existence or abolishment of the canon? Does it really count? Does it not, instead, count as? That is, once a text is taken to be critical, and then it is taken to be theoretically important, who cares if it is theoretically founded or not?

3. 3. Criticism and interpretation

Criticism, of course, is not simply equal with interpretation. It can be defined as a professional interpretation, practiced by a special interpretive community, which has all kinds of institutions at its disposal; to these institutions, in turn, the power of issuing critical texts is socially conferred. This definition, then, will include university teaching (and other didactic kinds of critical activities), explanatory as well as artistic criticism, but will exclude literary critical remarks of people arguing in a bus or students' homeworks. (Of the nature of interpretive communities see more in ch. 3.)

However, a broader definition cannot be excluded. A comparative critical study on how people in the streets of Budapest and Moscow react to a specific literary work is quite a sound project. Since there seems to be a continuity between professional and lay interpretive communities, a study like this may naturally refer to professional critical attitudes.

For sake of simplicity, we could say that a critical text is a critical text if and when it is seen (if it is regarded or if it counts) as such. And if criticism is a speech act, at least it can be taken as one, then it becomes what it is by its interpretation, in the mind of the receiver, just as any other verbal utterance. Interpretation, then, must be interpreted (just as any speech act is what it is only for an interpreter), that is, an interpretation is an interpretation if and when it is seen (if it is regarded or if it counts) as such. If we accept that what we take as facts are products of historically specific interpretive communities, then is it not the case that any boundary of any interpretive community is just a function of another interpretive community interpreting it? An interpretive community and its boundary is, thus, never given but created; created not by its members but by other interpretive communities surrounding and judging it.

Having said this, there may be dark clouds of doubt gathering beyond the idea of fixed and sanctioned status of criticism as opposed to that of interpretation. And then the community (is this a community?) evaluating, interpreting and conferring the status of "interpretation" must be given account of, as well as the whole institution standing behind these acts and the system in which this institution operates.

3. 4. Accepted and refused: the legitimacy of interpretations

Why does an interpreter interpret a text one way and another interpret it another way? Why does a number of interpretations by the laity seem for the professional interpreters so down to earth? Why is the dominance of certain conventions (e. g., the central role of the referential aspect of the text) characteristic of the reception of our days?

Interpretations configure texts and contexts according to various conventions, and this implies the existence of various strata of interpretation (reception). These interpretive strategies along with interpretive communities change historically, their types are historical types.

Here I could mention Fish's well known example on the Eskimo interpretation (that is, Norman Holland's example of the Eskimo reading of "A Rose for Emily", in Fish 1980: 346-347): according to Fish, these, "highly idiosyncratic", interpretations may create a tradition or a tradition developing later may, retrospectively, make them valid or acceptable. Another example could be Kermode's quotation of Wimsatt (1977: 156). It is about a student who, in his paper, gave a very special interpretation of a poem of Pope's, making use of a word which was the same as another in another poem (that is, they were homonyms.) Thus, in the first phase the status of literature/interpretation is conferred to the text by a body of authorities; while in the second phase an institutional control of (the same?) body is in operation, that of treated by Kermode (this one is a good work/interpretation while that one is not appropriate).

These examples may not be convincing, the first being an imaginary one while the second interpretation is a product of a novice, an uninitiated layman. The problem itself, however, is a real one. Think of the following cases.

1) Several years ago in a study published in a Hungarian literary journal somebody has suggested that a main female character in the first great Hungarian drama, Katona's Ban Bánk, fainted in one of the scenes because of a blood pressure problem due to her sexual excitement, that is, her abdominal hyperaemia. Of course, every professional mocked and laughed at this interpretation, maybe it was according to the intentions of the interpreter himself.

2) In the interpretation of a number of outstanding works, the relationship of the text with other (previously written) texts plays an important role. Thus, a famous monologue of Ban Bánk has been interpreted in the light of a monologue by Kotzebue, which, it is argued, is the source text of the former or at least they closely resemble to each other. The same has been said of a famous 18th century Hungarian poem (by Batsányi) and, in a somewhat modified form, of Madách's drama, The Tragedy of Man, just to name some Hungarian examples.

3) The speculations about the sex of the addressee of at least some of Shakespeare's sonnets are well known; that is, it has been argued that they were in fact written for a man.

Let me comment briefly on these interpretations.

The first one seems to be obviously absurd. Even if it is not absurd physiologically, it is very far-fetched. But it must be asked, is not our opinion on this interpretation a product of the context of interpretation of the great national drama? Is not it the case that the accepted field of interpretations excludes not only sexuality, but even any sort of physical and carnal moment? Would not the situation change, were there a tradition of psychoanalytic or pan-sexual interpretation of Classical Hungarian dramas?

As to the second case, the interpretations mentioned imply that these great works will preserve their canonic place in spite of the doubts concerning their originality. Thus, these interpretations have never served to undermine the work's value and place in the tradition. Moreover, the problem of originality is not at all fundamental (and it was not in the contemporary reception) in the case of earlier works (we could draw the line here, at least in the Hungarian literature, somewhere at the Enlightenment). There is a change in the evaluation of repetition or imitation as well. In the Age of Intertextuality, where we live now, the incommensurability or incomparability of the work is not an exclusive value aspect any more. It is so to such an extent that the professional interpreter finds a lot of pleasure in seeking quotations, allusions, parallelisms, or even plagiarism. In the system of conventions of the intertextual interpretation, there is no repetition; nothing can be the same as it was in its earlier form, thus, the very simple borrowing of texts will change the interpretation of that text.

Today, we find nothing interesting in the third case, even if some students (the uninitiated) chuckle for a while on interpretations like this. But I am sure that these interpretations, when they originally appeared on the scene, were astonishing, scandalous, if not ridiculous. The reverse case may be illustrated by the Christian interpretation of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue which may seem to be surprising now.

What is the moral of all this? For the time being, let me simply say that the judgment of the validity of interpretations is a matter of tradition and convention (this is only a provisional formulation!), and, thus, the development, atrophy, heyday and death of interpretive communities depend also on the tradition and convention, and, ultimately, on their evaluation, assessment, judgment.

 

Earlier I have touched upon the issue of interpretive communities. The question is: is not the assignment of the activity of interpretation a judgment itself, a judgment made from the specific point of view of a specific interpretive community? Opinions of this sort include that of Jay F. Rosenberg's, who argues that whenever we say that somebody understands something, we do not describe an attribute or an activity but assign him/her a certain position in the system of rights and responsibilities; "understanding ... belong[s] in this way to the ethics" (41). "'Understanding' will be something like 'authority'" (ibid.). "For understanding is not, in this way, a phenomenon to be exhibited but a status to be awarded" (43), and, to be sure, by the judgment of a normative community. Thus, mapping and judging interpretations and interpretive communities is itself made from the angle of an interpretive community.

3. 5. What If Not Interpretation?

Another, very important, issue raised by the concept of interpretation as a status conferred to some activities is the position of those activities which do not deserve this status. That is, if an activity is not interpretation, what can it be? If and when a legitimizing community states that I interpreter does not in fact interpret t text, what status can it confer to I's activity?

If we withdraw the qualification of interpretation from an activity, what qualification can it be conferred to it instead?

In what follows, I would like to prove that confronting interpretation with other activities, in a purely logical way, is unfounded and is not tenable. The only consequence of this argument, however, is that this confrontation must be put in another framework. In a bumptious philosophical way I could say that the distinction is not ontological, but epistemological in kind; or that it has practical, rather than theoretical, foundations.

Now what is interpretation confronted with - let us see some possible variants. We will certainly call interpretations the works of literary history, textbooks and monographs of literary periods or figures. But what about popular summaries of certain - mostly dramatic and narrative - literary works? These are written for didactic purposes, to remind the student to the plots of some important works. Most probably, we would not call them interpretations. Let us now turn to this case. (It is interesting, by the way, that non-narrative and non-dramatic works are never summarized this way: as if lyrical poetry could be only analyzed - thus, interpreted - and could not be "told".)

Synopses, recapitulations and "contents descriptions" are not, for the professional interpreter, interpretations neither as far as their function nor as far as their institutional context are concerned, even if they are based on the text and its understanding (of some sort). What makes the professional interpreter worry is not the didactic function in itself, since their texts often serve as "initiation" to the knowledge of the text and as an example for other professionals or would-be professionals. But in our culture, according to the accepted (professional) conventions, the plot of the narrative and dramatic texts is just one of the strata of a literary work, and it is regarded as the most transparent and obvious which, as it were, does not demand interpretation. The situation radically changes if the plot of a text with less transparent plot stratum is recapitulated or if a plot is recapitulated differently from they way they should be according to the accepted conventions.

Interpretation can further be confronted with, one could argue, the text itself, the not-yet-interpreted literary work. This argument deserves further examination.

But the most evident reply to the question put in the beginning of this chapter is the magic word, description. That is, if a text is made on/about a text, and if it is not an interpretation, then it is a description of that text.

This reply, however, is severely problematic. For it is questionable if description and interpretation can be sharply confronted. The strict confrontation of description and interpretation (proposed, by the way, also by authors in the speech act theoretical tradition, see Matthews 1977) can be called into question. And if we take into account the historically-socially preformed nature of perception, the institutional nature of facts, the conventionalized character of description, the categorical distinction is apparently not tenable any more.

If there are no "brute facts" and "data", if perception in itself takes place according to historically specific conventions, if it is theoretically impossible to examine "just the text", purely, in itself, since it is always confronted with contexts, according to certain conventions, and the text itself is institutionally determined, then, in this sense, there is innocent description. Every description will comprise a kind of interpretation. Things are always understood in a way (in Wittgenstein's words, seen-as) and not simply perceived. The difference between description and interpretation, understanding and interpretation lies not in what it has been defined by Structuralism; moreover, since there is no meaning without a subject, and this understanding--interpreting--describing subject will always have value preferences, understanding itself will embody (mostly tacit and non-conscious) value choices. Evaluation may be suppressed, may remain implicit, it may seem to be undiscoverable or missing, but in principle it cannot be detached from description itself. Thus, there is a sharp demarcation line between humanities and natural sciences, or we could suppose that natural sciences work just the same way as evaluating and interpreting humanities do, thus turning the Structuralists' conception of science upside down.

On this point it may seem, and rightly, that the following concepts became rather intermingled: meaning, understanding, description, interpretation, evaluation. This "confusion" is due to my intention not to distinguish these concepts but rather to strengthen their mutual relationships.

For me, interpretation is a verbal activity by which the receiver gives account of the process of his/her understanding of the text, or makes the conventions and contexts used in the understanding of that text. This activity is, of course, different from that of understanding inasmuch as this latter does not presuppose any explicitness. As a control of understanding, it cannot be expected that the receiver should also give an interpretation (cf. Ziff 1972). Although the difference between understanding and interpretation lies in explicitness, its quality, form, or accepted character will not belong to the distinctive feature; that is, a "primitive", "down to earth", "unacceptable" interpretation is an interpretation anyway, and, on the other hand, interpreting these ways is understanding anyway. "Professional" and "lay" interpretation can be distinguished, and there are conventions and institutions which will establish this distinction. But in both cases there are interpretations, and these interpretations will be, at the same time, understandings. Although we say sometimes that an interpreter did not understand a text, but it is hard to imagine that somebody did not understand a text, that he did not understand-it-as. The subject is there in every perception, with its contexts and conventions, and, thus, every perceived thing (as if in itself) is interpreted. Is it then not illogical to say that a text (either linguistic, or the text of the world) is not understood? We could say, likewise, that there is only misunderstanding, because there is no "pure", "intact" thing or text, it exists only as interpreted. There can be a distinction made between "professional" and "lay" interpretations, and there are conventions and institutions which will establish this distinction. But in both cases we speak of interpretation, and interpretation is, itself, an understanding. Although we may say that the interpreter failed to understand this or that text, it is hard to imagine, however, than one will not understand a text, not understand-it-in-a-way. One may even raise the question whether it is not theoretically excluded to not-understand a text (either a linguistic text or a text of the world); any conceiving contains already the subject, with its context and conventions, and, thus, every conceived thing is, by the very act of conceiving it, interpreted. Likewise one could say that there can be only misunderstanding; for there is no "pure", "intact" thing or text, it exists only in an interpreted way.

Now if we make the distinction between description and interpretation on the grounds that the former is a mere representation of the data, a text by which the characteristic traits of the thing described can be intersubjectively communicated, just the way they are in reality, then the first question to be put is, What place does understanding have in this dichotomy. Can we describe without understanding? But does not understanding surpass far beyond the point a description should reach? For understanding is conventional anyway and always makes use of things (texts) exterior to the thing (text) itself.

As to the objectivity of understanding and interpretation, they have only historical objectivity because the subject itself, his conventions, his mental contexts are historically objective. Thus, this objectivity is always relative. The objectivity of an interpretation is always a function of an interpretive community, that is, whether that interpretive community judging the interpretation shares the conventions and contexts of the interpretation.

Let us go back to the question: what else can a text on/about a text be (or: the interaction with the text) than an interpretation? It seems that the paradox that no understanding is possible (and, thus, every interpretation is illusory or misunderstanding) is surpassed by the paradox that only understanding is possible, and everything is interpretation. As a consequence of the foregoing, we would be forced to say that description is also interpretation, the work itself exists only as something interpreted, and, hence, everything is interpretation, there is nothing outside interpretation. But we know very well that this is not quite so.

Since it is hardly questionable that interpretation and description as well as interpretation and the text interpreted or to be interpreted is, in our culture, distinguished: there are tacit and unconscious conventions of what we regard as a description, what as a text, and what as an interpretation. Certain texts will be interpreted as descriptions while others as interpretations; certain features or markers will conventionally be regarded as generic features of the genres of descriptions, while others as those of the genre of interpretation. That is, when we state that everything is interpretation, we overlook the fact that the system of conventions of the literary communication determines also the conditions of interpretation. Something is literature only if it is received by the receiver (who is endowed with specific conventions) in a specific context. Thus, we must turn back to the thesis we have begun with, namely that interpretation is what is taken as such. Referring to the distinction between brute and institutional facts, there are brute facts, but they are institutionally brute.

The motives behind the decision of what counts as an interpretation include considerations of prestige and those of function. A text like 100 Famous Novels are far below the level a professional would consider as prestigious. For him, then, it is not more than a description. On the other hand, he may consider this book as filling a function absolutely different from that of an interpretation. A literary scholar of orthodox Structuralist obsessions may consider his texts (activities) as being much more than interpretations; for him, his "descriptions" or "analyses" are beyond what he despisedly calls "interpretations". For a professional of the Conservative anti-Structuralist trend, however, these texts will count as down to earth technical approaches which do not deserve the term interpretation.

4. Digressions

4. 1. Digression 1: Cult and Criticism

I have started to argue that "understanding" just as "interpretation" may be a status conferred to those who (according to certain criteria) deserve it; but who can dispense the qualification of "understanding" and to whom? What system of institutions stands behind the act of judging something as interpretation? Who can safeguard the legitimacy of those legitimizing and how? In the name of what will this institutionality operate?

The excellent book of Péter Dávidházi (1990) is about the Shakespeare cult in Hungary. One of its main points is the analogy, metaphor or even identification the author creates between the religious cult and the cult of The Bard. Dávidházi shows that between the semi-god and the laity admiring Him, there is the layer of the priests which takes care of the maintenance, the forms and, last but not least, the participants of the cult.

Mediation of literature, in this sense, is a cultic activity, as the expression "mission" suggests. The similarity of cult and criticism was treated earlier by Kermode, in connection, again, with Shakespeare (1977: 159).

Is this an extreme case? It well may be that Shakespeare's often ridiculous cult imitating the practice of a religion cannot be generalized for the whole process of literature. But let us apply, to this extreme case, the old Structuralist principle that the existence of an over-differentiated paradigm implies the existence of latent cases in the other paradigms. (Or, that the human anatomy is a key to the anatomy of the ape.) That is, if we regard Shakespeare's cult as an articulated, developed form of the latent system of institutions of literature, some fundamental traits of the process of literature, then it must be asked if this specificity will not figure in a hidden or rudimentary form in all lesser cults in literature and, hence, in all mediations of literature.

(It must be noted here that speaking of "development" or articulation or over-differentiation does not imply teleology. Not only because "underdeveloped", "rudimentary" or "degenerated" forms can as well be regarded as "more intact" or "purer" ones and, thus, more developed; and not only because to speak of chronological order is clearly absurd; but also because the very word "development", here again, would imply some sort of emendation, teleological change, and I am not the least convinced that this would be the case, just as, of course, I am not convinced of the contrary.)

Critic as he who preserves or maintains a cult; what does this imply as regard understanding/interpretation as an assigned activity?

In this context, then, the priest can be regarded as making decisions of who will be able to interpret the holy texts, who will belong to the laity, who will be the heretics and who will belong to the clergy. There are a number of co-existing cults, which are not at all mutually exclusive. Each may admit that the other is a cult in its own right, and they can fight together to defend the institution of the cult as a whole. A priest will not necessarily deny that the other religion or cult is a religion or a cult, but he will of course announce the superiority of his own religion. Thus, there is a pluralism of cults. There is even a cult, the cult of relativism, for which it is sufficient to become an accepted member of the clergy, that is, to be endowed with the status of the interpreter, and no other qualifications are needed. ("Every interpretation is acceptable, in principle, there is no difference between interpretation and interpretation".) Those who promote a specific cult are aware of the fact that the cults are similar in structure and in the principal elements (each of them is a cult), thus, attacks against cults as such can be repelled. This is a fundamental interest of every maintainer of the cult.

Now as far as the judgment of the interpretation is concerned, the following has to be taken into account: the responsible quarters of the initiated will make a decision on

(1) who does not understand

(1a) who does not interpret

(2) who gives a (possible) interpretation

(on these three questions yes/no answers are given)

(3) who interprets correctly, better, worse, etc.

(here there are gradients).

As I have mentioned, this is a characteristic process of status conferring: first (1a-2) the question is the merit of the status, then (3), within the merited status, value judgments are made.

There may be serious doubts how far the parallel between priest and interpreter or priest and critic can be maintained as valid. What is the status of this connection, anyway? Is this a metaphor or is there a concrete historical foundation for it or does it reflect some structural similarities? For Lambropoulos, for instance, there is a theory of "transposition of theological concerns into secular principles", "stressing continuity"; and, opposed to this, there is the "reoccupation thesis" which maintains that there is no continuity, rather, worldliness is "the characteristic feature of the modern age without its having to be the result of secularizations" (Blumenberg 1983: 75), and,

Thus the priesthood of all believers becomes a community of interpreters. (Lambropoulos 1993: 116)

There is a certain basis for the analogy, no doubt;

The devoutness and intensity of modern exegesis, the revelatory style in which its results are presented, and the institution's obsessive and monotonous return to a core of texts which might seem scarcely in need of further elucidation - these are all features which invite the scriptural analogy. (Parrinder 1991: 65-66)

Moreover, Parrinder adds, even the anti-canonical stand of some recent trends tends to erect a new canonicity and demand a reverence which takes one back to the same analogy. However,

... the scriptural analogy is only an analogy: and, in some respects, a mystifying one. (Parrinder 1991: 65-66)

The parallel between the priest and the critic should not be stretched too far; although it may seem to be an interesting explanatory idea, there are quite a lot of issues to be confronted with. Where does the priest yield its authority from? What is the way of getting into the circle of the priests? Is excommunication possible? These questions may illuminate the fact that although cult offers an attractive analogy, it also leads to new, difficult questions on several points. Besides, authority as a genus proximum forces the analyst to look for an analogy on the field of other authorities. Such an authority would be, say, the law (the judge, the interpreter of law, etc.); on this, some interesting hints can be found in Hancher's study. But one could also think of the policeman.

The authority of the priest, of the policeman or the judge is different from that of the interpreter, among others, in that the former have the means to sanction whereas the latter does not. In the connection with sanctioning, it is an important difference that the former may exclude some of themselves, whereas in the society of the latter, there is no evident way to do so. For the former, there are institutionalized procedures to nominate, inaugurate, install or canonize, whereas the latter simply does not need such sorts of procedures (and, to be sure, there are not any). The education and training of the former is regulated by strict rules and guidelines, whereas anybody of us is free to become an interpreter, without any formal training. Most American studies on this subject emphasize the importance of going through some preestablished institutional stairs, but in most of the European cultures this does not seem to be as salient and decisive procedure, it is not a necessary condition and by no means a sufficient one.

4.1.1. anecdotic digression

On October 29, 1991, in the Hungarian Parliament, an MP, pastor by profession, told that the words in the Scripture to the effect that one must pardon seventy-seven times do in fact mean that one must pardon any times, infinite times - we, experts, know that, he added. Following his words, there was a grumbling and murmur in the House, and it was evident that the reference to expertise in this context became a source of considerable consternation. Why?

Let us take another example, from the same circle again. Once upon a time, there was a major conflict around the interpretation of a text and one of the parties debating over it asked a honorable body to offer an authoritative interpretation. The interpretation was born and published, and both parties started immediately to interpret it, implicitly (sometimes explicitly) indicating the fact which is a commonplace in literary theoretical circles that interpretation, being a text itself, is always subject to further interpretations.

Is a pastor, then, an expert, a professional interpreter of the Scripture? One may answer pat that yes, if somebody, then it is a pastor dealing professionally with the mediation of the Scripture who must display an expertise in the interpretation of the Bible, as well as one may answer pat that it is not quite so, her or his expertise will not be acknowledged by anyone and unconditionally; for the religious controversies for at least two thousand years have evolved around the interpretation of the text in question, so that the "professional interpreter", the "expert" exists only relative to a certain interpretation (belief, conviction).

The decisions of the Constitutional Court and the Body itself (this was the second example) cannot be, however, relativized this way. The decisions made by this Court are unappealable, and thus mean the highest, ultimate point of interpretation in law. In this field, then, there does exist an authority which may present definitive interpretations and even if not everybody likes them, there can be no debate about the expertise of this body.

There is no such authority in literary interpretation, and it is a question if there is any in the interpretation of the Bible. That is, even if two interpretations are in conflict, there no way for the parties to agree in appealing to a higher instance, whose expertise and, ultimately, opinion they will admit and follow without reservations. As far as literature is concerned, here it is not an objective at all to say any final and definitive on the text to be interpreted; hardly does anyone believe today that a literary work of art could be once for all "solved", that an interpretation of eternal validity could be produced of it, that the final word could be told about it.

In law, to the contrary, one has to suppose that there is a definitiveness of this sort (and eternity will last, at least, until the Constitution is changed); it could not be tenable if the rules and regulations were the field of the invention of the interpreters of law, where judges and lawyers would entertain themselves with bold acrobatic shows of the mind.

When trying to define what kind of a speech act interpretation is, one is always get caught in the connection between law and literature. This is completely understandable: among our verbal activities, it is those of legal nature that are best surrounded by the fortresses of explicit rules, regulations, laws, institutions developed for centuries and showing a great durability. Anybody can make a judgment on somebody, or judge somebody; but there is a judgment of a very peculiar status, for which appropriate institutions, persons nominated through appropriate procedures, appropriately chosen words are needed. In the case of interpreting a literary work, however, it seems that even if it is just as open for anybody to execute, it is highly questionable whether the circle of those assuming a distinguished authority can be delimited at all. "In spiritual matters", writes Hirsch, "there is no papacy".

There are quite a number of works dealing with the differences between legal and literary interpretation; the comparison is far from being a passing idea or an arbitrary one. It may be proved illuminating partly from the point of view of the nature (and institutions, agents, procedures, sanctions, etc.) of literary interpretation and partly from that of professionalism of which some more words will be told in ch. 3.

To pursue the analogies, to the conception of cult/literature resembles the theory developed by T. S. Kuhn, in connection with the concept of paradigm, of legitimating communities. For him, this community, in the strict sense, is a group of experts and laymen, and as far as its real operation is concerned it is the majority of the society. This theory can perhaps be decomposed, progressing from the paradigm "downwards", to the theory, which also needs legitimation, and, further, to judgment and the legitimation of he who judges. Since it is clear that not only a paradigm has to have legitimation but the individual theories, may they be parts of the paradigm or not, need to be taken seriously or to spread or to be measured in their relation to the paradigm. (In the literature we must take into account the special situation that the interpretations are always challenged and called into question; what is at stake is not a full blood theory of literature but individual interpretations of literature (or of a literary work or of the history of literature). Legitimation, till now, proceeded from the canonization of the individual interpretations towards the paradigm establishing these interpretations. It is a question, of course, if there were or had been real paradigms in the study of literature.)

But let us stick to cult as an analogy of authority. Cult will always product heresy or irreligiousness. Now can there be an anti-cultic conception of literature? Can the priest or the layman seriously make efforts to liquidate the distinction between the clergy and the laity, thus eliminating mediation? Can the laity revolt against the role of the priests or can the priest revolt against his own role?

There are a number of questions consequent of the foregoing. Can authority be given up? This, there is no denying it, is an existential problem as well, since professionals live on interpreting, and the lay accepts this activity (thus confirming it) and pays the professional for this activity. More important than this, if giving up mediation and authority is theoretically possible. This would mean not only the elimination of the exceptional place of interpretation but also the contestation of its legitimation. In the following chapter I deal with the maintenance of the cult first, then I will go back to the problems of giving up authority, eliminating mediation and arguing against interpretation.

4. 2. Digression 2: Canons and Criticism

Cult, if we turn our attention not to the individual sects or sub-religions but rather to the whole system of literature as a cult, has some sacred texts. The ensemble of these texts is called the canon. The question may be raised if it is not this canon itself which makes the priests survive (which, in turn, take care of the canon, update and maintain it). But this is counter-intuitive. In "real" religions, it is not the Bible which creates the clergy, it is available for everybody, priest or lay. Nevertheless, the relationship of the priests and the canon should be examined. For interpretation of the text is, in every religion, the task of the priests, and it is this clergy which prescribes the rules of interpretation for the laity.

The priests watch over the canon jealously. Cannot then be a correspondence between the act of judging something as an interpretation and the change in the canon? That is, is it not the case that an activity will be judged as an interpretation if it gives rise to a change in the canon? There may be evidence for this.

In principle, every interpretation brings about a change in the canon: it serves the inclusion of a new work or it is a re-interpretation of an old work or it is an ejection of an older work from the canon, or it is an establishing new interrelations among works comprised by the canon. But an interpretation becomes interesting from the point of view of the canon when an extreme case of this slight changes appears, an interpolation of a new (hitherto excluded) work into the canon or an exclusion of an old (until then canonized) work. Equivalent with these operations is the radical displacement within the canon; if, for instance, a modern work is interpreted with regard its relation to Romanticism, or an older work is interpreted as a contemporary one.

A much more important aspect is the institutional control of the interpretation of the texts included into the canon.

5. Against criticism/interpretation

As I have mentioned, religion will always produce irreligion, and there are anti-professionalist conceptions as well as arguments against interpretation (these two are, of course, not the same). Though more will be told about anti-professionalism in ch. 3, here I will say some words about these notions. (It seems to be clear that the positions against interpretation are taken, in fact, against professional interpretations; thus, although formulated in broader terms, they cover the "classical" forms of anti-professionalism.)

A form of anti-interpretation theories can be related to the special position interpretation has had in recent Western literary studies. Interpretation as the most important activity a student of literature should pursue or as the only way to demonstrate what literary criticism is good for seems to be dominant in the institutions of literary education in the Western part of the world. Hence, the proliferation of interpretations and the boring series of re-interpretations and re-re-interpretations of great works of art may worry those who are inclined to take a more theoretical stance for literary studies. I think that in several parts of the world we are still before this turn. Although since the East European new advent of Structuralist and Immanentist criticism there has been quite a number of methods, ways, subjects and styles introduced into literary studies, interpretation still does not have a central role in our profession everywhere. Thus, it may be a bit strange for some of us why some outstanding figures of literary theory propose an abstinence of interpretation.

Culler (1976), for example, argues that a re-orientation is needed in the field of the interpretation-centered literary studies. He urges, citing Hirsch, that criticism should no longer devote itself to the goal of producing ever more interpretations.

In a somewhat similar vein, but far less convincingly, Gumbrecht (1989) states that "the reasons which led to its (interpretation's) canonization as the "sacrament of philology" are no longer existing" (377), and he is "advocating the elimination of "literary Interpretation" (as a device to create/find truth) from the daily practice of the literary critic" (ibid.). Gumbrecht then gets entangled in a somewhat confused argumentation suggesting that participation in the literary communication which stimulates the readers' imagination is far more important and comprises far more of the moment of truth than interpretation (383); moreover, he adds, the "Humanity in the present age [is] over-spiritualized, and this should not be increased. All this should, then, lead to the literary critics' "dramatic conversion" (385). Gumbrecht, however, does not insist on giving up the profession of literary studies; but its objective should not be, he proposes, interpretation any more, the "historiographic discourse" which is closely related to the history of mentality should be cultivated instead.

F. T. C. Moore argues that just because symbols "are not a way of encoding any meaning, and are therefore not able to be decoded", and "A symbol possessing meaning (which is not properly a symbol) is transparent" (F. T. C. Moore 1981: 84-85), "any priesthood of exegetes" should be rejected. "For exegesis is commonly more difficult to understand than the text which is being interpreted. It is a practice as much in need of interpretation as the original symboilic product. Indeed, it is itself a part of the symbolic phenomenon." (F. T. C. Moore 1981: 92) Thus, Moore launches

an attack on certain notion of professional authority in these activities. For it is not symbols themselves that are authoritative; there is no key to their interpretation which could ever enable any proud possessor of it to vouchsafe their real meaning. On the contrary, the exegetes we respect are precisely those whose work has an intrinsic symbolic force, being an exercise in that same evocative field for which the symbols under study provide an initial framework or structure. (F. T. C. Moore 1981: 92)

If it is true that interpretations are also and always, necessarily, subjects to interpretation, and, thus, no final authority is available, there can be interpretations deliberately challenging and extorting interpretation, being this action central to their program:

In what sense do modern ironists from Hasek to Derrida return us to theological possibilities? Precisely because, by possibility and ellipsis they work from within rhetoric, not with any nostalgia for its restoration, but actively doubling their way into an alternative integrity stripped of the illusions of power and metaphysics. As ironists they are, in an acute sense, interpreters and they prompt interpretation. In other words, they provoke activity and disturb assumptions, and where interpretation is made possible there also is realized the condition of impossibility for totalising a text. A text then is freed to realise its textuality. The point in Derrida, of course, is analogous to Rousseau's political thesis, that 'the flaws which make social institutions necessary are the same as make the abuse of them unavoidable'. (Jasper 1993: 138)

Another argument against interpretation is directed against the (Romantic) theory of congeniality, this latter supposing that it is the congenius of the critic mediating between the genius and the barbaric mass. Let us free from this superfluous intruder, let us thus liberate the text from the domination of the interpretation; and let us set the non-professional reader free from the terror of the professional. Let him encounter the text the way he wishes, let him make with the text whatever he desires, under no constraints.

Accordingly, S. J. Schmidt mentions that the text is detached from the audience, implying or suggesting that there is (was) a golden age (or a present golden state, ideally) when the relation of the text and its reader is immediate, direct, non-mediated. This conception suggests, as far as the role of those mediating (the interpreters) is concerned, that the great work, sooner or later, is bound to meet, to face its audience, contrary to any distracting manoeuvres of the evil clergy. For some time this bad mediator may stand between the work and its reader but truth will win. And, as far as the canons are concerned, this implies that there is a preestablished ideal canon which will find its way back to itself.

In opposition to this theory, I argue that we cannot do without interpretation and cannot help having it: interpretation is inherent in the socialization process and the socialized self itself. Even if it is true that we always interpret and everybody interprets, there may be certain distinguished interpreters forming an institution or fitting into an institution. If we deny that all the texts wait for is to be freed by an interpretation, and interpretation is but a mouthpiece of the text (Steinmetz 1983: 154, cited by Schmidt 1983), then we also have to call into question if there is a possibility, in theory, to meet the uninterpreted, "pure", "brute" text at all. Socialization, if nothing else, will always remain a mediator. The self, living in a society, will always learn the ways of recognizing, acquiring and, finally, interpreting literary works.

Finally, I would like to mention the conceptions of emancipating interpretation (as against directing it). To emancipate interpretation has most likely been an ambition of criticism ever since its legitimacy (function, sense, usefulness, etc.) has been called into question. We are no worse than of what we allegedly are parasites, we are woth as much, would a militant emancipator argue. The parasite should not be subordinated. Thus, a version of the conception of emancipation is expressed by transforming interpretations into literature; the desire is to confer the function of literature to the criticism (interpretation). In this version, then, function serves as legitimation. This is, of course, a very complex process, and there are several variants, versions and mutants of the "beautiful theories" (ff. Bruss 198?) But one has to be cautious with the conceptions claiming to emancipate criticism, for it may happen that falls into the common trap of emancipatory ideologies which can be illustrated by the examples of the feather trader wishing to be a true-born aristocrat (snobs desperately longing for - and, ultimately, purchasing - nobility) or of the black straightening her hair or lightening her face.

An argument for emancipation could be that interpretation does not merely mediate between the audience and the work, the relation between it and the work is not that of a simple dependence; the work is also dependent on other texts. It is not a simple interpolation either; if it were, in would be possible in principle to eliminate the intruder, interpretation, and there could be a direct relation created. Interpretation is a text creation just as the production of the literary work and both are parts of the one and the same process. Neither of them is subordinated to the other, they are functions of each other.

Subordination may distort or block communication. If the interpreter admits that whatever there is in a text is right, he gives up his own task. Real communication permits quarrel, denial, refusal, correction, and not only appraisal or explanation. The interpreter must have the right to be subversive.

There is a very interesting and sympathetic element in the arguments against interpretation, namely, the charge of smoothing over, of resolving the conflicts, of reconciliation, of eliminating the "agonistic" aspect of literature.

6. Some Aspects of Canonical Research

The word research is often confronted with another term, theory. The common view is that research is something like a real work, whereas theory is pure speculation; or, in a less rude way, that no theory can exist without a practical background; that research provides practical data for any further theoretization, theory can be built only on the basis of some practical research, and the main task of any theory is to provide generalizations and abstractions starting from the previous practical research.

Some elements of this opposition may be true, but here I would like to suggest, as is well known since the fall of Positivism, that gathering data without any theoretical considerations is hardly more than an illusion; that any research is preceded by some theoretical concepts, even if the researcher herself is not aware of them; and that research always can be shown to be derived of some presuppositions, concept and principles which may as well be labeled as theoretical constructs.

Thus, the word research in my title should not be taken as opposed to theory; to the contrary, what I would like to suggest here is that any practical research in the concept of canon is more or less hopeless unless we reach some better or worse delimited pre-understanding what the field we are to study implies.

In fact, the very first steps in this field, the field of canon, will lead us astray (or will lead us nowhere) if we ignore theoretical considerations. Suppose that we decide to measure canonicity on the basis of a mediating institution, libraries or book publishing. Then a very obvious solution would be to inquire into the data of circulation and publication; we would conclude that these numbers show that a certain set of book titles belongs to the canon of the culture in question. Later on, we could perhaps qualify this conclusion by pointing out that this set belongs, rather, to the register of popularity, that is, that this canon is, rather, the canon of the masses, and not necessarily reflect the high canon, that of the sophisticated, educated, well informed stratum of the society.

This example is, perhaps, a too primitive one, and, I hope, none of us has ever in mind to conceive of her or his task in these terms. But it may shed some light on the problem in question. If we start from the simple, monistic, singular concept of The Canon, we either end in a very dubious and cheap result or we are forced to move on and refine, qualify, and modify that result. Consequently, since there is a great need to study the phenomena connected to the canon, there is also a prerequisite to start from a sensibly well circumscribed set of notions.

This clearing of the ground, this clarification of what we should do when we set to the task of mapping the canon, cannot of course be done in a short paper like this. However, here I will try to summarize the problems we have to face if we in fact start this research. I will deal with two issues, though their separation may be a bit artificial: that of the canon itself, and the fields, institutions and segments of the society where this canon is manifested.

First of all, let us see some possible conceptions of the canon. A fairly common view of the canon is that it is a set or body of carefully selected texts, and that a main challenge for those analyzing the (concept of the) canon should then be to explore what these texts are, and how this set came (or is coming) into being. Furthermore, the causes how this given set evolved may be sought, it can be asked what common features are to be found in these texts - that is, their contents, origin and structure may be a subject of inquiry, but it is still always supposed that the thing in question is one particular thing (or one particular circle of things), and, on the other hand, that what is in question is things, products, text-objects. According to the conceptions centered around the outstanding Great Works, the canon is made of ready-made products, a collection of samples, a sum of respectable texts which count as cornerstones of our culture and of our tradition.

One could label this conception of the canon as the "canon-as-texts" vision; for the scholar working on these tracks, it is quite satisfactory to realize what texts are exactly comprised in a given canon, that is, what the privileged and distinguished texts of a period are, then look for proofs for this intuition, and end in a list of works which she or he will then call the canon of this or that era or this or that society, stratum, group, etc. It would not be fair to dismiss this line of inquiry too quickly. It belongs to a certain Positivistic pattern of thought, insofar as it seeks data, orders them and then draws, in a very strict logical framework, conclusions; meanwhile, it restricts itself to a controlled body of evidence, without referring to anything outside them. This is a methodology which may and in fact did have results interesting from any other, even anti-Positivistic, point of view. To say that it is a prerequisite for any other inquiry is, of course, misleading since it presupposes a stage of study when no preconceptions, prejudices, ideologies, theories, even concepts are involved; but it may be acknowledged that a mapping of what has been regarded as a canon or what is regarded as having been regarded as a canon may furnish raw material to analyze further; at least, what one can learn from these reviews is a vision of the canon as produced by a professional, that is, a contribution to the analysis of her or his view of literature.

However, it is not a notion really widely held, in its pure form. Even the most conservative, scholastic formulations refer to something outside the texts in question, in fact, transcending them: tradition, value, ethics, aesthetic quality, and the like, and these amount to a reference to a certain rule beyond the objects. It is, to say the least, extremely difficult to differentiate between "textual" and "linguistic" conceptions; or, to put it more sharply, "textual" delimitations imply (very often explicitly) a rule governing the selection of the texts.

Thus, the other main conception (if it is really "other"), is the "canon-as-language" view of the canon. It is, perhaps, not less problematic than the one treated above, just one has to face different questions. It can perhaps be argued that the nature of the canon is that of the langue; it embodies or manifests some common knowledge. Let us further suppose that there exists some "literary competence" - a sort of knowledge enabling the speaker, the "native speaker" of a culture, to recognize and repute literary texts as such. It is possible to state, then, that the canon, a selected set of the great works, is part of this knowledge, and if this knowledge corresponds to the linguistic langue, then canon must be part of the literary langue.

If it is so, then the canon does not belong to the sphere of realization or phenomena, but rather to that of the system: in this respect, it is part of the langue. As far as this is the case, we cannot do without a canon. It also belongs to that field inasmuch as its change is not a consequence of some autonomous movement, but rather of external influences coming outside of the field of literature.

And one could also say that canonicity is a version of the range of interpretations; that is, canon can be regarded as an entrenched or even institutionalized variety of the interpretation which is canonical; what changes is a certain set of interpretive assumptions and, along with this change or perhaps as a consequence of it, there is a also change in the texts picked out as valuable, as apt subjects of analysis or education. Here we turn back to what has been said of the canon-as-texts conception: the selection of texts worth studying, the body of literature to be interpreted is in itself a result of (explicit or implicit) rules, theoretical considerations, value preferences which, in turn, can be described as a system beyond or within the objects - which are, then, are not objects-in-themselves any more but products of the subjectivity, formed and preformed by an interpretation.

The "canon-as-a-langue" conception is sometimes formed as against the conception of canon as a list of texts canonical in their own right. What is opposed, then, is the idea that a text could be canonical by its own inner quality. There may be another possible conception which deviates from the (Structuralist) vision of langue/parole distinction: canon is neither a set of elements, nor an abstract system, but a product of conventionalized acts whereas canon-formation is a performance of an act with a special force. The act of creating the canon is originally and archetypically is the task of the "priest", the professional interpreter of the Law.

The canon, whatever it may be, is certainly not something given, eternal, whose origin and nature cannot be searched for. Even if they are not interested in the development or origin of a canon, most studies agree that it can be traced back not only in time but also synchronically, to its conception.

But who makes, changes and maintains the canon? The answer is, naturally, that it is the function of some groups, who may be called professionals, or, "people-in-the-culture" "whose power is gained by their control over literary institutions." (Shavit 1991: 232)

The least which can be said of the relation of the canons and the literary professionals, then, is that quite a number of the activities of the professional interpreters of literature affects in one way or another the literary canon. Professionals in the literary field are often characterized by their preoccupation with the canon and, conversely, canon is almost exclusively approached as the principal field of a specific group of people, the professionals of the literary field. It is one of the tasks (activities) of the literary professionals is to create, maintain, change and reflect on canon. Here I remind you that the important role played by the professionals in forming the canon (and, to be sure, that of the canon in forming the status of the professionals), has just been illustrated by the paradigmatic and, in fact, fundamental case of canonization, the delimitation of the texts which would then belong to the Scripture, an act of highly professional nature and involving serious consequences to several communities.

It seems to be reasonable to differentiate between the unconditional authority and the more restricted and ephemeral power which the professionals of literary studies exert. Partly, of course, it is only a matter of degree; but certainly, there are also similarities. Both presuppose institutions, power and groups. Furthermore, there may be a hope that it can be specified exactly what groups and what powers take part in the formation of the canon and how they do so.

The relation of professionals to canon is not only that it is the more or less institutionalized group of people-in-culture in charge of maintaining and forming a distinguished class of text. It is also this special class of text which offers them a basis of existence qua professionals. It is, then, a field of operation for them as well as a field of reward.

However, even if the community of professionals seems to be decisive in the process of forming the canon, it must be asked again and again, Is it just one single thing which is formed? Why should we regard only a canon formed by the very special community of the professionals as the only important factor? No doubt, it is the best documented and the best known canon (whatever the word means); it is transferred to the new generations, it is taught in schools and respected the most, it represents a set of texts and a set of conventions which is regarded as a prerequisite to call somebody an educated person. However, it is clear that what and how people in fact read is far from being identical with the canon the professionals (or a part of the professional community) regard as canonical. For instance, the Great Works taught in schools must not be identical with those most revered by the professionals; at least since the time of Romanticism, a section of the professionals has represented a counter-canon, for which institutional education has appeared as a symbol of conservativism, old-fashionedness. Although the curricula for school education is formed by professionals in power, those not in power very often challenge this sort of canon. On the other hand, it must be supposed that certain communities other than that of the professionals create their own canon. Participants of the educational system (that is, pupils and teachers alike) do not regard the obligatory readings as the most valuable works, and what and how they actually read most is quite different from that canon.

The problem is, of course, that this canon is hidden, fragmentary, implicit, and it is extremely hard to trace it. Synchronically, we are aware of its existence, but rarely do we care to describe it; diachronically, we may rely on some data, mostly coming from professionals, but only very few direct references. Another problem is whether how many non-professional canons (and, accordingly, how many communities) should be taken into account. For it may be a bit misleading to speak of the non-professional canon as a whole; there may be several sub-communities, and, correspondingly, sub-canons and counter-canons. Theoretical speculation, then, must circumscribe, prior to any research, the possible range of canons which should be taken into account.

Needless to say, this range will differ according to cultures, historical periods, and perhaps even by the nation in question. This would be the main issue of our colloquium. It may be speculated that a “small” country (or a language of smaller diffusion) must insist in a much more rigid way to its sacred texts and their sanctified (canonized) interpretation. On the other hand, a small country is much more exposed to the influences coming from outside, especially if she has powerful and “great” nations in her neighborhood. These hypotheses seem to be reasonable enough, and they are not mutually exclusive. But how can we prove or disprove them?

This question will lead us to the second complex of issues, that is, to the question, What do we actually do when we investigate canons? What sort of data, evidence, clues do expect to have? What is the method of the canonical research?

First of all, what we hope to get is texts. (This fact will sooner or later raise the problem of interpretation; but here I will put it aside.) I am not speaking about the Great Works included in the canon, by no means. A text will not display any marker of being canonical, no matter how closely we investigate it; canonicity is a matter of interpretations, institutions, communities, powers, traditions, etc., but it is not a given characteristic of any piece of text whatsoever. The texts in question are, instead, those surrounding the canonical texts; the documents of its reception, its interpretations, the traces of its way to canonicity.

Thus, the first area could be which we could call interpretations. What I have in mind is all sorts of interpretations: authors’ comments and diaries, literary criticism, school textbooks, school papers, theater performances, prefaces and editorial comments, blurbs, advertisements, all sorts of references.

But, second, these texts (canonical and metacanonical) appear somewhere, in certain contexts. Thus, it is another obvious scope of research to map all the possible sources of these texts: what journals, newspapers, textbooks, TV and radio channels, or what other forms of mediation could play role in the circulation of a work and its interpretation? What did the elementary, secondary school and university curricula look like? How and where were the teachers trained? What other forms of forming opinion were available?

And this will lead us to a third area, those of institutions. The site where these texts appear all belong to certain institutions: the system of education, the system of literary production, circulation and reception, including literary schools, trends and groups, salons and movements; book publishing industry, along with its participants (censors, editors, marketing personnel, etc.); the bookmarket; and the libraries, readers’ clubs.

All these elements require a very thorough work, and we should always had in mind what has been told about the concept of canon in general; that is, that there are always several canons, and that a canon is not simply a set of texts. Thus, we have to proceed to a fourth area, that of assessing the relevant conventions of interpretation, which seems to be an even more difficult task. It is not enough, clearly, to map all the possible meta-canonical texts, their context and their institutions; we also have to interpret the interpretations, evaluate the evaluations.

This is a rather delicate and difficult business. What we should do in canonical research is to survey the language the meta-canonical texts use; their value preferences, their hidden presuppositions in their interpretation, their political, ideological, or personal motives, and, of course, pick out those which may possibly count in the reception history of the work in question. I am not speaking only of literary criticism; a data like the most popular book in public libraries also needs careful investigation. Probably not of the same nature as those dealing with critical texts, but the whole structure of, say, acquisition of public libraries, loaning policies, their sections closed and open for the public should be studied. Similarly, a curriculum as it stands cannot be regarded as a useful raw data for a canonical investigation. It well may be that some works appear on some lists mere because for political reasons, but in fact they are never taught. It is also possible that certain works are regarded as typical or highly controversial, but never as canonical.

Thus, we must interpret the meta-canonical texts, their surrounding contexts and the institutions which make use of them. Of course, we always have some intuition of what counts, in a given period and in a given culture, as canonical. Since we live in that culture (or in another, but we hope we know enough of that culture), we know, one way or another, its tradition, its values, its conventions, as well as its canon. However, it may happen that the temporal distance is too big and it turns out that what we supposed the canon had been is somewhat different. It may turn out that there are other, less known works belonging to that canon, which have dropped out of our tradition. Or it may happen that the reasons of being canonical are absolutely different from what we supposed them to be. Literary works of art may have somewhat different functions in different periods, still, they may preserve their canonical position. It seems to especially true in cases of “small” literatures: poems or epic works which used to serve the idea of nationality, or that of the fight against the alien invader, etc., are still canonical, though their interpretation and perhaps evaluation is quite different than it had been.

Finally, my proposition, then, is very simple. I tried to convince you that we simply cannot even try to make any canonical research unless we face some important questions. What are we looking for? Is it one thing or more? Is it a set of texts or something more? Where should we look for it? Only in reference books, textbooks and curricula? Or, rather, should we take into account all the corresponding interpretations, along with the channels and institutions mediating the texts and meta-texts to us? My conclusion is that all these questions must be answered. It well may be that my answers are not too good, and I am sure that they are rather superficial. But the questions are there.

6.1. Canonized interpretations

I have tried to argue that a canon is not merely a set of texts but, rather, it is a range of socially preferred interpretations of some texts. That is, what is taken as canonical is a text along with its interpretation, and this interpretation is, accordingly, taken as a canonical one. As I argued, “canon can be regarded as an entrenched or even institutionalized variety of the interpretation which is canonical; what changes is a certain set of interpretive assumptions and, along with this change or perhaps as a consequence of it, there is a also change in the texts picked out as valuable, as apt subjects of analysis or education.”- If it is true, it can provide an explanation for the fact that new texts can be incorporated into the canon, that is, a canon is not a fixed set of texts but a set which can be extended, enriched, modified.

My hypothesis, then, is that a text is part of the canon together with its interpretation which will make it possible that other texts, in some way or another resembling to that text, can be interpreted in a much more smooth way, and thus incorporated into the canon.

A very clear example could be the case of patriotic poetry of the nineteenth century. The followers of this trend will have much more chance to be parts of the canon than those ignoring or turning against it. This maybe one of the reasons of epigonism. However, the issue must be much more complicated than that. First of all, even if texts become canonical together with their interpretation, it is not just any canonical text which will generate a set of canonical interpretations. The interpretive tradition of Balzac will help in including minor Hungarian Realist writers into the canon, but not necessarily vice versa; we often read second rate poetry along the conventions of interpreting great, canonized poetry, however, it is not at all the case that we extend our interpretations of the second rate poetry to the canonized one. That is, maybe there are levels of canonicity, depending on the corresponding canonical interpretation.

Second, the history of canonical interpretive conventions is far from being the same history as that of canonical texts. Canonical interpretations (or canons of interpretation) may prove to be much more long lasting or conservative than the texts themselves they have been originally attached to. It well may be that some texts are not read any more when their interpretations still influence the interpretations of some later texts. Maybe sometimes there is an asymmetry of this kind. Then, it is a question what makes interpretations survive while their corresponding texts fade away.

Third, it is a question what powers are behind these canonical interpretations backing and changing them. Whereas we may have some hope to find the particular critics, interpreters and institutions which are responsible for the canonization of the particular canonical texts, perhaps it is a more difficult endeavour to trace back the formation of a canonical interpretation. In my earlier paper I have indicated that some texts may preserve their canonical position even if their interpretation is somewhat modified. However, it is a question why and when some canonical interpretations, canonized strategies of interpretation will preserve their status.

Canonical interpretations could be conceived of as higher or even as great narratives (to refer to Lyotard’s term). They tell the way an encounter between the text and the reader should take place. A canonical interpretation is a general scenario which has particular forms in a given case. Now let me give you some examples. I will try to give a sketch of two canonized interpretations, or, rather, two patterns of canonized interpretations. Either of them is connected to any specific literary text; rather, both are related to a set of texts. The first example is the canonical reception of Realist narratives; the second is the canonical position of folk art in “high” literature.

In the case of the Realist novel, the canonical interpretation (that is, the narrative describing or rather prescribing the text/reader relation) goes something like this: the uninformed reader turns to the text in order to gain information about the society (or the history of the society), to have an insight into the hidden motives of the actors of the society (or history). The text, being a good, reliable, canonical Realist text, fulfils these expectations, and, moreover, it offers some patterns of behavior or role models. The role of the reader is to look through the text, the text is transparent for the reader. It can either be exhausted, or at least its pool of meanings is rather restricted. It is, in Roland Barthes’s words, readable.

Think of the reception of Realist works in the second half of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century. Reflection of the real life, giving account of the social layers, and unmasking the hidden motives have long been the most important elements of the interpretation of Realist narratives. What counted as the cornerstones of interpretation, then, were denotative and ideological functions of the text (rather than, say, textual characteristics or intertextual relations). The novelists of the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century were praised because of their ability to show the true history or present of the society, because of their illustrative capacity, and because of their reliance on the facts and reality. This pattern is somewhat modified throughout the ages: Realist narrative was regarded as a modern chronicle, a reliable account of the present or the past, an essentially objective form of literature (as opposed to the subjectivity of lyrical poetry). Narrative literature is read, according to this interpretation, in order to have access to the facts of life, as well as to draw some ethical conclusions from the lives of the people depicted in the narrative. A narrative then can be included into the (Realist) canon if and only if it can be read/interpreted along these lines, if it complies with the canonized interpretations of the Realist narrative.

Later, in the post-war Hungarian literary history writing for instance, Realism became a magic label which served as a tool of legitimating Romantic or Classicist or whatever earlier text. Once the traits (or traces) of Realism could be detected in a literary work, it deserved its position in the canon. Following Engels’s remarks on Balzac, Realists were regarded as inherently and perhaps unconsciously revolutionaries. On the other hand, new works had to be read as Realist ones in order to be in accordance with the ruling canon. There has also been a tendency that modern novels, those of the twenties or the sixties, should be subsumed under the label of Realism: that is, partly at least, this move was motivated by highly ideological, almost political considerations. If the literary historians, the people who are in charge of the defence and maintenance of the canon, wish to include outstanding works which otherwise would be left out, a label like Realism is pretty comfortable.

This picture may well seem to be a caricature, and I must admit that it is highly superficial and sketchy. The point is that the vulnerability or fallibility of a great narrative like this, the historically transitory character of a canonical interpretation becomes tangible only when a competing interpretation emerges. For instance, the most canonical figure of Realist narrative, Balzac, whose interpretation seemed to govern the guidelines of all other interpretations of the Realist novel, was radically reinterpreted by Roland Barthes in his S/Z. One of the consequences of this reinterpretation was that although Realism preserved its canonical position, the whole scenario of the desired interpretation was rewritten. Realist novel is not transparent any more, it has subtle textual structure, and its representational nature is not at all the most important one. Consequently, the structure of the canon is modified: perhaps some of the readable works will drop out, whereas some works (earlier regarded as traditional Realist works) will prove to be writable.

Let me turn to my second example. In the last two centuries, and especially in some East and Central European literatures, popular art became a major source of "high" or canonized literature. More specifically, as of the age of Romanticism (and perhaps earlier) the importance of folk song and folk tale in the literature became outstanding. That is, a specific interpretation of folk literature served as a point of reference for some influential writers. One of these interpretations, or rather, a general pattern of interpretation was to take folk literature as representing a counter-culture, as if folk songs or folk tales expressed, fundamentally and essentially, a gesture of resistance.

So what is the canonical interpretation corresponding to the poetry of popular roots? What is the scenario (or narrative) of the encounter of the text and its reader?

First of all, the reader must realize that what she or he faces has some intertextual relation to what he believes is popular poetry. It is thus presupposed that the reader has at his or her disposal a sort of repertoire of the popular culture: specific rhyme patterns, repetitions, parallelisms, meter, thematic structure, genre rules, and the like. The reader must interpret this presence as a hallmark of popularity. Moreover, he or she will suppose that since folk literature is, by its own, essentially, anti-totalitarian, subversive, even it has a revolutionary character, the text referring back to this source will also be, by its own nature, subversive.

Thus, for instance, not only one of the major Hungarian poets of the nineteenth century, Petofi became an emblematic figure of the harmony of poetry and revolutionary thought, but, following the scenario of his canonical interpretation, the literary reception of popular literature became an expression of progressive and patriotic attitude. A slight reference to folk poetry rang the bell of national resistance or solidarity with the poor.

This tradition of interpretation became canonical up to the twentieth century, maybe even until our days. Turning to folk literature and entering into all sorts of intertextual relations with it was perhaps not a sine qua non for canonicity, but it definitely made it easier for the text to be connected to the great tradition, and, thus, become part of the canon.

To take an early example, a great Hungarian poet, Endre Ady, in one of his poems used some lines taken from an old Hungarian folk song. The folk song, originally, was about a peacock, saying that it will fly up to the roof of the county council, and the poor prisoners will be freed. For Ady, it became a symbol of political freedom; in this interpretation (that is, in the poem which itself is an interpretation of the original subtext of the folk song), he followed the tradition of regarding the poor prisoner, the outlaw, even the bandit as an emblematic figure of freedom, something like cowboys for North Americans, and, moreover, regarding folk ballads and folk songs as the most genuine expressions of the people’s desire to live a free life. It is not accidental that this was one of the very few poems of Ady which became famous in Hungary in the arrangement for choir by Kodaly.

Now Ady was not at all a follower of the popularistic trend; he was a Modern poet, and this poem of his is more or less unique. There are very few references in his work to the folk poetry. Nevertheless, his poem, along with Kodaly’s choir work, has a solid place in the canon because it strengthens the canonical interpretation. Still, there may come another interpretation, a counter-canonical one, which of those who made wide use of folk poetry may lead to the consequence that this has much more structural, rhythmic or poetic character than ideological. Or there may be attempts to show that this vision of folk poetry can be called into question, that folk poetry is not always and not in itself subversive or anti-authoritarian. These reinterpretations would perhaps change, again, the canonical scene, although the main figures and main works would preserve their position.

Finally, it is worth while to reflect on the fact the most obvious examples of canonized interpretations are those of the nineteenth century and perhaps the Realism of the twentieth. That is, when one looks for well established and widely known conventions of reading, operations which enable new works to take their place among the canonical works, it is never Avant-garde or Modernism, not even the conventions of reading Medieval texts. So maybe there is a canonical hierarchy even among the scenarios or narratives of interpretation. There may be a canon of canonical interpretations, and some of these may probe to be more powerful than the others.

7. Criticism in the system of interpretive communities

In this chapter, two issues will be dealt with: first I sketch out the general conception of interpretive communities, and then a particular (but not at all marginal) community, that of the literary professionals will be treated. Both issues are vague and hitherto not too thoroughly explored; hence, my account will be rather tentative.

7.1. Interpretive communities

0. Introduction

Some people claim that there are interpretive communities. Others claim to the contrary.

This fact in itself can be taken as an argument for interpretive communities.

But what is an interpretive community? Is it interpretive? Is it a community? How should we interpret this concept? Where does it come from? And why?

In what follows, a general theory of interpretive communities, if any, will be addressed. The issue is rather vague and hitherto not too thoroughly explored; hence, my account will be rather tentative.

1. "Community"

Let us start with the second term of the expression. The word "community" in this context may be misleading. If one looks for the keyword "community" in any recent library catalogue or bibliographical database, most references will be to religious or social communities, covering a group of people who either take part in the same religious cult, or a section of population living in the same area or sharing the same working conditions. In another interpretation, community may mean a group of people with the same or similar aim or aspiration, where the members are connected by some personal relation (many or all of them know each other), interpersonal interaction, etc. Even if we pretend that we do not know what an "interpretive community" should be, it is clear enough from the outset that it may not fulfill these requirements.

The word "community", Linda Brodkey (1989: 36) argues, is loaded with a number of sentiments:

as Williams's definition so starkly reminds us, community is also a word teetering on sentimentality, a notion which, because it betrays no tensions, "no positive opposing or distinguishing term", as he puts it, promises much by stipulating very little. (36)

It may be considered, then, whether "class" would not be a more apt expression, or, as Brodkey proposes, the concept of network, with a clear distinction between exocentric and egocentric networks:

Lomnitz, for instance, distinguishes between egocentric and exocentric economic networks. An egocentric network, quite simply, would be "the set of individuals who maintain some reciprocal exchange of goods and services with ego" (1977, p. 133). Hence, an analysis of an egocentric network would map the dyadic reciprocal exchanges with nearly all the members of their network. Whereas an individual is the focus of analysis in an egocentric network, the network itself would be the subject of analysis in an exocentric network. Though perhaps less obvious than the shift in the locus of analysis, from the individual to the group, is an equally and possibly even more important point, namely, that exocentric networks are formed whenever a group has reason to believe that its wants will not be met elsewhere. (Brodkey 1989: 38)

It can be argued that interpretive communities are closely related to the concept of class; not as if any interpretive community could be unanimously correlated to a specific social class, but that it is difficult to avoid to refer to classes if one is to give account of interpretive communities. The only obstacle of the re-introduction of this concept is that it is suspiciously infected by Marxist reminiscences, thus, its figuring in the discourse of literary studies is itself suspicious. As Mette Hjort (1993) puts it,

The concept of class is by no means an unproblematic one, but it remains useful nonetheless, given certain qualifications. While the term is typically associated with some brand of Marxism and economic determinism, Jon Elster has persuasively argued that there is in fact no coherent doctrine of class to be found in the writings of the German philosopher... I shall assume, with Elster and others, that the notion of social class has a meaning independent of a commitment to Marxism. Unlike Elster, I shall assume that rank, occupation, and attitudes are some of the defining elements of social class. On my view, the idea of class is inseparable from that of class consciousness. Classes are sustained, at least in part, by agents' identification with a social body by virtue of participation in shared practices and traditions, knowledge of common attitudes, and so on. 'Class', then, is a social term bearing a definite relation to the concepts of consensus and frames examined in the previous chapter. Very generally, a social class helps to provide stable frames of interaction when membership is the object of a genuine consensus among the agents involved, that is, when agents have a clear, accurate, and mutually believed understanding of the nature of the social bond that is the basis of their solidarity. In what follows, I shall use 'class' and 'social group' interchangeably and in the sense just evoked. (Hjort 1993: 116)

A community is, so to speak, never a community: the concept itself suggests a relation, a difference.

A reasonable interpretation of the word's use would seem to imply two related suggestions: that the members of a group of people (a) have something in common with each other, which (b) distinguishes them in a significant way from the members of other putative groups. 'Community' thus seems to imply simultaneously both similarity and difference. The word thus expresses a relational idea: the opposition of one community to others or to other social entities. (Cohen 1985: 12).

Moreover,

...the use of the word is only occasioned by the desire or need to express such a distinction. It seems appropriate, therefore, to focus our examination of the nature of community on the element which embodies this sense of discrimination, namely, the boundary. (Cohen 1985: 12)

2. "Interpretive"

There are similar problems with the word "interpretive". Even if its accepted meaning can be related to the term (that of “interpretive community”) we would wish to illuminate, it will turn out that it is not quite as innocent as we hoped. Not just any reading, not just any appropriation of the text whatsoever is called interpretation. "Interpretation", rather, is more often reserved for an activity executed with a special sort of skill, and leading to a special, objectified result - executed, of course, mostly by professionals of interpretation. To say of somebody that she or he interprets is to assess her or his activity: interpretation is obviously above appropriation, reading, conceiving, understanding, on the one hand (as far as skill and work invested are concerned), and recapitulation, repetition, summarizing, and describing on the other (as far as the product realized is concerned). Now, keeping all this in mind, would we be willing to call communities of people interpretive communities which would not satisfy these expectations?

There are no remedies for the two above problems of terminological nature. In the present state of the art, alas, there is no way to change the meaning of the words. Either one keeps on using the term, acknowledging the serious defects of the words she or he uses, or one may chose to give up employing them.

There are, however, problems which affect far more important issues. One of these is that of the emergence of the concept of interpretive communities.

3. “interpretive communities”

Why has this category been invented? The notion of interpretive communities was probably born to help explain the similarities in different people's interpretations of (literary) texts; roughly, it is supposed that these differences (at least to a certain extent) display some regularity, and therefore presenting a kind of interpretation can be taken as corresponding to belonging to a specific kind of community. It is the values, interpretations, and actions of that community which will determine, more or less, the specific interpretation by a particular individual of that community.

These questions are more or less evident, and the field seems to be fairly well delimited. Still, the literature on interpretive communities is astonishingly poor, almost non-existent. This absence is a significant one and can be interpreted several ways. First, it may be supposed that the term itself is relatively new and has not yet been able to find its way into the center of literary theoretical discussion. Second, one may speculate that the phenomenon denoted by the term has been pretty well described long ago by sociologists of literature, and it would not be either fair or wise on the part of the literary theoretician to poke her or his nose into the sociologists' business. Third, an issue related to the second, there may be some aversion to a notion which is not native to literary studies and which, therefore, opens a hole through which another science can leak in, possibly to take the role of the dominant science again. And fourth, any description of such a slippery, fuzzy and, by its nature, ever-changing concept seems to be hopeless and useless.

Maybe these or some of these are the reasons why there are so few studies about interpretive communities. And this will raise a problem.

There is a further problem, that of conception, which was not quite immaculate. Reference on interpretive communities in the literary studies is not just a kind of scholarly trouvaille, it is also a weapon: a confrontation with the New Criticism's way of thinking. As Goldstein puts it,

Blatantly violating the New Critics' infamous "affective fallacy" (what Stanley Fish calls "the affective fallacy fallacy"), Tony Bennett, David Bleich, Stanley Fish, Norman Holland, Wolfgang Iser, and Jane Tompkins argue that the reader's interpretive activity represents his interests, his discoveries, or his community, not the formal text of the author's intention. Although these critics do not repudiate traditional criticism to the same extent, they all assume that diverse readers produce different kinds of interpretations because reading illuminates the self, the community, or the subjectivity of the reader. (Goldstein 1990: 101)

Or, formulating it from another angle, to rely on the concept of interpretive communities amounts to adopting a contextualist, rather than intentionalist, view of literary meaning. Fish's conception on interpretive communities implies that meaning should not be sought "in the text itself", but in the activity of the (group of) receiver(s) assigning meaning to the text. The identity and stability of the meaning is dependent on the identity and stability of these groups; belonging to such a group, in turn, is to assert the identity and stability of the meaning.

Adopting one or another concept of literary meaning is not an innocent act. It may have far-reaching political, ideological and, naturally, literary theoretical consequences. For Goldstein, for instance, preserving the notion of authorial and textual meaning will classify the theorist as “conservative”, while “liberals” are characterized by their insistence on interpretive communities, and “radicals” by their attack on the canon and institutions:

The extent to which these critics repudiate traditional approaches divides them into political camps. Conservatives like Iser and Holland preserve textual forms and authorial truth, restrict the expressive powers of literary language, and retain the referential accuracy of ordinary language. By contrast, liberals like Fish and Bleich grant ordinary language a complexity and a subtlety of expression matching that of literary language and situate the reader in communities regulating his or her activity. Radicals like Tompkins and Bennett also emphasize the expressive power of ordinary language and the interpretive community of the situated reader, but they go on to critique the canon and other literary institutions and to defend the literary value of popular works or of ideological critique. Although all of these critics construe interpretation as positive truth or ahistorical rationality, the conservatives emphasize the reader's private self as though it enshrined the bourgeois distinction of "I" and "You" or "Mine" and "Thine"; the liberals construe the reader as a social construct whose institutional position regulates but does not determine his or her activity; and the radicals expose and attack the institutional grounds of the ideological import of the reader's interpretative practices. (Goldstein 1990: 101)

To anti-professionalism, anti-canonical positions and anti-institutionalism, we shall return later. What Goldstein's remarks suggest is that the very notion of interpretive communities is ideologically loaded and belongs to a certain tradition of interpretation - to an interpretive community, so to speak. To make this concept operational, do we have to get rid of this background? Or do we have to be submerged into (and be proud of) it?

4. Further Problems

The category, once conceived under such ideologically defiled circumstances, if only it would be a sound one! But, alas, it is not. There is no a full-fledged definition anywhere, not a single thorough study or historical survey. Brodkey, for instance, writes:

Having postulated the notion [of interpretive communities], Fish apparently feels no need to locate an actual interpretive community or specify the "knowledge" that constitutes its shared understandings. The difference to readers seems to me obvious. Fish's readers are enjoined to contemplate the possibilities - to imagine themselves to be members of such a community and consider the consequences to reading and readers. It is, in other words, a conversational gambit that solicits only other in-kind theoretical contributions. Practical critics are put in the position of children who overhear the "grown-ups" arguing. The arguments theorists conduct can be read and they can be understood, but they cannot be entered and challenged by those who overhear, for such contributions are illicit by definition and therefore "theoretically" uninteresting. (1989: 93)

What is missing, then, is not only the practical or empirical background; the test of the praxis is excluded in advance and in principle. Brodkey contrasts this conception to those, similar, ideas put forth by Hymes and other ethnographers, and adds:

Unlike Fish, who effectively excludes empirical research by speaking only of notions, Hymes sees rational theory and empirical practice as mutually correcting statements. Hymes effectively limns in his own work one of the most plausible, because least hegemonic, arguments for the value of interdisciplinary studies on language. (1989: 93)

In the sociology of language, Hymes has introduced the concept of speech communities which may be somewhat illuminating here.

For Hymes, a speech community is an extended metaphor intended to characterize writing as well as speaking, if writing figures as part of the linguistic repertoire of a given community. Furthermore, a speech community consists of all the people who could, in virtue of their knowledge, communicate with one another. In order to distinguish between potential and actual communication, Hymes suggests some other terms in Foundations in Sociolinguistics that research will need to specify in the course of defining the use of language in a particular community:

“A speech community is defined, then, tautologically but radically, as a community sharing knowledge of rules for the conduct and interpretation of speech. Such sharing comprises knowledge of at least one form of speech, and knowledge also of its patterns of use. Both conditions are necessary. Since both kinds of knowledge can be shared apart from common membership in a community, an adequate theory of language requires additional notions, such as language field, speech field, and speech network, and requires the contribution of social science in characterizing notions of community, and of membership in a community. (Hymes 1974, 51.).”

(Brodkey 1989: 17-18)

In Brodkey's interpretation, Hymes uses the terms "language field" and "speech field" in the sense that they refer to "what people know about language and its uses" (19), whereas speech network is the term "to describe how and where people put their knowledge to use" (ibid.), that is, the actual community or practice. This concept may then be related to various communities of (literary) interpretation.

This issue, however, is highly complex. To take only a few questions: is it the case that a language will necessarily determine a specific culture? If so, where are the boundaries of a language, synchronically and diachronically? If not, can it be the case that people speaking different languages but living in similar conditions and under similar social circumstances will have similar interpretations of the same text (be it verbal or other)?

5. To the point

No doubt, the idea of interpretive communities is, or should be, central in various branches and schools of literary studies. Its application may shed light on a number of problems, as well as provide a common ground to handle seemingly different issues. For instance, instead of asking why Shakespeare is great, we can turn our attention to the conditions of calling him great (cf. Bleich 1978:165). By this shift, we can find explanations to some phenomena of the history of reception. Instead of inquiries of similarities (or contrasts) of, say, German and English Romantic poetry, one could ask about the conventions of regarding texts as similar ones, or of classifying them as Romantic poetry, or one could wish to find the interpretive strategies underlying such a comparison. Not only does a history of criticism have to give account of the various and successive interpretive communities of an age, diachronically or synchronically, but literary debates or conflicts of interpretations simply cannot be understood without some description of the interpretive communities involved. Think of the fierce debates in East Europe in the last decades about the "intelligibility" or "popularity" of art, especially modern literature. The ideological doctrine that literature should be something that normal ordinary people will understand presupposed a completely homogeneous reading public. Though some borderlines were posited to be inside this community, along the lines of social stratification, deviations from the hypothesized ideal unity counted as marginal cases of literature and of reception. Clearly, a theory of interpretive communities may help to illuminate the absurdity of such a dogma.

Moreover, in the cases of international comparisons it must be asked whether the comparison is made between interpretive communities and if so, what their relation is. Is this a starting point or a result? Can we speak of corresponding interpretive communities at all? Or are they the same? Can they be compared? Against the background of the system of culture and society, do they have similar functions?

Furthermore, the concept may have a theoretical foundation in pragmatic theories of literature, including the approaches based on speech act theory; one could even say that such a theory will inevitably lead to a version of interpretive communities. As it is clearly seen in the case of one of the pet subjects of speech act theorists, irony - which is, by the way, a favorite of the literary theoretician, too - , even if differences in interpretation can be ascribed to contextual factors in the traditional sense of the word, there is always room to allow other factors into the picture, such as those of social and educational background, gender, historical experiences, and the like. It may be speculated that these elements contribute to creating certain, albeit perhaps ephemeral, groups, for whose members a certain interpretation is more obvious than another. Any pragmatics-oriented linguistics must take into account such differences and must find one ordering principle or another. Speech act theory, in particular, having roots in common with or resembling the Wittgensteinian concept of language games, has to take into consideration that not only do we participate in and contribute to different speech situations, but several such situations necessarily remain beyond our reach; we are accustomed to some and do not know the rules of plenty.

6. Notes on the History of the category

The concept of interpretive communities has a long tradition and a broad context, however strange it may sound after complaining about the lack of serious and thorough inquiries into the concept itself. Either implicitly and naively, or in a refined theoretical manner, the concept shows up in the sociology of reading, in traditional approaches to reception and influence as well as in empirical literary studies, in Rezeptionsä sthetik or in other reader-centered versions of literary criticism. The sociology of knowledge deals with the ways people (professional interpreters among them) interpret their world (at least in some interpretations: see Hekman 1986); that is, this discipline is specifically designed to study different interpretations and the corresponding (scholarly or other) communities.

As far as the tradition of the concept is concerned, Stanley Fish, in his celebrated work whereby the concept itself gained much of its popularity, makes very few references. He invokes three names: those of Jonathan Culler (and his concept of literary competence), Harvey Sacks (in connection with the institutional nature of perception) and, without indicating any direct connection, T. S. Kuhn (and his concept of paradigm). Let us glance first through these hints and see whether they in fact constitute points of reference.

Culler's well known chapter on literary competence (1975) has much to do with the problem of interpretive communities addressed by Fish. Not only does Culler urge "to think of literature as an institution composed of a variety of interpretive operations", but he also calls the attention to "change in modes of reading". Since, for Culler, "[t]he critic would not write unless he thought he had something new to say about a text, yet he assumes that his reading is not a random and idiosyncratic phenomenon" (124), there must exist something in common in these interpretations; hence, Culler's argument in fact can be extended to imply a conjecture concerning groups of interpreters, or communities of interpretation.

There has been, to be sure, quite a number of reactions on and criticisms of Culler's concept. To quote just one, Lord (1981: 147) warns that

All we can be sure of is that literary competence theory lags so far behind its model as hardly to constitute a theory at all. And in the meantime Generative Grammatical theory itself, for both empirical and theoretical reasons, has undergone profound modification, which must leave any metaphor borrowed from a relatively early version of it high and dry.

Culler himself has formulated some possible problems and expressed his own reservations (122, n31), which, for Lord (ibid., 147, 148) amounts to a destruction of the whole argument.

However, I believe, one should not take Culler's analogy at face value; instaed, it may serve as a useful metaphor, or at least an analogy which, though seemingly and in its terminology remains within the constraints of generative grammar, reaches far beyond it and may be instructive in a pragmatic approach to literature. It is the social acquisition of the literary communication what Culler alludes to; no doubt, literary competence (if any) cannot be innate (as linguistic-grammatical competence is for Chomsky). Hence, Culler's hypothesis refers to the fact that in most cultures most people master the skill of recognizing a poem or a tale, and they know what it counts as and how to react to it; and, of course, there must be more sophisticated and complex rules, some of which certainly acquired only by an erudite minority, professionals. Again, what is at stake here is the conventional and rule-governed nature of the literary communication, and perhaps the plurality of (the knowledge of) these rules. And this may lead one to derive that there can be groups of people who share some common principles or rules of literary communication.

Fish's reference to Harvey Sacks (1974) and ethnomethodology is, again, appropriate, although very little effort has been made to study literary interpretation through an ethnomethodological framework. As far as Kuhn is concerned, one may remember his famous passages (1962) about scientific communities; it would have been much better if Fish had referred to this notion instead of that of paradigm. The relation between Kuhnian paradigms and the interpretive communities seems to be far more complex. The classical elaboration of the problem of interpretive communities is to be found in Kuhn's work; his scientific communities or the legitimating communities can be brought into correspondence, roughly, with specific interpretive communities. For him, this community is, sensu strictu, "a group of laymen and experts", but as far as its real operation is concerned, it is the "majority of the society". Kuhn's idea has been taken over by many others; empirical literary studies, for instance, would wish to describe the main principles and rules of the specific scientific communities.

Let us go back to see what Stanley Fish has to say about our problem. He proposes that "the meanings [the self] confers on texts are not its own but have their source in the interpretive community (or communities) of which it is a function". These meanings, thus, "will always be social or institutional" (335). Agreement, then,

"rather than being a proof of the stability of objects, is a testimony to the power of an interpretive community to constitute the objects upon which its members (also and simultaneously constituted) can then agree" (338).

Fish's idea of the interpretive communities, then, is in harmony with the contextualist conception of meaning, inasmuch as it holds that meanings are not to be sought for "in the text itself" but, rather, in the activity of their assignment and in the reader (or group of readers) who performs this action. The identity and stability of the meaning is due to the identity and stability of these groups, and to belong to such a group, in turn, consists in sharing the identity and stability of these meanings. It also supposes that there is a sort of communication within the group, and its members must somehow be aware that they are in the same group, that they in fact share certain interpretations. As to the relationship between individual interpretation and community, Fish's formulation sounds much more convincing than Bleich's: "it is interpretative communities, rather than either the text or the reader, that produce meanings" (14). But it is not clear if an interpretive community corresponds to one single interpretive strategy (or vice versa).

7. On the Foundation of Interpretive Communities

Samuel Weber accuses Fish, the most successful propagator of the term of interpretive communities, of leaving the notion of interpretive communities just as unexplained and given as Searle's distinction of regulative and constative rules, a distinction furiously debated by Fish himself (Weber 1990: 54-55) In Weber's account, Fish's criticism of Searle's dichotomy of constitutive and regulative rules ends in a desire "to reestablish the borders of language, to emplace it and institutionalize it" (Weber 1990: 54-55), thus,

the notion of community of interpretation is no less equivocal, no less enigmatic, no less faulted than that of constitutive rule: what it leaves unthought and indeed seeks to conjure away is quite simply that "interpretation", like "community["], goes on, because they are steeped in language and because language, as a medium of articulation, is never entirely unifiable or totalizable. The interpretive community is subject to the same kinds of dislocation or incorporation as are Searle's constitutive rules. If the community of interpretation is said to be the source and addressee of "its" interpretations, it becomes itself utterly uninterpretable, indeterminate, an abstract name or claim of the Will to Interpret, the Will to Power, the Will to Will. But the notion of community is meaningless if it is not related to that which is not itself: both to other communities, and above all, to that which is not a community. To attempt to define the community strictly in terms of itself, of what its members have in common - shared sets of assumptions, etc., - is to condemn oneself to solipsism. By taking the unifying moment of the community simply for granted, Fish's theory of the community of interpretation amounts to little more than an attempt to titillate a startled profession with a domesticated, communitarian version of the Will to Power. (Weber 1990: 54-55)

Speaking of communities, one has to ask: what is not a community? For Weber, the notion of interpretive communities, if and when formulated in "immanentist terms", as, for instance, in Royce (1913), inevitably leads to circularity. Since the community presupposes a loyalty on the part of its individual members, there must be a force which creates this loyalty itself, and this can be, for Royce, conceived of only in terms of a magic grace, which constitutes, then, the origin of the community:

Only some miracle of grace (as it would seem) can initiate the new life, either in the individuals who are to love communities, or in the communities that are to be worthy of their love. (Royce 1913: 130, quoted in Weber 1990: 56)

Royce then goes on to argue that such a step presupposes a sort of leader;

The founding "act" of the community is thus a "speech act", a "declaration", that proclaims the reality of the community which it, literally, first "calls" into existence. Royce insists that "only the voice of a living individual leader" can call the community of interpretation into being, but also, that it can only do this insofar as it speaks in the name of another, whose absent spirit resounds in the voice of the founder. The community can thus be called into being because it has always already existed in spirit, in whose name the founder declares its reality. (Weber 1990: 56)

The founding of a community - whether of interpretation or other - can thus only be conceived in regard to a transcendence, that is: to an exteriority that remains its innermost basis of "cohesion". The gap between inner and outer is bridged by a voice speaking in terms of a name that in turn is invoked to guarantee the unity of what is separate: Father and Son. That such separateness should nevertheless be one is what makes an appeal to the theological dimension indispensable, in hermeneutics no less than in social theory. That is why the community of interpretation, despite its ostensibly secular character, must remain an ontotheological category, even and perhaps especially where it shows itself incapable of thinking its origins as those of a transcendent speech act: speaking in the name of another (one). (Weber 1990: 57)

Thus, in order to create an interpretive community, the presence of some transcendental power is inevitable. Weber implies, then, that the fanatically anti-fundationalist Fish, once his line of thought is followed up to its consequences, will land on the firmest fundament.

There is a great deal which should be taken seriously in Weber's criticism on Fish; in fact, most of his charges may prove to be well-founded. But I strongly disagree with Weber's arguments against Fish or Royce, though I admit that he is right.

In my view, the strictly logical ad absurdum argumentation which Weber uses can be legitimately used against Fish, just as it could be turned against Wittgenstein's concept of "form of life" as a foundation of agreement (what, Weber could ask, is the foundation of this "found of life"?); for me, however, the question is what Weber is up to. What if he triumphs in demonstrating that no community of interpretation is possible, that it is theoretically excluded that any such group could be formed? Is it not itself a sort of query for foundations, a form of fundamentalism or substantialism?

Far from comparing Fish to Wittgenstein, one may pose the same question as Edwards does:

The question is: What sort of explanation of agreement do we expect? What sort of answer to the question of authority will count as an answer? ... It is perfectly correct that human agreement - agreement in judgments, not just in definitions (sec. 242 [in Philosophical Investigations]) - is fundamental to authoritative discrimination between truth and falsity, but we forget that such agreement, understood as voluntary human action, is not itself centered and primordial. It too depends upon something else, what Wittgenstein calls here agreement in "form of life". Our agreement with one another is not finally voluntary, or self-given; it is the natural result of a whole range of facts over which we have no control, those "extremely general facts of nature" that constitute the "scene for our language-game". It is agreement understood as a brute congruence, not as deliberate identity of affirmation. Agreement there is, to be sure, and that agreement is, as the conventionalist maintains, fundamental to any of our claims of authority; but pace the conventionalist, that agreement is ultimately not to be explained by anything that can be represented, pictured, as a metaphysical center from which everything else flows, like a god or a self or a constitutional convention of selves. Congruence has no center from which it springs; it is coincidence of outline, nothing more. (Edwards 1990: 229, 230-231)

Weber, then, seems to use a sort of logic which is not in harmony with his own views. Is it really fair to contrast Fish's notion of interpretive communities with that of Royce, referring to a special case of interpretive communities, those of religion - that is, rather, to religious communities? One may have serious doubts since the latter is dependent, in the first place, on the judgment of the participants, on their self-determination and self-definition, whereas the interpretive communities Fish seems to talk about is much more construed, as it were, from outside, by the very interpretation of those outside the interpretive community. Moreover, it is very hard to find self-defining interpretive communities in the field of literature (except some specific cases of literary or critical movements) when an interpretive community strove for defining itself.

8. history

And there are other problems.

If intellectuals, men and women of letters can be called a group or community of interpretation (which is, of course, subdivided into a number of smaller groups), then what constitutes such a group is a question, clearly, of historical nature. For instance, at the birth of literary life in France, the main organizing element was protectionism:

... protection functioned as the basic principle of literary life. Its presence everywhere in the reports makes another phenomenon, the literary marketplace, look conspicuous by its absence (Darnton 1984: 168).

The concept of the interpretive communities can be evoked with reference to their situation; moreover (and consequently) to the history of this situation. If one decides to handle this notion not as an abstraction, as a tool or guideline to help in analysis, but as something designing a concrete entity, this step is more or less inevitable. Samuel Weber, for instance, formulates one of the problems of the interpretive communities the following way:

If critics are worried today, it is because the "institution" or "community of interpretation" to which Fish so strongly appeals is no longer simply a unified, undivided community, "within" which the diversity of individual interpretations take (their) place. Rather, what bothers critics and what renders literary studies often an inhospitable place to live and work, is the fact that there is no longer a generally held "set of institutional assumptions", since all such sets have themselves become "the objects of dispute". ... precisely the more interesting and profound controversies currently animating and disrupting the "institution" of literary studies cannot be reduced to such shared assumptions; such debates tend to put into question just what "communication" or "understanding" have traditionally been held to mean (Weber 1984/1987: 36).

One of the key expressions here is "no longer" and another is perhaps "traditionally". Weber contrasts here "today" with another stretch of time, left unspecified, where something was present that is now declared to be missing from our times.

A historical opposition can, theoretically, have two forms, depending on the values attributed to the two periods to be contrasted: either it may suggest a line of development, a progress which, in turn, presupposes a certain aim (and thus, teleology); or it may imply a vision of decline, an elegiac view of history. Although Weber does not seem to take any firm stance in this issue, as far as the value of either period is concerned ("today" and the time passed), one is tempted to think that interpretation was at that time somewhat less risky and more simple a business, and there was even a hope for agreement or harmony. Weber's position, then, is closer to a nostalgic sigh of ubi sunt.

Blau, referring to Hanna Arendt's hommage to Walter Benjamin, poses the question:

How does the past adhere, whether as nightmare, illusion, or tradition? That determines the way we think about community, or even whether we can think about it at all, since community is a question of what is commonly remembered and adhered to, or thought of as better forgotten, or forgotten however it is thought - which is the implication of our semiotics about the illusoriness of the past, inseparable from the slippage of language. Arendt concedes the importance of language in this respect but has her doubts about the extent of linguistic corrosion: "Any period to which its own past has become as questionable as it has to us must eventually come up against the phenomenon of language, for in it the past is contained ineradicably, thwarting all attempts to get rid of it once and for all. The Greek polis will continue to exist at the bottom of our political existence - that is, at the bottom of the sea - for as long as we use the word 'politics'." The semioticians are absolutely right in attacking language as the bulwark behind which the past hides. All problems are, in the final analysis, linguistic problems, but the problem with the semioticians is that "they simply do not know the implications of what they are saying" (intro., Illuminations 49) (Blau 1990: 21).

It is the vision of an original unity of the community, lost and regained, that informs Blau's theory of (theatrical) audience; for him, by the mere fact of participating in the audience of the performance (or, one could speculate, in the readership of the literary text), a sort of community is formed.

The very nature of theater reminds us somehow of the original unity even as it implicates us in the common experience of fracture, which produces both what is time-serving and divisive in theater and what is self-serving and subversive in desire. (Blau 1990: 10)

And, later, he adds:

Today - returning to commerce if not fatuity - the spectacle has greater resources, since it is, even beyond its technology, the consuming form that the commodity system takes, the definition of our social space. It does with a dividend of alienation, far more efficiently, what the theater has always done: it brings us together as alienated. (ibid., 124)

But if one thinks that it is not justified, or, at least, is somewhat suspicious, the only alternative would be either a teleological position celebrating the status quo, or a complete refusal of the model. I do not think that this problem could be solved here and now, if it can be solved at all; but one should bear in mind that speaking of the historicity of interpretive communities, this dilemma must be faced. Has there ever been one single community which, by now, is broken into pieces? Or have there always been communities, in the plural? Will there ever be one single community? And do we want it to be?

Returning now to the original question of the history of interpretive communities, one may ask: what is in the background, or, better, within the causes of the emergence of the concept of interpretive communities? Instead of sticking to the perspective of the history of the literary studies, one may wish to turn to an important set of arguments provided by Lambropoulos (1993); clearly, this development is not merely a move by the theorists of literature but expresses a deep concern about the institutions of literature. In fact, as Lambropoulos writes, it is an offspring of a crisis: it compensates "for the loss of the public cultural sphere", it creates a harmony ("bourgeois harmony," to be exact) and serves as a remedy for the sense of guilt. It is in connection with "the disappearance of the general cultivated public (and the emergence of the educated masses)"; in this field, what is left for the theorist and for the artist (as well as for the conscious, educated receiver) is the text and its reading.

After the public covenant of interpretation collapsed, only the contract of "sitting around" common texts, only the consensus of commentary and the standpoint of redemption can provide mediation, a sense of order, the possibility of community - a "textual community" (Brian Stock). If that is achieved, if people consent to study (as opposed to, say, demonstrate) together, then above this community of interpreters descends the mystery of (no longer just shared but) interrelated texts, and finally the one revealed text, the canonic book... (Lambropoulos 1993: 87-88)

The emergence of interpretive communities is in fact paralleled by that of the institution of criticism in the Enlightenment, as a distinct and autonomous activity with a special function. The function of the critical activity was, first of all, to constitute "a literary-bourgeois public sphere", and

The new community of interpreters was supposed to be constituted by faith in the individual, the (self)creator, and the omnipotence of reason (Bromwich 1989). The institutions of criticism supporting the public function of art promulgated enlightenment of judgment as the civil Reformation. (Lambropoulos 1993: 129-130)

The development of the concept or at least the sensitivity to the problem of interpretive communities is in close connection with the Romantic idea of Volk, the "natural", "given" and "unified" group of people, the foundation of the valid interpretation. Moreover, it had the political message of anti-capitalism, an opposition of the fragmented, alienated, specialized and inhuman state of the modern world. Thus, it blurs any "unnatural" boundaries, forced upon the society.

As an aesthetic concept, the folk represented an ideal community based on the primordial identity of nature and culture, morality and creativity. "The concept of the folk expressed a political, antimodernist desire for national harmony, because the idea was intended to overcome »the boundaries of class with the help of a utopian preview of an intact community [Gemeinschaft] composed of a synthetic union of citizens, who could communicate with one another and understand each other, not just superficially through the medium of the state but in an unmediated fashion through the system of common language [Umgangsprache]« [Manfred Frank] ... In the discourse of Romanticism 'the people' or 'folk' is primarily a historical category; the concept refers to a time that predated the 'fragmentation' brought on by modernization" [Schulte-Sasse]. (Lambropoulos 1993: 135-136]

For Lambropoulos, as of the eighteenth century, the emerging "independent community of interpreters read in a secular manner", but

the civil liberation of interpretation, however, did not mean the loss of its theological heritage, which was now refunctioned differently.

Thus, the concepts hitherto made use of "in alien realms of metaphysics, and especially theology" found their way to the theory of arts, they were, as it were, imported, but not invented. (M. H. Abrams, quoted in Lambropoulos 1993: 117).

9. The Limits of Interpretive Communities

Strangely enough, neither Fish nor Bleich seem to be too concerned about defining or describing the borderlines of interpretive communities. Bleich (1978) is not detailed or explicit on this point. He assumes, for instance, that a distinction can be made between the interpretive community of the author and that of the reader (1978: 162). Then he goes on to say that "undergraduate English majors in a university, people under twenty-two, United States citizens, and the like" could constitute groupings within a community. Elsewhere he mentions "the authority of communal and societal motives" as "expressed by almost all university curriculums" as opposed to "the minorities who have different conceptions" (1978: 265). He takes every common knowledge (and, thus, every conversation) as a ground for a new community (1978: 294, 296); but it is not quite clear if a conversation necessarily leads to the establishment of a new community or just allows the possibility of entering it. For Bleich, "isolation from a community" will make interpretation impossible (1978: 296). One must be careful here: interpretation without a community is impossible not because interpretation must have a "negotiative value". It is impossible because any interpretation logically presupposes an interpretive community, as far as it presupposes a language, a dialect, a culture, an educational background, other texts. Moreover, the need of interpretation is imposed upon those interpreting by a specific social environment; and, lastly, whether the act in question is taken as, considered to be, an interpretation depends on the judgment of a community.

The first substantial attempt at drawing a map of interpretive communities might have been the paragraphs in Schauber and Spolsky's book (1986). Although their definitions are in fact convincing, the problem needs further clarification, since the example they offer is a very limited, specific interpretive community (of those New York critics who wrote of one of Hemingway's novels in 1941). A wider spectrum of communities including, for instance, non-professional interpreters may pose new questions.

What sort of delimitations do we get if we turn to a famous locus classicus, that of Stanley Fish? He does not even aim at articulating the notion of interpretive community. "Interpretive strategies", "different points of view", and "systems of intelligibility" are mentioned, but, evidently, this would not suffice.

But since there are more than one interpretive communities, it is unavoidable to try to give account of their limits. To be sure, communities are what they are by virtue of their boundaries:

By definition, the boundary marks the beginning and end of a community. But why is such marking necessary? The simple answer is that the boundary encapsulates the identity of the community and, like the identity of an individual, is called into being by the exigencies of social interaction. Communities are marked because communities interact in some way or other with entities from which they are, or wish to be, distinguished... (Cohen 1985: 12)

Moreover, as Fish suggests, "There are subcommunities..., and within any community the boundaries of the acceptable are continually being redrawn" (343). It therefore will not be satisfactory to establish the interpretive communities themselves, it will also be necessary to inquire into their inner structure, and to the "redrawing" procedure, that is, their historical changes.

Speculation about boundaries of interpretive communities will first naturally lead us to the conclusion that since no interpretation is identical to another and since we have no given parameters for the comparison of two interpretations, each single interpretation constitutes a community. The question underlying this negativistic argument would be, If two interpretations differ, does it imply that they belong to two, separate, interpretive communities? I do not think there is a theoretical answer to this question; all we can do is to show that, in practice, references to interpretive communities will work. I can agree with your interpretation, and, thus, form a community of some sort with you; I may be convinced that I am in an interpretive community other than yours (either if you are native speaker of English or a Hungarian blacksmith); and I can show you the similarities of argumentations in two groups of critics. This "atomic" theory of interpretive communities is in harmony with the conviction, formulated almost exclusively in a negative way, that we can say absolutely anything we like; if no interpretation can be "better" and "worse" than any other, if they are incommensurable, there is no way to exclude any of them. But in practice (again) we do not say just anything. Our interpretations comply with some hidden or tacit norms, and even highly idiosyncratic interpretations (see Holland's example of the Eskimo reading of "A Rose for Emily", in Fish 1980: 346-347) have the possibility of establishing a tradition. And, moreover, weird interpretations are produced against the background of a "canon of acceptability", which, in turn, negatively determines what you can say.

Much more important than this fruitless search of the minimum of an interpretive community is to find the place where there must be a borderline between interpretive communities. A point like this is language. If we take the connection between language and culture seriously, we have to say that interpretations in different languages must represent different interpretive communities.

Another, very important cut seems to exist between professional reading and lay interpretation. This latter group can be characterized, very roughly, by its lack of institutions, channels of articulating interpretive strategies, conventions and value systems. From a professional point of view (and who on earth would care about non-professional interpretive communities if not professionals?) it is a complete mess, a jungle, where you may find some crocks of old interpretive traditions or skeletons of interpretive strategies. For some professionals, the conceptions and conventions of lay interpretations are simple-minded, primitive, superficial. However, these embody or express a certain attitude towards texts, and are part of our culture; any of them may serve as a basis for a later interpretive tradition just as it is itself part of a tradition.

What subcommunities are there within a "national" or a "professional/ignorant" community? In some cases the answer is obvious. The "actual social existence" of professional communities could be described (see Kermode 1983: 168-169, Fish 1985). Within a given professional community you will find groups of all sorts of obsessions: Marxists and Catholics and Conservatives and Deconstructionists and Feminists. The laity, on the other hand, is not structured this way. (That is, it is structured, but probably not this way.) Then there is the problem of being a member of a community. Does a reader belong to a specific interpretive community, or is there only a relative stability? Clearly, if one is a non-professional, one may become a professional, but not vica versa, and one cannot be in both communities at the same time. However, one can be in more than one subcommunity: one can adopt quite different interpretive strategies on different occasions. As Brodkey writes,

It is important to remember that the Academy contains many communities ... And in principle as well as practice, many in the academic community hold simultaneous memberships in a number of these communities, not to mention in communities outside the academy. (Brodkey 1987: 7)

Or, elsewhere:

... academics usually know, or soon learn, the rules of several communities in the Academy and, of course, know those of several others outside the Academy as well. Within the academic community itself, however, are topics so specialized that only a few in the community actually read and write on them. Indeed, as becomes increasingly evident in these essays and studies on academic writers and written discourse, some of the controversy over interdisciplinary studies turns on whether or not an individual sees the academic community as a single speech field, equally available to all who read and write academic prose, or as many speech fields, in which case the academic community would be a collectivity of speech fields, subject to the usual problems of prestige extant when more than one "dialect" is spoken by a people. (18-19)

As to the professional/non-professional dimension, the borderline between them may be blurred and, in some cultures, may be of secondary importance. In some societies, confronting public and academic criticism, if intelligible, is hardly understandable. The layer or community roughly corresponding to the American "public" layer may be extremely thin, if any. In any case, professional interpreters are characterized by their ambition to strengthen the borderline between themselves and those out of the guild, as well as by their eagerness to be familiar not only with as many interpretive strategies as they can but also they know or pretend to know the practice of the lay - but not vice versa, i. e., it is supposed that the lay will not know more than their own strategy, not to speak of that of the professionals.

10. Inconclusion

Many questions remain and will be left open. The borderlines of the interpretive communities can be drawn (if they can be drawn) only by concrete, empirical inquiries - it is a big question, though, whether what we got as a result of these inquiries will correspond to the theoretical concept of the interpretive communities. Moreover, an inquiry will necessarily use points of views, indeed, it cannot help interpreting its data, having presuppositions and methods - that is, it will be an interpretive community to judge what will count as an interpretive community. But is it not always the case? Is it not the case that any boundary of any interpretive community is just a function of another interpretive community interpreting it? Is this boundary given or, rather, created, constructed? And in what degree is it created by the members of the interpretive community and in what extent is it made by those surrounding, judging and interpreting the community?

As a closure, let me turn to the rather sceptic words of Alexander Nehamas, which I partly share.

We still do not know what constitutes an interpretive community, what qualifies to be a member of such a group, to how many such communities a single person can belong, how much disagreement a community can tolerate without breaking down. It seems obvious that the answers to these questions must be specific, historical, and institutional; we cannot expect a general theory of how such groups are formed, maintained, and dissolved (1985: 85-86).

The demand of “case by case” empirical investigations is sound; but I think that without a hypothesis or at least a faint idea of what we are aiming at these investigations will not surpass the moor of boring empirical descriptions.

8. Interpretation and professionalism

8. 0. Preliminary Remarks

Those dealing with literary theory seldom deal with the theory of literature.

This grammatical difference may be too delicate to see its validity for the first glimpse. So let us see the following sentences:

-- Those dealing with interpretation seldom deal with the interpretation.

-- Those dealing with growing pigeons seldom deal with the growing of pigeons.

The sentence referring to interpretation may be less true than that about the pigeon-growing. When interpreting literary works, we often feel inevitable to reflect on our own activity, thus, we do, in fact, frequently deal with the activity of the interpretation itself, we reflect upon what we are doing when we interpret; the pigeon-grower, however, (at least that is how I imagine) is not really engaged in dealing with the sense, limits, legitimacy or essence of his or her activity.

Even if it is true - although evidently it is not always true and not for each and any theoretician of literature - that those dealing with literary theory seldom deal with the theory of literature, substituting the term "interpretation" in this sentence the validity of this statement is somewhat more dubious. To the act of interpretation - because of its tradition, but perhaps of several other reasons - a self-reflection of this or that sort used to be associated. Of this or that sort, I said, because it is worth examining what the extension and depth of this self-reflection is. What questions are asked by the interpreters of literature themselves in connection with interpretation?

At least three dimensions of queries should be taken into account.

1. The problem of the object interpreted. What do we interpret? What is a text? What is literature? What institution is the thing we interpret a part of? Do we give account of ourselves or of the object? To interpret? What?

2. The problem of interpretation as a method, action, text. What are we allowed to do in our interpretation? Until when is it an interpretation, from when is it an evaluation, misinterpretation, when is it not-yet-interpretation (just description, understanding)? When are we faithful to the text interpreted and is it a requirement to be faithful to it? To interpret? How?

3. The problem of the interpreting subject. What kind of consciousness is involved in the encounter with the text? What is the status of the interpreter vis-a-vis the text? What emotions, prejudices, presuppositions, knowledge and beliefs are in operation in the interpretation? To interpret? Who?

This last bunch of questions is what is in the core of the following pages. This is a group of questions which is usually kept unasked by the interpreters themselves, and they concern their own institutional status. Although the institutions of literature has long been one of the favorite topics of the theory, the questions concerning the theory itself as (part of the) institution are carefully avoided: that is, what is missing from the present discourse is not the problem of the institution of interpretation, but that of the community (community? society? mafia? camp? gang?) of the interpreters, that of the interpreting subject as part of the system of institutions.

In the literature on the issues of society and literature, one often finds treatments of the problems of professional interpretation and its social environment, of the moral responsibility of the interpreter, of her or his involvement in political (and gender) problematic. Even a superficial view on this literature may give the impression to the European (or perhaps non-American) reader that the American approach is based on radically different issues than her or his own. The specialization (or specialization to the extremes), the mass production of the universities, the multiplicity of the competing trends of literary interpretation (fashions and outdating quickly, and, in this connection, the questions of scholarly career) seem to be of vital importance there. And it is not a completely unbroken soil, since it has been a topic, in very different ways, of some representatives of aesthetics, sociology or literary analysis. Just think of Lukács or Adorno or even the debates about intellectuals and intelligentsia in the sociological and political science literature which may be of some instruction from the present special point of view.

Thus, it may be of some worth reflecting upon who the subject of the interpretation is, whether we have something sensible to say about this subject and whether it makes at all sense to pose questions concerning this subject. What I would like to do here is to formulate some of these questions, though hardly will I reply them.

8. 1. Methodological Considerations

8. 1. 1. Obstacles of Inquiries into the Problem of Professionalism

Earlier, there was a short list of the reasons why interpretive communities were not in the foreground of the literary studies: it was speculated that the term was relatively new, that the phenomenon had been described long ago by sociologists of literature, that a notion coming from a different field of study raised suspicion, and that it seemed hopeless to handle such a blurred concept. The same can be said of the concept of professions, and to these considerations one more can be added. It well may be the case that, though the professionals are supposed to be and, in fact, are self-conscious, they reflect upon their own activity and even introduce this reflection to their discourse itself, there is a tacit limit concerning the details they are willing to go into; it is not in their interest to fully explore and then expose the motives and underlying principles of their activities. As Bourdieu (1989: 27) writes,

I think that intellectuals have vested interests in relating intellectual products directly to social positions. It is for them a manner of putting aside, or obfuscating, their specific interests as members of a field. It is a manner of appearing uninvolved and neutral.

As I have mentioned, one of the special features of the interpretive community of the professionals is to permanently create counter-communities within themselves; this is not, as Bourdieu asserts, paralleled by a reflection upon own their own status, legitimacy and interests:

Thus intellectuals fight about everything, but there are things about which they do not fight: unconsciously, there are limits to the struggles within the field, limits which are related to the fact that they share a common interest in being intellectuals: 'ils ne veulent pas scrier la branche sur laquelle ils sont assis'. But as soon as you show how their specific interest limits them, people say you are anti-intellectualist. (Bourdieu 1989: 31)

Moreover, although it is not at all clear where the borderline between the "academic" and "literary" fields should be drawn,

The literary field is, among all the fields of cultural production, one of the least institutionalized. The academic field is much more institutionalized than the literary field (Bourdieu 1989: 36).

Thus, whether a certain activity belongs to the academic or rather to the literary field may be always subject to discussion, and it is always a question whether what one attempts at describing is in fact part of the field of literature.

8. 1. 2. Some Approaches to Literary Professionalism

In most books and publications under the head of professionalism, one finds treatises on the "three exemplary professions ... the physician, the lawyer, and the teacher (or professor)." Although the latter could sometimes be related to our field of interest, literature, the fact is that there is not been too much said about the professional actors of this area. It is a question to be considered later why this happens to be the case.

There are some exceptions. Curiously enough, the research on the professionalization of the writer (and, to be sure, the development of the institutions of the literary marketplace) have long been topics in the historical sociology of literature (though not, or rarely, of the synchronic approaches). To name just two of the recent publications, one could mention the excellent investigation report of Robert Darnton (1984), on the files of the Paris police inspector Joseph d'Hémery, who shadowed the intellectuals and literary figures of Paris between 1748 and 1753; relying on his data, Darnton draws very interesting conclusions about the social, economic and cultural status of these early professionals. Another important work in a similar vein is the book of Alain Viala (1985), and, earlier, there has been a valuable work done in the field of the American history of literary professionalization by Charvat (1968).

Although our interest here is professional interpretation, and not professional writing, and, moreover, the structure and nature, of professionalism in literary interpretation, it is worth mentioning that inquiries into the profession of writing literature and to the history of this profession might be relevant in this context. Charvat, for instance, points out that it was not earlier than the 19th century that producing literary texts became a profession of its own right:

The profession of authorship in the United States began in the 1820's when Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper discovered that they could turn out regularly books which readers were willing to buy regularly. In England authorship had become a profession earlier, sometime between 1805 and 1820, when a few astute and daring publishers of London and Edinburgh had found that the poetry and fiction of Byron, Scott, and some of their contemporaries constituted valuable commercial property. (Charvat 1968c: 29)

Elsewhere, he names another aspect of the process of the emergence of professionalism in literature, viz. the author's proper name on the title page:

[Joel Barlow's] willingness to put his name on the title pages of his books, instead of resorting to the traditional anonymity of the gentleman author, and his early and unique determination to make literary work a way of life - independent of any established professions - were sure signs that he did not share all the patrician conceptions of the status and function of the writer. (Charvat 1968b: 10)

This step, however, will not, in itself, establish the professional status of the author. It must be accepted as such, it must be acknowledged by a readership and legitimized by a literary and social system. As Charvat comments,

As a professional poet he [Joel Barlow] had failed because social conditions and the book trade were not ready for him. (Charvat 1968b: 11)

But, he adds, maybe it was because of "the quality of his work - in his lack of some great private source of creative power" (ibid.). Appreciation of originality, creativity, novelty, however, is again a question of the literary system which may or may not foster these values. Consequently, qualities of the text (as perceived by the contemporary participants of the literary system) and the position of the text in the system as well as the roles created by the system are very closely interconnected. It is impossible to assume a novel role, however deliberately and forcefully one aspires to do so, if the participants of the system fail to assign her or him that very role (for instance, in lack of some quality in another participant, i. e., the text).

And there is another trail of inquiry. Long before Bourdieu's important work, Logan Wilson (1942/1976) mapped the whole American university structure and infrastructure in order to situate the professional in that system. Wilson offers a great amount of deep insights into the operation of that system, and many of his statements and speculations and intuitions must be of great help in describing the specific professional within the field of literary studies.

Wilson's (and many other's) work, describing the institutional conditions of being a professional, the institutions of the professionals, the rules and ethics of professionalism as it appears within the framework of established institutions, is a hard pursuit and has a pretty long tradition. The starting point is to take certain sanctioned and/or official positions, jobs, functions and their environments and the to examine the role (motives, rewards, sanctions, practices and aims) of the actors corresponding them. It is a very fruitful and promising starting point, but it is - historically as well as synchronically - no more than that.

It must be noted, for instance, that this group, and perhaps a number of other professional groups, can be contrasted with the "archetypical" groups of professionals, those of the doctors, lawyers, managers, and the like. Although with the emergence of "natural medicine" and related Far Eastern and exotic healing practices the traditional concept of professional medicine is being shaken, if not dissolved, it is still very clear in most European cultures that a doctor must have a special training made in special (and well described) schools, and that she or he must be part of certain institutions (a hospital, a clinic, a university) and must be registered in a special list of the professionals. The same applies to the lawyers, and even an electrician is supposed to have the proper training and practice, if you do not expect a relatively cheap but unreliable and perhaps dangerous service. Moreover, these professionals are supposed to live exclusively on their profession. In the case of the professionals in literature, however, it is doubtful if such rules can be formulated; it might be very misleading if one tried to bind this (or rather: these) profession(s) to a specific institution (in the sense that a medical school, a law school or a hospital and a lawyer's office are institutions). And, to be sure, not at all every literary professional lives by his pen.

Not only in the advent of professional writers was it a problem "how to name them"; there are always legendary writers who refuse to take part in the accepted and traditional course of events which allegedly characterize any writer of good standing, they may even decide to publish almost nothing, there are always provocative gestures challenging the established setting of the literary field. (And there may be others who comply with each and every rule of the field and are still not regarded, by many, as writers - though it may be objected that sociologically or professionally they are in fact writers, even if their - literary, aesthetic - stance is doubtful.) There are, to be sure, institutions which may (or even must) be taken into account: Academies (in the Renaissance tradition, that is, groups of creative artists), unions, associations, registers of publishing houses and literary magazines, and the like. In a historical study, all these are inevitable and precious documents. But they are far not enough to establish the position of a professional writer within the literary field of an age. As Darnton remarks, for instance, even though

The dignity of men of letters and the sanctity of their calling had already emerged as a leitmotiv in the works of the philosophes, but no such theme can be found in d'Hémery's reports. Although the police recognized a writer when they saw one and sorted him out from other Frenchmen by giving him a place in Hémery's files, they did not speak of him as if he had a profession or a distinct position in society. He might be a gentleman, a priest, a lawyer, or a lackey. But he did not possess a quality‚ or condition that set him apart from nonwriters. (1984: 172)

Writing, then, was not a full-fledged profession for a long time; and the very fact that the emerging profession received a strict secret police control indicates that it has not been the paradigmatic case of institutionalization, to say the least; rather, these people were regarded as risky, ungraspably suspicious figures.

And later, even today, the continuing challenge of the rigid institutions is a characteristic of the literary life itself - or one could say, it belongs to the very nature of the intelligentsia, literary or other. It could be argued that the professional critic or interpreter or treacher of literature is different in many respects, and this is certainly so; but the case of the critics is even more complicated.

It is striking, for instance, that most American studies concentrate on the education, professional training and academic affiliation of the people in the group one might call "literary professionals". It is evident, however, that no training in itself is enough to establish one's career as a professional critic; it may be enough to enhance for her or him to get a university position,

There is, again, always a possible approach relying on the very texts professionals produce. This sort of path is followed, for instance, not only by the good old stylistic approaches to the features of "essay" or "study" or "teratise", but by more recent inquiries into "Academic Writing as a Social Practice" (Brodkey 1987). For this view, "academic" writers are parts of a community just as poets are (3), and they comply with certain rules of a "conversation" (among themselves and with their audience) (4). It is required, then, to describe this specific system of rules, in terms of culture and community:

I find it useful to treat culture and community as contingent terms of analysis. I use the term culture when referring to what the members of a group know, or could learn, about language conventions. This kind of cultural knowledge would of course include the psychological as well as social information that is frequently compiled by rhetorics and style manuals. I reserve the term community, however, to speak of cultural practices, in this instance to talk about what academic writers and readers do with their knowledge. In this book, Academy is seen as a culture and the academic community as a specific group within that culture whose members organize their professional lives around reading, writing, and publishing academic prose. (Brodkey 1987: 7)

8. 1. 3. Notes on Institutions

But what should that mysterious jolly joker word, institution, mean? It seems that in a number of its uses, it refers I to something reified, objectified "thing"; the term is too frequently employed in this meaning. Or, to be more exact (although the great variety of meanings assigned to this word is impossible to map here), the word "institution" is used in two senses in most of the literature I have run through: (1) for the educational system, universities, publishing houses, etc. (cf., e.g. Goldstein 1990: 9-10), referring to an already formed, clear-cut, maybe changing object; one is always tempted to think of buildings, administrators and paper-work. Or (2) as a decorative word (for instance, Goldstein 1990: 28: "institutional critique of established approaches", meaning a critique which is directed against certain approaches having a firm institutional background in the universities, etc.).

Is institution a dangerous word? Well, words are never dangerous; but they may well disorient the attention, hide what should be exposed. This word, as Bourdieu argues, may serve to draw a static, fixed image of a dynamic process, to formulate the change in terms of a nature morte. The process of instituting an institution is thus described, at most, as a smooth substitution of one institution with another:

After Manet, everybody has the possibility of opening in a little shop and organizing an exhibition in the Quartier Latin. So, 'anomie', in the sense of the time, becomes institutionalized. But using the concept of institution, however, you miss that and you are thus in danger of overlooking one and the most distinctive properties of the fields of art, literature, science, and so on. (Bourdieu 1989: 36)

Similarly, Weber quotes Lourau (1970: 137), the word "institution"

has been increasingly used to designate what I and others before me have called the instituted (l'institu‚), the established order, the already existing norms, the state of fact thereby being confounded with the state of right (l'‚tat de droit). By contrast, the instituting aspect (l'instituant) ... has been increasingly obscured. The political implication of the sociological theories appears clearly here. By emptying the concept of institution of one of its primordial components (that of instituting, in the sense of founding, creating, breaking with an old order and creating a new one), sociology has finally come to identify the institution with the status quo. (Weber 1987: xv)

All this may seem to be too obscure, even a bit sch”ngeistlich; what on earth are we supposed to do if we want to describe a socially sanctioned state of affairs which came into existence by legislation or strong traditions and customs? Is there an alternative? Godzich, for one, suggests that there is:

We tend to think of institutions as apparatuses, that is, as constituted bodies with their internal procedures and delimited field of intervention. But an institution is first and foremost a guiding idea, the idea of some determined goal to be reached for the common weal; it is this goal that is sought according to prescribed behavior and by the application of set procedures. The idea itself is adopted by a group of individuals who become its public possessors and implementers. This group then becomes the institution as a result of the combining of the guiding idea with the set of procedures. The members of the group are shaped by the guiding idea they seek to implement and the procedures they apply; they adopt common behavior, develop similar attitudes, all of which tend to unify them into a determinate and identifiable group and give the institution its distinct unity. (Godzich 1987: 156)

Accordingly, social movements, aspirations and ideas of certain groups, and the very concrete and specific steps taken by the people within the group, their not-yet-sanctioned forms of behavior, will be prior to any institution which then may provide them legitimacy.

An institution, then, is a social crucible, and it may be something as traditional as a church or as contemporary as a mode of watching television. The role of the guiding idea is all important, however, for without it we have forms of social behavior like all others rather than an institution. The guiding idea is precisely what seeks to avoid the blind path taking that so interested de Man in the arrival at insight. In short, the insightful path is turned into a beaten one, with the subsequent development procedures within and by the institution being akin to road improvement. The trailblazing, or, in Sam Weber's terminology, the instituting, becomes a moment of odd standing in the now constituted institution. Its necessity is acknowledged, for without it the institution would not exist, but it no longer really matters except insofar as the marking out of the line that brought point of departure and point of arrival together is concerned. In other words, the instituting moment, which endows the entire institution with signification and meaning, is held within the institution as both proper to it and yet alien: it is its other, valued to be sure yet curiously irrelevant to immediate concerns. (Godzich 1987: 156)

Such a conception of institution, then, will not ignore a number of elements some of which fall outside the traditional concept of institution. It is in this sense that, for instance, Jacques Dubois employs the term: for him, the three strata of institualization of literature comprises the great modes of organization, the system of norms and values, providing the socialization of the individual, and the power (state power, notably) corresponding to what is privileged as an institution (1978: 32-34). This stratification may be refined, denied, or modified, but certainly it is this sense of institution which offers a deeper insight into the field of literature.

And, one might add, just as Fish has said thet we are never in no-situation, we are never outside the institutions, and we always have to judge them as seen from an institutional environment. As Spivak puts it, she learned from Foucault that

I don't think there is a noninstitutional environment. I think the institution, whichever institution you are isolating for the moment, does not exist in isolation, so that what you actually are obliged to look at is more and more framing. (Spivak 1984/1990: 158)

Or, to quote another formulation,

But history and its institutions are not just something we study, they're also something we live, and live through. And how effective and how durable our interventions in contemporary cultural politics will be depends upon our ability to mobilize the institutions that buttress and reproduce that culture. The choice is not between institutions and no institutions. The choice is always: What kind of institutions shall there be? Fearing that our strategies will become institutions, we could seclude ourselves from the real world and keep our hands clean, free from the taint of history. But that is to pay obeisance to the status quo, to the entrenched arsenal of sexual and racial authority, to say that they shouldn't change, become something other, and, let's hope, better than they are now. (Gates 1990b/1992: 34-35)

8. 1. 4. To the History of Professionalism

Professionalism is, of course, a historical category. No professionalism can exist without established institutions (whatever it may mean) which determine its existence and even render it possible. This is not at all new: as early as in 191??, Edward Sapir wrote,

... there would be no such individual as a musician except in so far as there are such groups as conservatories, historically determined lines of musicians and musical critics, dancing, singing and playing associations of varying degrees of formal organization and many other types of groups whose prior definition is needed to make the term musician actual.

This would suggest, as the example of Charvat, Viala and Darnton shows, that there are quite a number of interesting questions concerning the development of this category (and, to be sure, the system of literary institutions which is a prerequisite of the unfolding of the literary professional). The close interconnection, or, rather, mutual dependence of institutions and professionals is evident; for instance, Talcott Parsons has also speculated that

The professional type is the institutional framework in which many of our most important social functions are carried on, notably the pursuit of science and liberal learning and its practical application in medicine, technology, law and teaching. This depends on an institutional structure of maintenance of which is not an automatic consequence of belief in the importance of the functions as such, but involves a complex balance of diverse social forces. (Talcott Parsons, "The Professions and Social Structure," Essays in Sociological Theory (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1949), 199.

characterized: 1. "the systematic codification of a body of knowledge held to be relatively autonomous and self-contained"; 2. this knowledge "is held to have universal validity within the confines of the specific field", and 3. professionalism claims to be disinterested, reflecting and fulfilling social, rather than material or economic needs (Weber 1990: 45). These points, for Weber, help in illuminating the special position attributed to the human intelligentsia ("the professors", in Weber's text), since

The professor has never been considered a full-fledged professional, not because of an excess of (private) interest, but rather because of a lack of public interest. (Weber 1990: 46)

8. 1. 5. Professional Operations

Now what exactly are the ways the guild of professional interpreters of literature, critics for short, work? Instead of giving a detailed and systematic account, just let me list some of the features.

First of all, what a professional does with a literary text always a prestigious activity, as contrasted with those of the lay. Criticism may have a prestigious meaning.

As I tried to show in Chapter 2, the words "criticism" as well as "interpretation" carry some prestige; it might be said that in some cultures these are activities (or texts) demanding (or embodying) a certain skill and expertise. In the discourses where they are contrasted to "description", for instance, they receive a much higher prestige. It is this prestige which, for Olsen, some writers would wish to attain, even if what they produce differ significantly from the accepted idea of criticism:

by calling this new concept 'criticism', its proponents attempt to secure it the sort of role and prestige which the familiar concept has, though it has a completely different content and a different function from the familiar concept. (Olsen 1992: 88)

Now this behavior, whether Olsen's evaluation is correct or whatever one thinks about it, is a typical professional move. Partly, at least, what counts as a product of the professional group will be decided by the group itself; it is criticism, if the group succeeds in convincing its consumers that what is offered is a piece of criticism proper. As Messer-Dawidow comments,

In The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis, Magali Sarfatti Larson points out that professions have become special, valued, and monopolistic occupations because professionals can control their ideologies, training, and markets. They gain professional autonomy because they are "allowed to define the very standards by which [their] superior competence is judged." (1988: 70)

On the other hand, as I have argued both in Chapter 2 (in connection with t

, historical experiences, and the like. It may be speculated that these contribute to form certain, albeit perhaps ephemeral, groups, the members of which a certain interpretation is more obvious than another. Any pragmatics oriented linguistics must take into account such differences and must find an ordering principle or another. Speech act theory, in particular, with its roots common with, or resembling to, the Wittgensteinian concept of language games, is to take into consideration that not only do we participate in and contribute to different speech situations, but several of such situations necessarily remain out of our reach; we are accustomed to some and do not know the rules of plenty.

9. The professionals' field of operation: Canons

9. 0. Introduction

In this section, I would like to put the following questions: 1. What is a canon? (What is the common vision of the canon? How is it characterized by some recent contributions to the theory of literature? What are the common elements of this characterization?) 2. Is this description satisfactory? How can it be challenged? How can it be amended? 3. Is there a canon at all? What are the arguments of those stating that no canon exists? What does it mean to say that there are no canons? That it has never existed? That it does not exist any more? That it should not exist? 4. What does it mean to state that the strength of canon-building is fading, or that the canon is on the way of decline? 5. And again, What is a canon? Does it have a character of the parole or else that of the langue?

What is all this fuss about canons, canonicity, canonicalness?

While the most fundamental issues of the very concept of the canon remain unexplained and even unasked (deliberately, one may suspect), there is an ever growing interest in, and, accordingly, output of scholarly works investigating into, the nature and history of the phenomenon called the canon together with its (are they really "its"?) political implications. This trend would deserve, in itself, some attention; and it is worth studying all the more that the controversial concept of canon is at stake, which, one hopes, may receive a bit more illumination through these debates.

In what follows, two relatively simple points will be made. First, that there are several sorts of approaches to, and descriptions of, the canon, ranging from dispassionate accounts of canon-as-a-text or canon-as-a-language to the militant engagement in the canonical war; and, second, that it is doubtful whether there is such a single thing as the canon, whether canon is in the singular. Though no particular novelty may there be in these arguments, put together, they may lead us to a somewhat more fruitful mess than we are enjoying now.

9. 1. Canon: "Texts" or "Langue"

A fairly common view of the canon is that it is a set or body of carefully selected texts, and that a main challenge for those analyzing the (concept of the) canon should then be to explore what these texts are, and how this set came (or is coming) into being. Furthermore, the causes how this given set evolved may be sought, it can be asked what common features are to be found in these texts - that is, their contents, origin and structure may be a subject of inquiry, but it is still always supposed that the thing in question is one particular thing (or one particular circle of things), and, on the other hand, that what is in question is things, products, text-objects. According to the conceptions centered around the outstanding Great Works, the canon is made of readymade products, a collection of samples, a sum of respectable texts which count as cornerstones of our culture and our tradition.

Canon is, of course, a limited body of literary texts; but does it mean that any limited body of literary texts amounts to a canon? Ranging from the exclusive group of carefully selected texts to several wider circles, the width depending on the generosity of the conception (and, of course, of the interpretive community behind it), there has been quite a number of attempts at delimiting the extension of the canon. One could label this conception of the canon as the "canon-as-texts" vision; for the scholar working on these tracks, it is quite satisfactory to realize what texts are exactly comprised in a given canon, that is, what are the privileged and distinguished texts of a period, then look for proofs for this intuition, and end in a list of works calling it the canon of this or that era or this or that society, stratum, group, etc. It would not be fair to dismiss this line of inquiry too quickly. It belongs to a certain Positivistic pattern of thought, insofar as it seeks data, orders them and then draws, in a very strict logical framework, conclusions; meanwhile, it restricts itself to a controlled body of evidence, without referring to anything outside them. This is a methodology which may and in fact did have results interesting from any other, even anti-Positivistic, point of view. To say, as the arrier-garde of the trend used to, that it is a prerequisite for any other inquiry is, of course, misleading since it presupposes a stage of study when no preconceptions, prejudices, ideologies, theories, even concepts are involved; but it may be acknowledged that a mapping of what has been regarded as a canon or what is regarded as having been regarded as a canon may furnish raw material to analyze further; at least, what one can learn from these reviews is a vision of the canon as produced by a professional, that is, a contribution to the analysis of her or his view of literature.

However, this is not a conception to be taken into consideration too seriously; and not because it is flawed or outdated but because it is not a notion really widely held, in its pure form. Even the most conservative, scholastic formulations refer to something outside the texts in question, in fact, transcending them: tradition, value, ethics, aesthetic quality, and the like, and these amount, may one like these expressions or not, to a reference to a certain rule beyond the objects. It is, to say the least, extremely difficult to differentiate between "textual" and "linguistic" conceptions; or, to put it more sharply, "textual" delimitations imply (very often explicitly) a rule governing the selection of the texts.

Thus, the other main conception (if it is really "other"), the "canon-as-language" view of the canon. It is, perhaps, not less problematic than the one treated above, just one has to face different questions. It may be supposed that it is the nature of story which organizes, governs or conceives the canon: thus, for Kenner,

... a canon is not a list but a narrative of some intricacy, depending on places and times and opportunities. Any list - a mere curriculum - is shorthand for that. (Kenner 1984: 373)

He then confers that any absence from the canon can be explained by the "story" organizing the canon.

This is a highly inspiring and fruitful conception, but maybe one could say something more general; for instance, it can perhaps be argued that the nature of the canon is that of the langue; it embodies or manifests some common knowledge. Let us further suppose that there exists something which Culler and others call "literary competence" - a sort of knowledge enabling the speaker, the "native speaker" of a culture, to recognize and repute literary texts as such. Is it not possible to state, then, that the canon, a selected set of the great works, is part of this knowledge, and if this knowledge corresponds to the linguistic langue, then canon must be part of the literary langue - even if its position in the hierarchy is not on the same level as that of conventions, rules of genre, linguistic and other rules, since it is a kind of set of examples, a paradigm, and not the condition of the production?

If it is so, then the canon does not belong to the sphere of realisation or phenomena, but rather to that of the system: in this respect, it is part of the langue. As far as this is the case, we cannot do without a canon. It also belongs to that field inasmuch as its change is not a consequence of some autonomous movement, but rather of external influences coming outside of the field of literature.

There may be arguments for this conception. It is clear, for instance, that a child knows quite a lot about how a tale or a well-formed story should look like even before she or he has appropriated a considerable amount of texts: the very structure and language of the genre is acquired at a very early stage of literary socialisation.

As is well known, there have been, since the Russian Formalists, attempts at matching the textual and rule conceptions of the canon. In the interpretation of a recent follower of this trend, Itamar Even-Zohar, canonized meant for Shklovskij

those literary norms and works (i.e., both models and texts) which are accepted as legitimate by the dominant circles within a culture and whose conspicuous products are preserved by the community to become part of its historical heritage. (1990: 15)

There has been reservations about Shklovskij's distinction of canonized and non-canonized (see Steiner 19..: 56-57), and perhaps Tynjanov's solution which allows a greater role for extra-artistic phenomena is more plausible (ibid., 57); it seems, then, that one of the fundamental questions is how far non-literature is "allowed to enter" the sphere of literature: if we take into account only the rjads of literature, literary systems, then the problems of the canon change will remain unsolved. Shklovskij hesitates to accept this version, for him, the sphere of art and that of everyday life [byt] is forever and impassibly separated.

However, it may be argued that the Russian Formalists' approach opens the way for a functional, systemic (rather than structural) view of the canon, since

Canonicity is thus no inherent feature of textual activities on any level: it is no euphemism for "good" versus "bad" literature. The fact that certain features tend, in certain periods, to cluster around certain statuses does not mean that these features are "essentially" pertinent to some status. (Even-Zohar 1979/1990: 15)

Above and besides conceptions of the textual or linguistic nature of the canon, there may be yet another one which would hold that what is in fact canonical is the theory itself. It can be taken as a (perhaps, extreme) form of canon-as-language conceptions: instead of relying on the (supposed) underlying common properties of the texts in question, it refers, instead, to their reception. In a weak sense, this is quite evident: there are theories which are more established, are accepted in a given period as the valid (perhaps the only valid) approaches to works. In a more general sense, one could say that it is an entrenched or even institutionalized variety of the interpretation which is canonical; what changes is a certain set of interpretive assumptions and, along with this change or perhaps as a consequence of it, there is a also change in the texts picked out as valuable, as apt subjects of analysis or education.

Here we turn back to what has been said of the canon-as-texts conception: already the selection of texts worth studying, the body of literature to be interpreted is a result of (explicit or implicit) rules, theoretical considerations, value preferences which, in turn, can be described as a system beyond or within the objects - which are, then, are not objects-in-themselves any more but products of the subjectivity, formed and preformed by an interpretation.

And there are some other conceptions: besides the use of the word canon which designates a more or less well defined set of the Great Books or some hidden literary system of rules of these texts, there are other uses of the word situating it, rather, into the field of concepts of rule, prescription, sample, example. It is in this sense that the word canon is sometimes used, for instance, in the hermeneutics; Emilio Betti (1992: 8), to take an example, calls the "criteria and guidelines to be followed" canons.

These different views must warn us that the Russian Formalists' concept of canon, with its quasi-langue nature, is, in fact, a strange mixture composed partly by the two conceptions referred to above - which include system of rules, literary and interpretive rules -, and partly by the conception of canon as a venerable set of sacred texts which should be a legacy to be preserved and bequeathed. Thus, in Shklovskij's and Co.'s conception texts and systems of rules are intermingled - but it is not at all certain that this would be problematic (at least in itself), one may even give a rational and defendable explanation to this idea.

But is the concept of canon-as-a-langue, in the sense of compatible with the original concept of the canon?

Linguists have long ago established that during language acquisition it is not words and even less sentences what one learns but rules - partly full-blood grammatical rules and partly rules of the use, i.e., pragmatic rules. One does have, of course, to know the words but it is not the knowledge of the words which amounts to the knowledge of a language. In the sense of the foregoing, canon can hardly, if at all, be connected to the Saussurean concept of langue, since diachrony, which Saussure aimed at excluding, will necessarily leak back. Moreover, if the concepts of canon treated above are produced by the desire to grasp in a synchronic section the knowledge of what great works or what literary competence is the prerequisite of the participation in the literary system of a given age, then it is evident that the system will really uncover its peculiarities when shifted, displaced: the changes of the canon (in whatever sense one takes it) will be highly informative.

If the canon were part of the langue, then to the literary competence a knowledge of this canon would indispensably belong, and then, metaphorically speaking, one could not speak the language of literature not only unless one knows the system of rules but also without a knowledge of this sample, this body of examples. But then we have to face quite a number of other problems. Is this langue homogeneous? Is there a homogeneity of language at all or there is always a heterogeneity, dialects, a loose aggregate of more or less different language games?

Nowadays it is almost natural to reply immediately, yes, to hypostatize a unified and eternal canon is but an illusion. Thus, we arrive to the banal and foreseeable generality that there are more canons in the sense of langue; and here is one of the reasons why many do not believe in canons at all. When do we say that two languages are identical? Can to speakers of two languages understand each other? If so, are these two languages different at all, are they not identical? Is it not the cornerstone of the definition of language? Does each and every language assume another "literary competence" of its own? If so, is canon or the knowledge of canon part of it? As many canons, as many languages? Or more? Less? Is the canon productive in the sense that it is able, possibly without difficulties and without a sensible transformation of the canon, to incorporate into the "current" canon new works or old works which has hitherto been regarded as non-canonical?

In sum, although the langue conception of the canon seems to be more appropriate for a description of the phenomena in question than the text conception, it does not give account of (and perhaps it does not even have the aim of describing) the changes of the canon and its place in the literary system. One may wish to turn, instead, to more ambitious and more comprehensive conceptions (which are, of course, not necessarily "better" but have a different object).

9. 2. Canon: Functional Approaches

The "canon-as-a-langue" conception is sometimes formed as against the conception of canon as a list of texts canonical in their own right. What is opposed, then, is the idea that a text could be canonical by its own inner quality. Speaking of Josiah's act of canonization (2 Kings 22: 8 - 23: 3), Bruns points out the performative aspect of this act:

[Josiah's] recognition is the decisive thing. Naturally we would like to know what it is in the text that causes Josiah to respond so decisively ... but, strictly speaking, it does not matter. The power of the text is not intrinsic to it. On the contrary, the text draws its power from the situation in which it makes its unexpected appearance, because this is a situation which belongs to a definite history and which is structured by this history to receive just this text as it will no other. This is a text which (whatever it says) speaks to the situation at hand. (Bruns 1984: 68-69)

This will suggest, then, another possible conception which deviates from the (Structuralist) vision of langue/parole distinction: canon is neither a set of elements, nor an abstract system, but a product of conventionalized acts whereas canon-formation is a performance of an act with a special force. It is worth quoting what Bruns has got to say about this act: there we can find several important moments. Referring to Nehemiah 8:2-4, Bruns reminds his readers that Hilkiah figures also in 2 Kings 22:8, thus, his name "is an allegory of priestly power" (1984: 81). His act implies, moreover, that the act of creating the canon is originally and archetypically is the task of the "priest", the professional interpreter of the Law. "One senses that the occasion would be incomplete, and the status of the Torah less than certain, without him" (ibid.).

The lesson of Hilkiah is that canon is not a literary category but a category of power; or, in Blenkinsopp's words, "what we call a 'canon' is not intelligible only in the context of conflicting claims to control the redemptive media and, in particular, to mediate and interpret authoritatively the common tradition" (p. 96). One can see how the canonization of Books of the Prophets would naturally follow the promulgation of the Pentateuch, since the process of turning prophecy into a text would only be complete when fugitive texts become bound to the Torah as an integral part of its canonical domain. Henceforward, when the prophet speaks, it will only be to disclose a written Torah (ibid.).

The canon, whatever it may be, is certainly not something given, eternal, whose origin and nature cannot be searched for. Even if they are not interested in the development or origin of a canon, most studies agree that it can be traced back not only in time but also synchronically, to its conception:

... literary canonicity, as any other literary position, is a result of an accountable process which consists of literary-political operations. (Shavit 1991: 232)

But who makes, changes and maintains the canon? The answer is, naturally, that it is the function of some groups, who may be called professionals, or, "people-in-the-culture" (or "Hilkiahs"):

... literary canonicity is determined by a distinct group of people-in-the-culture, whose power is gained by their control over literary institutions. (Shavit 1991: 232)

The least which can be said of the relation of the canons and the literary professionals, then, is that quite a number of the activities of the professional interpreters of literature affects in one way or another the literary canon. Professionals in the literary field are often characterized by their preoccupation with the canon and, conversely, canon is almost exclusively approached as the principal field of a specific group of people, the professionals of the literary field. It is one of the tasks (activities) of the literary professionals is to create, maintain, change and reflect on canon. To illustrate the important role played by the professionals in forming the canon (and, to be sure, that of the canon in forming the status of the professionals), it is enough to remind the reader that the paradigmatic and, in fact, fundamental case of canonization was the delimitation of the texts which would then belong to the Scripture, an act of highly professional nature and involving serious consequences to several communities.

A text, after all, is canonical, not in virtue of being final and correct and part of an official library, but because it becomes binding upon a group of people. The whole point of canonization is to underwrite the authority of a text, not merely with respect to its origin as against competitors in the field - this, technically, would simply be a qquestion of authenticity - but with respect to the present and future in which it will reign or govern as a binding text. The distinction between canonical and noncanonical is thus not just a distinction between authentic and inauthentic texts - that is, it is not reducible to the usual oppositions between the inspired and the mundane, the true and the apocryphal, the sacred and the profane, and so on. On the contrary, it is a distinction between texts that are forceful in a given situation and those which are not. From a hermeneutical standpoint, in which the relation of a text to a situation is always of primary interest, the theme of canonization is power. (Bruns 1984: 67)

Bruns's approach also implies that this sort of canonization (The Canonization, one could say) can be distinguished from the act of, say, including a writer (besides or instead of another one) into an anthology of national poetry. Here one must face a problem somewhat similar to the analogy of the priest and the critic. Is it just an analogy? Or something more? May we hope to get more insight to the structure of the literary canon once we study that of The Canon? In any case, it seems to be reasonable to differentiate between the unconditional authority of what Bruns is writing about and the more restricted and ephemeral power which the professionals of literary studies exert. Partly, of course, it is only a matter of degree (that is, the consequences in the latter case are not at all as far-reaching as in the former and the power invested into and wielded by it are far more reduced); but certainly, there are also similarities. Both operations presuppose institutions, power and groups:

the formation of canons is a measure of the strength of institutions devoted to the study of art. (Hallberg 1984: 1)

Furthermore, there may be a hope that it can be specified exactly what groups and what powers take part in the formation of the canon and how they do so:

... gaining a position at the center ... often results in becoming canonized. I postulate that literary canonicity, as any other literary position, is a result of an accountable process which consists of literary-political operations. (Shavit 1991: 232)

As Shavit adds (ibid.), it is not as given and smooth as it may seem; there are quite a number of positions, to be sure, atheoretical or antitheoretical or just naive views, which simply disregard this aspect of the canon and its formation.

In passing I would like to remark that although such a postulation might sound trivial, it is not widely accepted by scholars of literature who still stick to the naive belief in the existence of 'poetic justice' as far as attribution of literary values is concerned. I contend however, that literary canonicity is determined by a distinct group of people-in-the-culture, whose power is gained by their control over literary institutions. I have chosen to deal with the center because the most significant operations of the literary institutions take place at the center (cf. Bourdieu), unlike the most significant textual operations which in my view and contrary to what is usually assumed take place at the periphery. (Shavit 1991: 232)

But the relation of professionals to canon is not only that it is the more or less institutionalized group of people-in-culture who is in charge of maintaining and forming a distinguished class of text. It is also this special class of text which offers them a basis of existence qua professionals. It is, then, a field of operation for them as well as a field of reward.

If a distinction can be made between participation in a system as opposed to observing (and describing) it, about which there may be serious doubts, then this is a good point in case where these two roles meet, divide or intermingle. The situation is, briefly, that professionals of the literary field or system set out to describe a phenomenon of their field; to describe the canon in its function is ("clearly") a professional activity. But, doing so, they must refer to their own position, not because some obscure methodological considerations prescribe for them to do so but because the role they play is included in the very subject of the inquiry. Moreover, the output of their observation, even if it is conceived of as a purely scholarly product (by an "observer", for the "observers"), is bound to land in a context where it will be part of the literary system itself, it will be treated as a proposal for forming or re-forming the canon, as a strategic action of its own right.

Accordingly, after realizing their own role in this situation, a growing number of reflections on the canon tend to give up the pretension of innocence and impartiality; and, accordingly, a remote shade seems to cast over the bright, objective, and ("clearly") observational descriptions of the canon in a textual or langue-conceptional vein. They do not attempt at including the role of the users (professionals: critics, literary historians, teachers; or the lay: readers at large) into their model of the canon; but is it not included?

Perhaps crossing the dimensions of participation in and observation of the system, a dichotomic opposition of Schmidt's, is Bourdieu's distinction between "objectivism" and the "theory of practice as practice". The former "constitutes the social world as a spectacle offered to an observer who takes up a 'point of view' on the action and who, putting into the object of principles of his relation to the object, proceeds as if it were intended solely for knowledge and if all the interactions within were purely symbolic exchanges. This viewpoint is the one taken from high positions in the social structure, from which the social world is seen as a representation (as the word is used in idealist philosophy, but also as in painting) or a performance (in the theatrical or musical sense), and practices are seen as no more than the acting-out of roles, the playing of scores or the implementation of plans." The latter approach, that of "the theory of practice as practice", however, "insists, contrary to positivist materialism, that the objects of knowledge are constructed, not passively recorded, and, contrary to intellectualist idealism, that the principle of this construction is the system of structured, structuring dispositions, the habitus, which is constituted in practice and is always oriented towards practical functions." ... One has to escape from the realism of the structure, to which objectivism, a necessary stage in breaking with primary experience and constructing the objective relationships, necessarily leads when it hypostatizes these relations by treating them as realities already constituted outside the history of the group - without falling back into subjectivism, which is quite incapable of giving an account of the necessity of the social world. To do this, one has to return to practice, the site of dialectic of the opus operandum and the modus operandi; of the obejctified products and the incorporated products of historical practice; of structures and habitus. (Bourdieu 1980/1990: 52)

Let us turn, then, to two type of texts; first to texts which openly announce that they are parts of the system they examine and that this examination counts as a move in the game; and second, to texts which start from a well established "observational" stance and arrive to a gesture of "participation", where transgressions of the borderline between "observation" and "participation" are made highly visible. Can we, this way, get closer to the concept of the canon?

9. 3. Canon and the Politics of Interpretation

9. 3. 1. "Canonical Criticism"

It seems to be a sound assumption, though it must be very seriously and cautiously revised, that if the prevailing canon reflects or expresses power relations, then one's adherence or a certain canon as well as her or his relation to that canon (conservativism, revolutionary attitude, cautious modification, etc.) will amount to taking a political stance, or at least will be connected to the "politics of interpretation". It is quite natural, then, that a number of speculations on the nature of the canon nowadays concentrate on the issue of the particular community forming and/or making use of the specific canons, and some even try to characterize these communities accordingly.

A good illustration could be to take some paragraphs written by Paul Lauter (1991b). Contrary to its ambitious title, Lauter's book (1991a) contains essays and lectures concentrating primarily on contradictions and issues of the American academic and university life; it reviews several aspects of the canon-formation and university education in the United States, and informs its readers about some vital institutional problems of the field. It does not pretend to be an dispassionate by-stander: it is on the "left" side of the debates. In one of the studies, Lauter establishes a distinction between two sorts of criticisms:

The two forms of literary study I wish to distinguish here are, first, the various formalist or speculative criticisms, heavily indebted to Continental philosophy, deeply concerned with questions of epistemology, and practiced primarily as a set of graduate institutions in the United States, France, and elsewhere on the European continent; and, second, what I shall term "canonical" criticism, focused on how we construct our syllabi and anthologies, on the roots of our systems of valuation, and on how we decide what is important for us to teach and for our students to learn, or at least to read.

... I think that this distinction ... is the most recent version of an old contention between what might be called aesthetic (formalist, interpretive) and moral and thus evaluative or what I will call "canonical" approaches to texts. ... I believe that the understanding the history of these differing forms of literary study in the past three decades is crucial to perceiving where literary study is now and where one might want it to go. (Lauter 1991b: 134-135)

There are several interesting points in this section. First of all, note that when Lauter sets out to characterize the second type of critical activity, he starts to use personal pronouns, whereas in the case of the first ("formalist") criticism, a passive construction is dominant ("practiced primarily as a set of graduate institutions"). Note also that the word "institution" appears here, and it is tacitly confronted to the "us" and the "students" of the "canonical" criticism. This suggests an opposition between an a-human, alienated, "institutional" operation and an organic, human, non-institutionalized activity. Second, note the pretty loose formulation, "elsewhere on the European continent". It is hard (or, rather, it is not hard at all) to imagine what a professor in Konstanz, Moscow or Prague has got to say about such a generalization. What Lauter labels as "formalist" criticism, if and when it was really institutionalized and put into the center of education, has quite different functions, significances and extensions depending on the various cultural and social-political settings. Third, it is undeniable that Lauter's distinction is not a pure scientific observation, neither is it an innocent hypothesis, but clearly made from a point of view which happens to coincide with his second class of criticism, that of "canonical" sort. Hence, one had better not to expect an impartial description, rather, a pamphlet and/or an apology. And, fourth, the repeated reference to the political or ideological indifference of the "formalists" is astonishingly unfounded, at least as far as he European scene is concerned.

Let us now see the further characterization of the opposing trends:

What I am calling aesthetic or formalist criticism began in our time by viewing literature as in some sense a special kind of discourse, composed by specially talented individuals called poets (and, more recently, theorists), and offering unique forms of knowledge or experience, interpreted by specially-sensitized individuals called critics, whose job it was, among other things, to distinguish poetic discourse from that of science or journalism or rhetoric (propaganda). It has ended by absorbing into this segregated aesthetic domain every kind of text. The other, moral or canonical criticism, has seen literature as one among many forms of discourse whose objective is to move, enlighten or, perhaps, to mystify human beings. The first maintains that while we might, in Emerson's language, be "richer" for the poet's knowledge, poetic expression involves no necessary extension into the world, that indeed, literature has no designs on our conduct, that a poem, to take this position to its familiar New Critical extreme, "should not mean but be". The other, the moral view, emphasizes the impact of literary works on how we conduct our lives, how we live within, extend or restrict, and develop the communities that give our lives meaning. Literary commentators, in the aesthetic vision, have constituted a kind of priesthood of the craft, performing a task of formal analysis given sanction by the special importance of poetry itself or by the notion that text alone in some sense "real". The moral practitioner emerges rather more as a teacher, the value of her or his pedagogy affirmed, if at all, by its social consequences. The universe of aesthetic discourse, at least as it largely has come to be defined by academic critics and by poets like Wallace Stevens as well, is thus distinct, removed, even self-enclosed - a singular place where initiates speak mainly to one another in special languages and discuss texts in hermeneutical modes whose authenticity seems measured by their density. (135-136)

What we have here is a set of oppositions. For Lauter, it is the "canonical" criticism which is closely connected to the real world, whereas it is beyond the interest of the "speculative" or "formalist" criticism to be aware of the world surrounding the text. Accordingly, "formalists" do not really care what the canon is and how it should be changed or formed, they deal with given, ready, sanctified texts; they consequently nolens volens maintain the status quo. "Canonical" critics, on the other hand, are conscious of their historical and social position and strive to make their knowledge public, not only to describe and employ the canon but, ultimately, "open it up". On the one hand, then, there is the (passive) Guard, who is, in fact, a prisoner of what she or he watches - and, on the other, the (active) thief, who is subversive and free (mind that her or his God is Hermes).

But, we are told, this opposition is historical in nature; that is, Lauter will not state that it is a sort of perpetual, eternal dichotomy. But will he not?

Nor has aestheticism always faced inward. Indeed, more than once historically - in Shelley, for example, or in Wilde -- aestheticism emerged as a revolutionary thrust against prior moralizing styles. But in our time aesthetic or formalist criticism seems to me to have embodied not only many of the virtues of speculative thought first demonstrated by Plato but all the limiting features of Plato's Academy as well... (136)

Shelley's and Wilde's souls are, then, saved, hallelujah, but how on earth do they get here? Are they formalist critics? Is it not the case that Lauter, contrary to all his devotions to the historical aspect, turns (out) to be a-historical? If he is to seriously consider the revolutionary nature of what he calls aestheticism, formalism or , he should simply review what Russian Formalism, the Slavic or New Criticism has done with their respective prevailing canons; or how the French Structuralists were related to the Avant-Garde or to their own contemporaries. This, no doubt, would dangerously blur his distinction.

And is it not completely mistaken, one may wonder, to assess the political or social import of a (literary) theory simply on the grounds what that theory has got to say about political or social issues? The most engagé theoretization on gender, minority or socio-political issues in literature can be (and, in fact, is) in certain cultures (and periods) dead letters, pure and fruitless speculation. On the other hand, the most "formalist" sort of theory can gain a subversive, revolutionary power, even if it does not have any ambition to change the world. And in these functions it is, at most, just one element what the theory (or theorist) aims at. Like any text, the theory is also dependent on its context of reception.

Let us see another aspect of the same issue. A recent trend against theory can be regarded, as is perceived by Wlad Godzich, as an anti-professional or even anti-intellectual attack:

For some time now, increasingly frequent, and strident, predictions of the end of theory have been made and greeted, predictably, with glee among those who saw the theoretical onslaught of recent years as one more plague that a merciless god was visiting upon them. They drew solace from what may well be manifesto of this tendency, Walter Benn Michaels and Steven Knapp's tract, "Against Theory" (Critical Inquiry 8, 4 [summer 1982]: 723-42), in which a call for "an end to theory" was issued and theoreticians were lambasted for being at best no more than apologists for their own practices and at worst power-hungry academics posing as adjudicators of the claims made by others while studiously avoiding the production of any work that could be used to indict their own views. The antitheorists, as they have become known, are particularly virulent against what they view as the social and political disengagement of much recent theory, by which, it generally turns out, they mean . (Godzich 1987: 153)

It would mean, then, that theory (or just this very theory) is closely connected to professionalism, power, the politics of a-politics, and anti-theorists can fight to get out of this magic circle by turning back to politics. Godzich is highly skeptical towards such a position; he attempts to defend deconstructionists and other theorists recently accused by "antitheorists" for being apolitical and a product of the "power-hungry academics":

These charges are not new, nor do they appear subject to modification even in the face of such empirical evidence as the remarkable consistency of Derrida's political position during France's rightward swing or his personal and intellectual involvement in the antiapartheid movement where he has been joined by precious few of those who thunder against deconstruction's apoliticism. (Godzich 1987: 154)

The presupposition behind this plea is quite similar to that sketched above, in connection with Lauter: that a theory (or theorist) with a clear political stance cannot and should not be regarded as abstract, alienated or functionless. But Godzich arguments for deconstruction is not convincing any more than those of Lauter's against formalism; however respectful Derrida's political position is, it has nothing to do with the position of his theory in this or that culture. Whereas it may be the case that Derrida (whatever it is) is seen in some circles as a champion of progressive thought, other circles may react quite the contrary.

After refusing New Criticism, which he regards as elitist and ahistorical, Lauter also dismisses deconstruction, its circular and intricate discussion of texts which does not lead anywhere.

But do they arm - or disarm - intellectuals for combat in an increasingly dangerous world? It is not my observation that the spread of poststructuralist theory has spurred academics into progressive activity, on campus or off. On the contrary, it seems to have provided them with a textual umbrella to keep them wet in these dry times. (Lauter 144)

On the other hand, there are the "conservative" critics of deconstructionism (and, in fact, of a number of other related trends) who claim that this type of criticism is not criticism proper at all; Olsen, for instance, argues that there have always been two types of criticism. One is atheoretical:

A piece of criticism is atheoretical if the validity of its arguments and methods is not guaranteed by a set of theoretical premises and it does not make use of a set of theoretical concepts to formulate its arguments or conclusions. ... (Olsen 1992: 82)

To this category belong, among a lot of others, the New Criticism.

The assimilation of literature and criticism has two consequences. Firstly, literature is denied, at least in part, the cultural prestige which it has traditionally held among its audience.... Secondly, the assimilation of criticism to literature leads to an emphasis on the rhetorical nature of criticism. And this emphasis has encouraged two attitudes to criticism, the attitude that criticism is a play and the attitude that criticism is a persuasion. The former has manifested itself in witty verbal displays with a form completely different from the standard forms of critical argument ... The latter is an attitude which governs the apprehension of all criticism. Both attitudes move the focus away from criticism as analysis and have insidious consequences for the standards of argument in criticism. (Olsen 1992: 86-87)

No doubt, Olsen and others may have a point in objecting the "rhetorical" nature of these discourses. The point, however, is not that rhetoric is something that one should discard, a superfluous decorum or a deceitful supplement standing for something more essential; for, as Jaspers put it,

Of course, just as there is traditional argument against rhetoric, there are also the standard defences, usually stemming from Aristotle. But as rhetoric increasingly returns to some agenda of discipline after discipline and scholars are encouraged to reflect upon the rhetorical nature of their writing, the suspicion grows that Milton was right to fear Satanic rhetoric, and that caution should be exercised. ... It was a point made by I. A. Richards, that questions of value and meaning are finally rhetorical, and that, as Isocrates observes, good discourse is discourse that works. The consequences are not pleasant to contemplate... (Jasper 1993: 105)

But one cannot help finding a number of declarations coming from these circles not only rhetorical but pretentious, thus, funny. When well established and probably well paid professionals do not cease to refer and appeal to the revolutionary, subversive character of writing, there something more than ironical in it. See, for instance, some excerpts from Jasper's book:

What is needed is a more daring and a more radical concept of textuality which will overturn our expectations and securities... (Jasper 1993: 105)

The act of interpretation lies at the heart of every theology, unsettled, unsettling and provoking, always resisting metaphysical illusion. Its compatibility with the systematic tendency of totalisation is not merely political or moral, but ontological. (Jasper 1993: 139)

Back to Lauter. In his vision, the canonical or moral critic appears as somebody who is always to ready to open up the canon, to transform it, who chooses the narrow path; Lauter suggests, though implicitly, that it is not in the interest of this critic to stabilize the canon, as if she or he would be in favor, rather, a continuous re-opening it up. However, it may be asked whether this very critic is not in badly need of a counter-power, a conservativism within or without, relative to which she or he can exert her or his opening activity. And it is also a question whether her or his subversive power is not also a sort of power; as Hallberg puts it,

A canon is commonly seen as what other people, once powerful, have made and what should now be opened up, demystified, or eliminated altogether. Rarely does one hear a critic, especially a professor, confess to dreams of potency, perhaps because now that canons are recognized as the expression of social and political power, intellectuals are, by virtue of a consensus as to their adversarial role, almost required to view these aspirations skeptically. (Hallberg 1984: 1)

Transforming or loosening or radically changing a canon is an act relying on the very same concept that is fostered by those whose interest lies in conserving the canon. That is, canon should be changed (or it should be maintained, for that matter), because it has a leading role in the mediation of values. As Gates writes,

... the right ... is exemplarily aware of the role of education in the reproduction of values. We must engage in this sort of canon deformation precisely because Mr. Bennett is correct: the teaching of literature is the teaching of values: not inherently, no, but contingently, yes; it is - it has become - the teaching of an aesthetic and political order ... (Gates 1990b/1992: 35)

The fight for a new canon, for the transformation or revolution of the old one may, eventually, be successful. It seems, though, that this success, being a kernel of a new stability, troubles the proponents of the transformation. Gates quotes Cynthia Ozick who "once chastized feminists by warning that strategies become institutions. But", Gates adds,

isn't that really another way of warning that their strategies, heaven forfend, may succeed? Here we approach the scruples of those on the cultural left, who worry about, well, the price of success. "Who's co-opting whom?" might be their slogan. To them, the very idea of the canon is hierarchical, patriarchal, and otherwise politically suspect. They'd like us to disavow it altogether. (Gates 1990b/1992: 34)

Another inherent contradiction in the transformative gestures is the maintenance of some essential elements of the old canon. Thus, as Godzich argues, even if there is a certain division of labor where "academic departments ... hold on to previously elaborated canons of text that mus be taught if for no other reason than to maintain the institutional identity of their department", and "these canons are challenged, especially by feminist critics", this challenge takes place, however, "within previously defined national boundaries, somehow intimating that, whatever the status of gender, it either comes after nationhood ... or significantly altered by it" (Godzich 1988: 20).

Lauter's position, however, is that "the issue of the canon ... has always arisen from efforts to redress social wrongs" (ibid. 145), and the debate itself "deeply affects the ways people conceive, regulate, and change their lives". It gives it, then, a perpetual character along with (political) efforts to remedy the society's illnesses. Since "Standards of value tend to be self-perpetuating: We are taught to seek works that illustrate the qualities we value; we learn to value the qualities that characterize such works" (ibid., 148), this vicious circle can be broken only be an intervention by the canonical critics. It is their duty to enlighten critics, who "did not come to understand canons, or even the processes by which they are established, reproduced, or altered, until some of us set about efforts to change them" (ibid., 149). Ultimately, the canonical critics engage power, but it will not corrupt them; "for it is precisely in the effort to effect change that one discovers how power is organized, and how it is expressed in particular institutional forms and social priorities" (ibid.)

Where does, one may ask, these incredible capacities of the canonical critics emanate from? Not only do they know better what the canon should be, but neither are they infected by the power - a miracle, indeed. And how is it conceivable at all that these people, having been brought up in a conservative institutional environment and having been educated, accordingly, under strict syllabi conforming to a conservative canon, still preserved their ability to see through the veils and to take decisive steps against their forming powers?

All in all, as a continuation or, indeed, perpetuation of the work of canon re-formation, Lauter indicates two, interconnected, means: one is practiced by, for instance, Barbara Herrnstein Smith and her Contingencies of Value and Jane Tompkins and her Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860; these amount to a start "to deconstruct the underlying assumptions of received systems of evaluation" (ibid., 148). The other way is the everyday engagement

in struggles to reshape local syllabi, course requirements, reading lists, national examinations, requisites for graduate school admissions, and the like. Canons do not, after all, exist in the sky; rather, they are made manifest in particular social and educational practices (ibid., 149).

There is, of course, a considerable gap between these two fields of activity; Lauter consents that "Canons and curricula are by no means identical; curricula (whatever one might have meant by that word) were probably irrelevant to the establishment of biblical canons" (ibid), still, he holds that

today, given the power of academic institutions to shape cultural priorities, institutional forms like curricula are central to the maintenance or modification of canons, not only in literary study but throughout the educational system (ibid).

Though Lauter situates himself in a position which would allow, in principle, a good outlook to the functioning of the canon, and although it is his objective to describe this position itself, he misses several points as far as the very concept of the canon is concerned. While he is in, he cannot get above; that is, struggling for and against the canon (the canon, mind you) seems to block his assessment of other (above all, non-professional) positions as well as his elaboration of the concept of the canon. In this view, canon is monolithic and is dominated by one single group (or by the struggle of two groups, almost equal in power).

9. 3. 2. Digression: Visions of Canon

The description of the (building of the) canon in terms of power, subordination, even oppression, elite, interest and pressure groups, etc. has a vision of a worldwide conspirational maneuver in its background. It suggests that 1. the action of those involved in building the canon is (more or less) intentional and teleological; 2. there is a clear distinction between those in power (and therefore capable of changing the canon) and the manipulated lay; 3. that the changes or moves can be calculated in advance, given the relevant data on the participants; and 4. that these changes and moves have a more or less direct and unavoidable consequence, there is some deterministic, even fatal, connection between the (canonical) deeds of those in power and the whole system of interpretations and institutions of literature.

I would not say that the vision drafted above is "not true" or "valid" or that it does not "reflect the reality" or that it is not "appropriate" (although I do have very serious reservations, as is evident from the previous part). But is it really the best way to describe the phenomenon in question? Certainly, it is better than saying that canon is given from Above, or that it is based on consensus (whatever it may be) or than to sink deep into the details of how a specific canon in a specific age was established for a specific purpose. But is it not too simple? Can we just borrow some schemata of social sciences and apply them directly to the process of building of a canon?

And another question concerns the causes of the emergence of such a vision - why is it so widespread, what aim does it fulfill, why and for whom is it favorable to represent it this way?

These questions are far from being rhetorical, so one may run the risk of giving some possible answers, at least. Clearly, this vision of the canon embodies a sort of personification, inasmuch as it supposes that the communities, or rather, the groups in question posit objectives and act accordingly, being a homogeneous whole, furthermore, that this action is rational; it ignores the complex relationship between the intelligentsia (intellectuals) and economic or political power varying from time to time and from society to society in a considerable degree; it restricts the whole field where canon is situated into a space of clear-cut powers and counter-powers; and it overlooks, consequently, the complexity and "fuzzy" nature of the literary system. Based upon this conception, it would be, in fact, almost impossible to explain how radical changes in the canon are possible even when the power relations are not (yet) changed, and, conversely, how canon may not change even when there is a fundamental change in the power relations. Thus, it affirms a very close and deterministic connection between two systems, and tends to disregard all other participating systems. As Hallberg hints,

... we should recognize that ... there is a danger of academic critics overestimating their own importance and autonomy in the process of canon-formation and wrongly thinking that they can choose to dispense with canons. (Hallberg 1984: 2)

It is also quite clear that these conceptions take institutions in their reified, objectified sense; they use the term too frequently in this meaning. For them, the educational system, notably the universities, and perhaps the critical journals and the book market, is more or less equal to the institutions of literature. It also may be raised whether these conceptions do not defend, even if involuntarily, the idea of one single canon. After all, what seems to be at stake here is the canon, its formation by the powerful group;

If canon is taken as something formed and taught in the universities, there is a way in which it can be made more open and reflect a plurality of value choices and cultures. As Lauter writes,

canonical criticism as it emerged two decades ago was at heart an effort to open up literary study and to reconstruct it on new, more inclusive bases. (1991: 145)

Thus,

Beginning around 1966, texts previously ignored in syllabi and anthologies began to be read in (and sometimes out of) the classroom. (147)

Or, to put it more concretely,

the teaching of literature is the teaching of values, the teaching of an aesthetic and political order, in which none of the members of the black community, the minority community, or the women's community were ever able to discover the reflection or representation of their images or to hear the resonances of their cultural voices (Gates 1988: 24).

If canon is decided, or at least formed, or at least partly formed in classrooms, or at least university curricula, then it seems to be a sound perception that

curricula, reading lists, degree requirements, standardized tests, and anthologies institutionalize ideas about what is important, whose experiences and artistic expressions are to be valued. (Lauter 1991: 145)

Based on this idea, most of what has been written on canon and canon formation is centered around the concepts of the institutions of education, as if it were the sole or at least most important mediator of values, texts and culture in general. However, as Lauter himself observes,

Yet it is not at all clear that this revolution in literary sensibility reaches far beyond the college's gates. Certainly, it does not extend into the legislative halls, where public budgets are determined, or into most newspaper editorial rooms and TV studios, where public opinions are shaped. These are sources of power that cultural workers cannot ignore. (1991: 150)

9. 4. But Are There Canons at All? Or, The Good Advices of the Savant

From the arguments above, it may seem to follow that we should abandon the concept of the canon altogether: if the canonical conception of the canon is just as ideological and oppressive as any canon, why should we adopt this notion at all?

There are at least three possible answers to the question above. The first would be that there are no canons (and there are some varieties: there should not be; could not be; unfortunately, aren't; fortunately, aren't; etc.) Second, that there is a canon. And third, that there are only canons. Let me run through these possible reactions.

There are quite a number of anti-canonical positions (that is, positions challenging the existence or the importance of canons and canon-formation). A version of these is described, in a not quite dispassionate way, by Olsen:

For the new concept of criticism goes together with an attack on the notion of a literary canon, on the notion of a body of paradigmatic works embodying and defining the value of the literary institution. As so many other moves in modern critical theory, this attack seems at best confused, at worst dishonest. With regard to criticism, the move is apparently made to enhance the value of criticism by assimilating it to something that traditionally is valued more highly than criticism. However, if the attack is meant to destroy the notion of 'a canon of great cultural monuments', [note 10: The expression is from Jonathan Culler, 'The Humanities Tomorrow', in Jonathan Culler, Framing the Sign (Oxford 1988), p. 42.] then there is no point in linking criticism to what is to be destroyed. (Olsen 1992: 86)

As contrasted to the ideas that there is no need for any canon whatsoever, there is a position of the canon in the contemporary critical discourse, which maintains that there is "a lack of clarity about the composition of the canon and even about the necessity of having canon at all." (Fokkema 1991: 366-367), and, moreover, the complaint is formulated (if it a complaint) that there is a "weakness" "of the canon-formation system". This weakness is then diagnosed the following way:

Firstly, to the extent that canon-formation is part of the literary system, agents participating in the selection of texts for the canon seem to be uncertain about the role of the esthetic convention when dealing with texts which belong to or are added to the canon. Empirical research should confirm whether this is the case indeed; it should also establish to what extent teachers of literature in secondary schools are familiar with the consequences of the esthetic convention - whether, for instance, teachers are aware of the fact that literature often deals with things which are not discussed in scientific and other expository texts, because they are considered taboo, or regarded as too complex for scientific analysis, or thought to belong to the realm of norms and conventions and whether teachers see that literature, apart from its esthetic potentiality, is capable of transmitting specific knowledge concerning psychological experiences and social behavior which many readers might have been inclined to reject if it had not been conveyed by artistic means. (Fokkema 1991: 367)

Apart from the astonishing vision of literature as a means of transmission of "things" which are disregarded or excluded from science, Fokkema seems to suggest that there is a certain convention, the "esthetic convention", which should be a basis of any literary canon whatsoever; that it is the uncertainty about or lack of familiarity of the convention which is responsible for the weakening of the canon.

Secondly, agents in a position to design and teach the canon seem to have no clear idea about what function canon-formation might have. (1991: 367)

For Fokkema, this function would include "the building of consensus", "the coordination of social behavior", and "problem solving, both in the psychological and the social field" (ibid.)

Thirdly, the most crucial weakness of the canon-formation system is the apparent ignorance of the process of how a selection of texts becomes a literary canon in secondary education. The various agents participating in canon-formation may have vague ideas about who else plays a role in establishing the canon, but apparently it is unclear in what respect and to what degree the critics, the academic experts, the teachers in secondary schools, the pedagogues, the institutional boards, the ministry of education, the publishers, and the booksellers contribute to the final, or temporarily definitive decision. It would be interesting to know which beliefs are held by the various groups of agents about their own role and the role of the others in finalizing the canon of the day. (1991: 367-368)

Here, Fokkema refers to the consciousness of the agents of the literary system, to the knowledge of those participating in the literary process. Partly, at least, he implies that a factor of the problem is that these agents do not know what they are doing, and, implicitly, that a more conscious attitude would help in redeeming the situation.

What we are presented, then, is an appeal to common effort of those whose interests lie in creating the one and single canon to persuade all other participants to (1) accept the one and only rule of esthetic conventions, (2) understand their own interest in canon-formation, and (3) realize their own position and that of others in the process of canon-formation.

We may wonder why all this passion. Who cares about the weakening of the canon and whose interest is it to do something about it? One may even speculate, perhaps in a bit candid and malicious way, what the opposite of the "weakness" of the canon should then be. Would it consist of a strengthening of norms, even forcing them to the literary system, including its various institutions? Would it be a sort of authoritarian move? Would it also include a suppression of the alternative canons so that they do not disturb the one to be strengthened? Fokkema seems to realize this danger of his argumentation and steps back from this perhaps inevitable consequence:

If canons provide matrixes of relevant questions and possible answers, the logical conclusion is that their composition is temporal and contingent. It is unlikely that there will be one canon for all educational levels and all kinds of schools. But it is equally unlikely that the present vacuum in canon-formation will be maintained for long, with the disheartening possibility of interference of commercially motivated publishers. It is to be expected that neighboring countries in the European Community will call this vacuum another Dutch disease (indeed, the disease is less apparent in Flanders). (1991: 368)

The issue at stake, then, is the "interference of commercially motivated publishers" who do not act, presumably, on the basis of "esthetic conventions"; and the casual reference to the European Community can be taken as a sophisticated allusion to the intrusive, imperialist canon of other countries, other cultures.

Fokkema's argumentation, therefore, can be reduced into the well known dilemma of the liberal intellectuals: if it is a principle that a free flow must be allowed not only for speech but for any other activity in the cultural sphere, that state interference as well as any other pressure, political or other, is undesirable, how can we enforce the ideals of humanism or whatever we call it, in the form of "esthetic conventions" or whatever. One should not capitulate, should not let the terrain be occupied either by those whose only interest is in commerce or to other national cultures.

 

Motivated by the conviction that "pure" theoretical speculation may be either turned into or, at least, may be made use of in practice, there are some

A move on the part of the theoretician to sell her or his product. To convince another Interpretive community that there is some use in what this interpretive community is producing; pedagogy (--> turning especially to pedagogues!)

reflects the preferences of the interpretive community of the literary theoretician and not necessarily those of the "target" interpretive community, thus: pressure, the desire to elicit appropriate reactions, to produce a comparable system of values, etc. in the name of science.

Difference between Lauter and Fokkema?

Fokkema and Schmidt may have a much better chance in arriving the awareness of the complex plural system of the canons than Lauter does; not necessarily because the latter are more "scientific" but because their approach starts (logically, at least) from the review of the roles in the literary system, from the very acknowledgement that the struggle on the (battle)field consists of several (partly overlapping) camps and a number of minor fights over different objects.

9. 3. 2. No More Canons

The issue of weakening of the canon can be also seen in the context of the dissolution or corruption or disappearance of interpretive communities. According to this vision, the communities of interpretation, once flourishing and established, strongholds of the sensus communis and supporters of the individual as part and parcel of her or his community, have weakened and, accordingly, their distinguished set of texts is also on the way of melting away. Perhaps a heroic effort to recover this set along with the rules to be followed when interpreting it could help in rehabilitating these communities.

This somewhat Romantic view is challenged by the positions which admit that the decline and perhaps even the fall of the canons has come but avoid to take either nostalgic or militant-Messianistic stance. There are no longer canons, so what? Maybe there is no need for any canon. Moreover: maybe there are no canons at all, it does not make any sense - these are fairly common reactions when the issue of canonicity is raised. Surprising it may seem, it also figures in an argument by Stanley Fish:

A nagyobb és kisebb mûvek canonja már nem áll rögzítetten a helyén. Voltaképpen soha nem is állt, leszámítva egy, a történelem által folyamatosan meghazudtolt feltevést; most már nem tételezik fel még the canon tényét sem; új kihívások bukkannak fel nap mint nap, s olyan ortodoxszá válnak, mint az az ortodoxia, amit bevádolnak.

Underlying this statement, the following line of argumentation can be reconstructed. A canon is not a fact, not something given, not a fixed list, but a top-list developed by interpretive communities - mostly by that of the professionals - which is supported by those in power, through their channels and means of force, universally accepted in the various institutions of the operation of the literature, thus in fact, by this very act, creating an appearance of consensus; the canon is nothing more than a sort of mythology, achieving the illusion of unchangeability and eternal validity by the more or less refined apparatus of the power. But to this idea of the canon belongs, according to Fish, a constant destruction and reconstruction of the canon, this act, among others, providing the legitimacy of this very interpretive community. Therefore the time will come - and, for Fish, it has already come in America - when there will be no more canons, any attack against the canon becoming just as ritualistic and conventional as the reverence of the canon once has been.

In a somewhat similar vein, Mihály Szegedy-Maszák wrote:

Genres, ultimately, can be regarded as social institutions, dependent on other social institutions. Education, secondary literature and even book publishing may influence our decision of how a text should be approached. It is very likely that in defining the genres we should avoid the illusions of "existing forever", "birth of the genre" and "closed canon" ("corpus clos").

Szegedy-Maszák's concern is understandable: he warns us that it would be a mistake to regard the canon as a corpus of texts which is once-for-all delimited and determined, existing independent of space and time - the canon, that is, changes, and the causes, factors and results of this change should be taken into account (in the field of genre theory, for instance).

So far so good, let us take them into account - but the question raised in connection with Fish remains the same: does this possible (moreover, necessary) position entitle us to call into question the very existence of the canon? If the canon constantly changes and scarcely can we hope to say something stable and ultimate about it, then it does not even exist?

Canon is, of course, not a perpetual object: it is very much historical, so much so that it is very misleading to speak of "canons" in connection with ages which did not have literature as an institution - or at least it always should be noted that another concept of canon (just as another concept of literature) is employed there. Canon is a historical product:

In 1600 there was no canon, literary history not yet having been invented. Nor, save in theater circles, was Will Shakespeare even so much as a celebrity. (Kenner 1984: 364)

This is not to deny that there were famous books, renowned texts, outstanding writers, popular theaters but since the whole system of literature (and, within this system, the institution of literature) was fundamentally different from what we experience in the last hundred or so years, it may be a dangerous retrospection to speak of canon in the same sense as we employ the word now. It is even more visible if we turn to the example of music:

... fundamental change ... took place during this [nineteenth century] period in the nature of the Western art-music tradition, or, more precisely, in the way this tradition changed. In previous centuries the repertory consisted of music of the present generation and one or two preceding generations; it was continuously turning over... Under such conditions of evanescence the idea of a canon is scarcely thinkable.

After around 1800 or 1820, however, when new music entered the repertory, old music did not always drop out. Beethoven and Rossini were added to, not replaced. Increasingly the repertory assumed a historical dimension: music assumed a history. There were even conscious efforts to extend the repertory back into the evanesced past. (Kerman 1984: 180-181)

The question arises, cannot this description be reversed? That is, if it is true that canons came into existence in a relatively late point of time, and if its birth is connected to the historical consciousness, the rise of literary history (or, for that matter, history of music), is it not then this particular concept of history that anti-canonical trends fight against? The concept of literary history (and history in general) became, in the last decades, at least, highly problematic: progress, humanism, teleology, and their relatives are now suspicious, and this tendency is paralleled by a disbelief in canons. Is it not the case that attacks on the concept of canon are in fact directed against the concept of history behind it?

9. 4. More Canons

Until now, quite a number of interesting and important questions have not been formulated on these pages; now it seems to be due time to pose them, just because there is something sensibly missing from the conception of "canon as repertoire" as well as from the conceptions of the canon as a set of texts or even as a langue.

For one is tempted to ask the old questions which sometimes may be boring but one cannot help taking them into account: Are the great works or, in general, any text, great for, of, or by themselves, or, in general, are they for, of, or by themselves? This is a fundamental question if one attempts to give account of the canon taken in the sense of holy or sacred texts. If canon were some hidden system of rules, a hidden langue, then should one suppose that it has an objective existence, independent of any reception and interpretation? Is it not the interpretation which should serve as a starting point?

These questions are also about the identity of the canon; do we refer to the same identical canon if there may be two, radically or just partially different interpretation can be given of it? Hardly can it be questionable whether it is the same canonical Petôfi vagy kanonikus Ady szerepel-e Horváth János és Lukács György vagy Kassák Lajos és Révai József "repertoárjában"; But it can be seen not only in cases of whole oeuvres but, using the Russian Formalists' term, also in those of "devices" [prijom] that if and when they submerge and/or triumphantly re-occur in the canon, they are not the same any more: just because they exist only as interpreted. And precisely this new interpretation makes it possible that they disappear or re-emerge.

By the way but not the least ultimately, these doubts and questions may orient one to see that the individual texts of the canon (if it is a canon-of-texts) or some clusters of rules (if one regards the canon as a system) will gain their meaning and signification by their relation to the canon as a whole. From which it follows that the canon itself means something: this is far from being evident, if one insists on, for example, the Classical Saussurean conception on the arbitrariness and random change of the rules. The canon, let me put it such an aphoristic way, is itself an interpretation. And if one believes somewhat in the conceptions of language which emphasize the unity of language and world view, that is, that the language by which one grasps the so-called world itself does not innocently reflects it but creates (in a weaker formulation: also creates) it, then the system of rules we use in our acquisition or appropriation of literature and in our participation in the literary system, will fundamentally determine how we see literature and how we will interpret it. And this will be true not only in cases when whet is in question is systems of rules but also in cases of sacred texts.

But interpretations are many; are canons?

It may seem, then, that a common effort on the part of the professionals who are in charge of the maintenance and formation of the canon and the lay who nevertheless has a word in deciding what will count as accepted may lead to the relative and temporary fixation of the canon. But so many groups and institutions are involved in this activity that it seems to be highly improbable that they would ever succeed. Do they? Does the canon, even if for one or two moments, come into existence?

The answer is negative and positive. It would be impossible to find any moment in the last centuries of the history of literatures written in European languages when there was one single canon valid or compulsory for a whole society; but yes, people do not hesitate to speak about canons, and there has always been a list of texts which became the basis of the mediation of culture, which had to be known and respected, which was the fundamental of the system of education.

The efforts to create a unity in the canon is doomed to fail.

It would be tempting to explain this failure in terms of interests: one could say, for instance, that just as it is an "interest" of the professional interpretive community to produce novel interpretations and to form new and new subcommunities within the group, it is their "interest" to create counter-canons and challenge the existing ones.

How many canons are there, then?

The term canon, in its musical sense, has always referred to a polyphonic work. It is the very essence of the (musical) canons to have an ordered polyphonic fabric, produced by the subsequent occurrence of the voices. The history of the connection of the word canon's two senses must be a very adventurous historical process, no wonder, then, that in the sense we nowadays use the word in literary studies, the qualities of pluralism, polyphony, multiplicity, orderedness, sequentiality and purposefulness hardly if ever come into one's mind.

For the canon suggests just the fixedness, the measure which is given, slowly changing, if at all, having authority and striving for monopoly, the set of great works regarded by responsible quarters. The canon is, in this sense, unisonous.

At this point, the reader is kindly asked to regard most what has been said above as misleading, suspicious, or outspokenly false. For it is quite clear that the whole issue of canonicity should be re-thought in terms of multi-canonicity, that is, one of the fundamental and tacit theses of the present paper, namely, that the word canon is to be put in singular, must be reviewed.

No doubt, the reader is stopped right here for the sake of mean rhetoric: it should have been the starting point of this study that it does not make sense to speak of one single canon. Speech act theory should not be taken too seriously, but once we do so (i.e., take it not-that-seriously), it may provide some further consequences. What speech act theory teaches us first is that there are several language uses. Second, that meaning is not something given but rather something taken, not out there but in here, not an object, but a property assigned, conferred to the utterance. (Therefore, the two really important words in Searle's book are counts as.) Following this line of argumentation, we have speculated that the findings of speech act theory may find their place in literary studies by pushing the latter to a position close to reader response criticism, or Rezeptionsaesthetik, or subjective criticism. Then, this sort of literary studies must hold that a literary work of art is what it is by virtue of an act conferring a special meaning, structure and status to it; further, that interpreting a literary work of art is not an act which has objective and once and for ever describable features but rather it is a judgement conferred to an act; and even further, that the interpretive community interpreting that literary work of art is itself a product of interpretation, that is, its boundaries is also defined (if definition is a good expression here at all) by an act of interpretation. It is just a logical step ahead to say that a canon is not given, but exists only through and by an interpretation, and, accordingly, one should always take into account a multiplicity of canons.

Or, even if one does not follow that line of argumentation, the well known example of the word "literature" can be evoked: here, and it is a commonplace, it is just a matter of looseness and laziness to subsume so many different and changing phenomena under one single word, and upon some reflection one concludes that there are much more (concepts of) literature(s) than your philosophy can ever dream of.

The same holds for the canon(s).

We cannot define the canon. We cannot define it any more than we could define literature or interpretive community. Moreover, it seems that any approximate and crude definition will be one relative to the interpretive communities. It seems to be a fair assumption that there is never only one and single canon in a given period and in a given language community; canons vary according to different groups with different backgrounds, inclinations and obsessions, different value preferences, interests and power. Thus, it is not only a gross generalization to speak of the canon, which would be a serious but pardonable methodological flaw, but simply senseless.

The demand for transformation, deformation or opening up the canon may lead to the discovery that the idea of one single canon is not tenable any more:

The return of "the" canon represents the return of an order in which my people were subjugated, the voiceless, the invisible, the unrepresented, and the unrepresentable. I, for one, ain't going to back there, and I am willing to fight anyone who tries to drag us all back there into that medieval never-never land. (Gates 1988: 24)

But this, of course, implies that however open or deformed a canon is, it can never be "the" single one. Curiously enough, the text quoted above insists on the idea of an "integration":

There can be no doubt that white texts inform and influence black texts (and vice versa), so that a thoroughly integrated canon of American literature is not only politically sound but intellectually sound as well. (Gates 1988: 25)

And, what then? Why should we define it?

But the vision of one single canon developed as a result of the united effort of all the forces involved in the literary system is in fact an illusion, and one always have to take into account more than one canons. From a certain distance, naturally, the one fostered by the most powerful professionals will seem to be the only one; the case may even be that besides this, central, canon, there only exist some fragmented, confused, contradictory canons, without any clear support by a specific group of the society. The question, then, arises:

9. 5. Whose canon?

If, as it was suggested above, canon is closely connected to the notion of literary history or tradition, then the formation and maintenance of the canon is the work of those who regard this history and this tradition something to be preserved or created.

The idea that canons are not exclusively sets of text but, rather, sets of (interpretive) rules with corresponding texts-as-examples

 

9. 5. 1. Digression: The Provincial Nature of the "Theories" of the "Canon"

To inquire into the nature of canons would demand a hard empirical work. This must have been the insight which led several theoreticians and historians of literature, especially in the United States, to scrutiny what is thought to be the most apparent institutional manifestation of the canon formation, the university curricula. If one runs through the titles of the articles published in the last decade on the canon (e.g., the MLA CD-ROM Bibliography), it is clearly seen that for quite a number of students of literature it is the only way to get closer to the core of the problem. It suggests, then, that what one has to take into account is the university (and it is pretty hard to find comments on secondary or elementary school materials); the history and the present state of the curricula; the names and works figuring in course description; and the like.

Very simply and even disrespectfully, the American approach and its material is so special, individual, particular that one might call it provincial or "ethnic" or representing a curious, but negligible minority. If an European or Asian student of literature tries to apply its terms, concepts and guidelines to her or his culture, she or he may easily be lost in the vain search of analogies, or, what is even worse, in simply imitating her or his Big American Brother.

This, in itself, may well be a highly superficial and prejudiced opinion, but there may be arguments to fortify it. One has to ask, and, hopefully, reply, the following questions: First of all, granted, the examination of the institutions of the transmittance of the canon should, no doubt, be central to any inquiry into canon formation - but what are these institutions? And how should they be explored?

Is the canon, then, unisonous? Yes; and no. It must be, by definition (if any), unisonous; but the very opposite is also true because there exist a number of canons side by side, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not so peacefully. That is to say, the coexistence or coordination of canons will still produce, one way or another, a polyphony. One of the big questions in these cases will be, of course, that of alternatives or choice and freedom: are we perpetually locked into a language? Into an interpretive community? Into an interpretive strategy? Into a canon? The replies and reactions will certainly differ strongly. The canons may radically change within a short time, the choice among canons may seem, perhaps for this very reason, more easy, more simple. What is doubtful, however, is the possibility to avoid choosing. Our freedom does not extend to this point.

There are several canons; this is not to say that what we used the call the canon does not exist. It does, very much so: it is the central canon, it is a canon which has succeeded to gain a central position in a literary field. "Central" is not, of course, a timeless and absolute category - a central position is not actually central, not even a position backed by a majority (of the reading public, of the most sophisticated elite, etc). Central is, rather, the topmost, or the more powerful. Not because there would be an inherent power in that position, but because it is most powerfully supported by those having the capacity to develop, further, maintain or destruct a central canon.

The central canon supposes, naturally enough, the existence of at least one other canon. Practically, there are several of them. And they may display various "behaviors" (that is, there are various strategies of handling them). These are always relative to the central canon.

On the very last pages of his excellent book Attridge raises the possibility of reversing the canon, namely, to find a central place for Finnegans Wake there and regard the rest of literature as marginal as compared to that position:

The exercise of making the Wake a central and not a digressive text in our literary culture can be at present only a hypothetical one, but this is exactly its value, and the value of similar attempts to think against the grain of the instituted canon. Within the powerful processes of ideological inculcation such thinking can create a space where it might be possible to reassess the function and character of the literary and its potential importance for us as members of an always changing, always changeable society. (Attridge 1988: 237)

But is it really hypothetical? It is, if one supposes that there is one canon and that a canon is always those of (and in) power. However, once the "exercise" Attridge suggests is taken seriously, then in some minds, in some circles, in some groups Joyce's work is central in the canon - that is, a canon is instituted, certainly very much different from "the" canon, but a canon of its own right. Once one attempts at replacing an existing canon, she or he must have (and in fact has) in mind an alternative one.

[E]ach individual has also his personal canon, of works he happens to know and value. (A. Fowler 1982: 214)

In a sense, there is only one canon. Since most interpretive communities, with the notable exception of that of the professionals, neither define nor regard themselves as interpretive communities, their canons are not at all institutionalized, sanctioned, circumscribed, written. These canons are, rather, sets of interpretive practices, rather than named books: they operate like sets of rules, if you wish, like languages. Their borderlines are blurred and it is not always well predictable what texts they will accommodate and what they will refuse. As opposed to them, there is the well elaborated, institutionalized, sanctioned, circumscribed and frequently written canon (which is not necessarily identical with those of the professionals, but certainly professionals take a great part in forming it). This "official literary canon", as Fowler writes, is

usually spoken of as quite stable, if not "totally coherent". And the idea of canon certainly implies a collection of works enjoying exclusive completeness (at least for a time). (A. Fowler 1982: 214)

In a sense, there are no canons. "The canon", the product of those in power (in education, in literary institutions, in book market, in the media, in economy in general, etc.), is always under attack, is always challenged and subverted. What is offered, instead, more often than not, is not a full-grown list of texts, but another strategy to read the texts, or an incomplete list which suggests a new set of rules reading them, etc.

10. Professional communities (in Hungarian)

0. Az értelmezõi közösségek problémája (létük, idõ-, térbeli és szociális kiterjedésük) több évtizede jelen van az irodalomelméleti diskurzusban. A diskurzus szempontjából ennek a probléma-komplexumnak nem a megoldása, megválaszolása a lényeges (ha ez egyáltalán lehetséges volna), hanem sokkal inkább jelenléte; az, hogy áthatja a diskurzus egy részét, hogy újra meg újra átfogalmazódik, lebontódik és megint felépül, félretolható és minduntalan visszafurakszik, az egyes elméleti iskolák kénytelenek vele (elutasító vagy problematizáló, megkerülõ vagy szembenézõ, átalakító vagy megõrzõ) viszonyba lépni. Anélkül, hogy ezt a jelenlétet az elméleti diskurzusban túlbecsülnénk, látható, hogy legalább a diskurzus bizonyos részeiben számos kérdés az értelmezõi közösségek terminusaiban fogalmazódik át (vagyis: fogalmazódik újra, s ezzel más kérdéssé is válik), hagyományos problémák átfordításának válik elõsegítõjévé vagy terepévé, az interpretációtól a befogadáson keresztül az irodalomtörténeti folyamatokig és az irodalom társadalmi beágyazottságának vizsgálatáig.

Magának az irodalomelméleti diskurzusnak a mûködése hozza magával, hogy bármilyen válasz, amit az értelmezõi közösségek felvetette számtalan kérdésre adni lehet, rögtön cáfolatot, de legalábbis új kérdést, kétségeket hív elõ. Ahogyan a professzionális irodalomértelmezõ közösségekre jellemzõ az, hogy az “adott” értelmezést mindig kihívásnak, az új értelmezés meghaladandó elõzményének tekintik, s így az “igen, de...” fordulata, az újdonság, az eltérés, a folytonos módosítás az uralkodó szerkezete az interpretációnak – úgy számos elméleti kérdés is állandóan lezáratlan marad, átalakul, további kérdéseket nemz/szül, további értelmezéseket kényszerít ki. Ha lehet különbségeket tenni, az értelmezõi közösségek kérdése nagyon ilyen.

Talán azért, mert túlságosan mélyen érinti az irodalomelméleti diskurzust magát.

Ez természetesen olyasfajta megszemélyesítés, amelytõl tartózkodni kellene. A diskurzus lelkifurdalásáról vagy érintettségérõl beszélni minimum metaforikus. Kicsit pontosabban fogalmazva a következõt lehetne mondani: az értelmezõi közösségek kérdése visszavonatkoztatható, visszavetíthetõ arra a diskurzusra magára, amelyben megfogalmazódik. Amikor az irodalomelméleti diskurzusban az értelmezõi közösségrõl beszélünk, akkor “magunkról” beszélünk: arról, hogy a diskurzus, amelyben megszólalásunk elhangzik, (hogyan) artikulálódik. Ebben a dolgozatban éppen azt próbálom majd feszegetni, hogy vajon mennyiben tekinthetõ egységes “közösségnek” az “irodalomelmélet” “mûvelõinek” “közössége” (az idézõjelek megannyi kérdésre utalnak), s hogy az irodalomelmélet mûvelése mennyiben globális vagy univerzális, s mennyiben lokális tevékenység.

1. Mindenekelõtt tisztázandó az, hogy mit is értsünk ebben a kontextusban irodalomelméleten. Ha ezt a terminust nagyon komolyan vesszük, akkor egyáltalán nem világos, hogy mit találunk az irodalomelmélet címkéje alatt, s találunk-e valamit egyáltalán. Tapasztaljuk, hogy azok a szövegek, amelyeket a köznapi szóhasználatban irodalomelméleteknek nevezünk, nagyon gyakran egyáltalán nem irodalomelméletek; státuszuk viszont mégiscsak különbözik az értelmezésekétõl, úgy, hogy különbség mégis mindig tétetik, bármilyen gyanús alapokon is. Olyan szövegek sorolódnak ebbe a körbe, amelyek jócskán különböznek egymástól szerkezetükben és hagyományos besorolásukban; s az utóbbi évtizedben az irodalom, a filozófia és az irodalomelmélet körvonalai minduntalan elmosódni látszanak, s folytonos a késztetés, hogy valamelyes rendet teremtsenek e szövegek kategorizálásában.

Természetesen mégiscsak tudjuk, hogy mi az irodalomelmélet, hiszen kultúránkban megtanultuk, hogy nagyjából mit kell értenünk ezen a szón. Már az oktatás során is szerepet játszanak bizonyos elméleti megfontolások az irodalom-olvasás konvencióinak elsajátításában és tudatosításában: a diákokat felszólítják arra, hogy ne kizárólag az életrajzi adatokra hagyatkozzanak, hogy érveljenek, s ne pusztán érzéseiket fejezzék ki, hogy vegyenek figyelembe bizonyos grammatikai, stilisztikai és retorikai jellegzetességeket is (mind az értelmezett szövegben, mind saját értelmezésük megformálásakor). És éppúgy, ahogyan az értelmezés dícsérõleges kategória, az elméletnek és a filozófiának is magas a presztízse. Ha valaki elmélettel foglalkozik, az többet tud (és jobban tudja azt), mint azok a szegény ördögök, akik a gyakorlat mezején munkálkodnak. S mi több, az elmélet mintha mind idõbelileg, mind pedig az elismertség skáláján prioritást élvezne a gyakorlati értelmezéshez képest. Az elmélet tanulmányozása, tanítása vagy ûzése többnyire sokkalta lényegesebb, komolyabb és embert próbálóbb tevékenységnek tetszik, mint a szövegekkel való foglalatoskodás.

Mindezek a megközelítések azonban megmaradnak részint a szövegtípus problémájának a szintjén (hogy tudniillik elkülöníthetõ-e sajátos szövegként az irodalomelméleti szöveg, avagy egybeolvad, összekavarodik más szövegekkel), részint pedig a már “irodalomelméletiként” tételezett szövegek használatának szociológiájánál, jelesen a megítélés kérdésénél. Az elsõ kevésbé fontos, sõt, félrevezetõ szempont lehet, a második nagyon érdekes; de csakis már azután, hogy tisztáztuk: az irodalomelméleti tevékenység nem “a szövegeken mint olyanokon”, “magán a szövegen” múlik, hanem sajátosan kezelt szövegegyüttesrõl és sajátos társadalmi részvételrõl van szó, amelyet bízvást illethetünk a diskurzus szóval.

Ha meg kellene válaszolni azt a kérdést, hogy történetileg hogyan határolnánk be az irodalomelméletet; hová tennénk a kezdetét (ha a végr┼�l nem is kell még beszélnünk, bár ki tudja?), hamarosan csapdába kerülhetünk. Ha azt válaszoljuk, hogy az irodalom mai értelemben vett intézményének megjelenése el┼�tt aligha lehetett olyan irodalomelmélet, amelyet ma is ekként olvashatunk; tehát minden bizonnyal a reneszánsz körül kell keresni az elmélet els┼� megjelenését. Bár számos érv szólna amellett is, hogy a romantika korszakát jelöljük meg efféle pontként, mégsem szívesen tekintenénk a romantika el┼�tti elméleti reflexiókat afféle véletlenszer┼▒, esetleges, elhanyagolható fejleményeknek. Csakhogy nyilvánvaló, hogy számos el┼�feltevést kellene tisztáznunk ahhoz, hogy belemenjünk efféle történeti kérdésekbe. Aristoteles nyugodtan olvasható irodalomelméletként, ahogyan az ókor és a középkor számos más szerz┼�je is; az egészen más kérdés, hogy a korban hogyan olvasták ┼�ket (s megint más, hogy minek voltak szánva). Szövegek vannak (ha vannak), és (f┼�leg!) elméleti diskurzus van, amely magával görget, bekebelez, elméletként tesz hozzáférhet┼�vé és elméletként olvas bizonyos szövegeket. Olyan, hogy elmélet – nincs. Elméletként olvasunk bizonyos szövegeket, ekként értelmezzük ┼�ket, ekként hagyományozzuk ┼�ket.

2. Az irodalomelmélet diskurzusként történõ meghatározása azonban rögtön megköveteli éppen a történeti és társadalmi szituálást. Az elõbbitõl most eltekintve, csak egy-két ideillõ szót az irodalomelméleti diskurzus társadalmi elhelyezkedésérõl. Az irodalomelméleti diskurzus résztvevõi természetesen azt mímelik, hogy tudományos diskurzusban vesznek részt: az úgynevezett irodalomelméleti szövegek olvasásától azt reméljük, hogy olyan megállapításokat találunk majd bennük, amelyek bármely olyan korra, nemzetre vagy területre, bármely meghatározott szövegre alkalmazhatók lesznek majd, amit csak tanulmányozunk. Azért van szükségünk elméletre, mert azt reméljük tõle, hogy vizsgálódásunk számára keretet fog nyújtani; elõírja majd okfejtésünk logikáját, azokat a módszereket, amelyekhez legitim módon fordulhatunk, s azokat a konklúziókat amelyekre elfogadható módon juthatunk. Azt reméljük, hogy az elmélet túl van idõn és téren, hogy olyan logikát és módszert közvetít, amely túlhalad a kultúrákon. Soha nem beszélünk spanyol, amerikai vagy magyar irodalomelméletrõl; csak azt mondjuk, hogy irodalomelmélet Spanyolországban, Amerikában vagy Magyarországon. Az irodalomelmélet minden egyes irodalomértelmezés sarokkövének számít.

Másrészt az irodalomelméleti diskurzus gyakorta más diskurzusok (az értelmezõ, a kritikai, a gyakorlati irodalmi diskurzusok) anya- vagy apa-diskurzusának tekintõdik. Jó példa lehet e helyen a dekonstrukció. Több mint tizenöt évvel ezelõtt Jonathan Culler írta le a dekonstrukció “atyáinak” és “követõinek” helyzetét; eszerint azokat, akik a dekonstrukció autoritatív, tekintélyes, megalapozóinak nyomában dolgoznak, minduntalan az a vád éri, hogy elkerülhetetlenül eltorzítják, feloldják vagy egyszerûen csak utánozzák az eredeti szövegek legbensejében megbúvó eszméket. Culler ezzel szemben azzal érvel, hogy a dekonstrukció éppen a központ/periféria dichotómiát s ezzel együtt az originalitás, eredetiség, forrás, származás fogalmát szeretné megkerülni, kijátszani, lebontani. Így azután azok a bírálatok, amelyek az eredetit szeretnék védelmezi ismétléseikkel, utánzásaikkal vagy eltorzításaikkal szemben, egyértelmûen ellentmondanak éppen a dekonstrukció elgondolásainak.

Ha a dekonstrukció kétségbe vonja az úgynevezett elmélet elsõbbségét (vagy magasabbrendûségét, vagy központi szerepét) az úgynevezett gyakorlathoz (az értelmezéshez) képest, sõt még ezt a kettõsséget magát is megkérdõjelezi, akkor ezt a gondolatmenetet talán más elméletekre és gyakorlatokra is kiterjeszthetjük. Miért is tekintenénk bármely iskola elméletét úgy, mint ami az elsõ, elsõdleges, eredeti és döntõ megfogalmazása annak, amit az iskola az irodalomról, a befogadásról, az irodalmi mû szerkezetérõl (és így tovább) gondol? Tényleg az elmélet volna az, ami számunkra az irodalom természetérõl, folyamatairól és kontextusairól a legalaposabb és legkidolgozottabb ismereteket adhatja? Nem illetheti-e kétely azt, hogy az elméletnek mint központi és mag-szerû dolognak, mint gyökérnek vagy eredetnek a felfogása megfelelõ volna?

Az irodalomelméleti diskurzus e két fontos vonása tehát a tudományos diskurzusra visszavezethetõ (avagy azt imitáló, annak szerkezetét átvevõ) univerzalitás, valamint a (gyakorlattal szembeni) elsõdlegesség eszméje. Míg az utóbbit sikerrel vonta kétségbe a dekonstrukció, addig az elõbbi érintetlennek tetszik az alapos kritikai megvitatástól. Az, hogy az elmélet maga is korlátozott, helyi jelentõségû, esetleg éppen értelmezõi közösségekhez kötött volna, nem különösebben elterjedt vélekedés. Holott három érv is volna arra, hogy felülvizsgálatra kerüljön az irodalomelméleti diskurzus univerzalitásának igénye. Az elméleti diskurzus univerzalitásának eszméje három területen kezdhetõ ki. Elõször is, “a vélemények klímája” mostanában éppen kedvezne annak, hogy a globalitás eszméje helyett a lokalitásé kerüljön a középpontba. Közhely, hogy a “nagy elbeszélések” kora lejárt, s hogy az egyetemlegesen érvényes tudományos módszertannal kapcsolatban régóta számos kétely fogalmazódik meg. Másodszor, számolnunk kell azzal, hogy az irodalomelméleti diskurzus maga is nyelvhez kötött; ahogyan a hermeneutikai tapasztalat közege a nyelv, a hermeneutikai tapasztalat megbeszéléséé is az. Nem arról van szó, hogy a nyelvi határok átjárhatatlanok volnának, de megvannak: észre kell vennünk, hogy ott vannak, s hogy átlépjük õket, hogy fordítást végzünk, ahol az ekvivalencia mindig csak látszólagos lehet. Harmadszor: amikor az irodalomelméleti diskurzus olyan kérdéseket tesz föl, amelyek az irodalmi folyamatok társadalmi mûködését érintik, amikor tehát azzal a társadalommal kell a maga módján számot vetnie, amelyben maga is funkcionál (s ez nem afféle marginális, “szûken szakmai” feladat, hanem nagyon is mindennapos), akkor elkerülhetetlen, hogy ne pusztán megfigyelõje legyen az ideológiának, hanem maga is “már mindig” átitatódott az ideológiákkal. Ahogyan artikulálja a körülötte levõ (az irodalomelméleti diskurzust környezõ) világot, az már maga is valamely (ha tetszik, ideologikus) nézõponttól függ, ennyiben korlátozott és ideiglenes.

A következõkben az utóbbi két megfontolásról ejtünk néhány szót: tehát a nyelviségrõl és az ideologikusságról.

3. A nyelvhez kötöttség két példája az etimologizálás és a szójáték.

Az irodalomelméleti diskurzusban a megnevezés sosem semleges: nem a “tudományos” terminológia “tiszta” szavait, hanem történetileg terhelt, jelentéseket mozgósító szavakat használunk. Segít-e valamit, ha etimologizálunk? Számít-e, ha visszavezetjük a szót rég elfelejtett, eltemetett jelentéseihez, ha megkeressük az “eredeti” értelmet, ha a szó családját kutatjuk – megvilágítja-e ez azt a helyzetet, amelyben a szó ma megjelenik? A politikusoktól a filozófusokig, az ügyvédektõl az irodalomelmélet mûvelõiig elterjedt nézet, hogy ha a használt szó mellé etimológiai útmutatást is adunk, akkor a szó sokat visszanyer elsüllyedt jelentéseibõl és konnotációiból: úgy tér vissza, hogy ezek a jelentõségek gazdagítják és megerõsítik. Úgy is lehet vélekedni, hogy az etimologizálás rávilágít a jelenlegi jelentésre, könnyebben megragadhatóvá, esetleg egyértelmûvé teszi. Mások viszont úgy érvelnek, hogy az etimologizálás számos érdekes mellékjelentést hoz a felszínre, gyümölcsözõ spekulációknak nyit teret, és kapcsolódó fogalmak egész hálóját tárja föl.

Lehetünk szkeptikusak az efféle álláspontokkal kapcsolatban, mindenesetre ezek maguk is kétségbe vonják, minthogy kölcsönösen ki is zárják egymást. Vagy forduljunk-. (vissza) a (természet)tudományok jól bevált kritériumaihoz, és ragaszkodjunk-e a rögzített, kvázi-terminus-jellegû szavakhoz, amelyeknek jelentése változ(tat)hatatlan, és amelyeknek semmiféle kapcsolatuk nincsen mindennapi nyelv-béli homonímáikhoz? Nem volna-e ez kissé túlhaladott álláspont, éppen a humán tudományok területén? S tényleg nyernénk-e vele? Két választásunk lehet, attól függõen, hogy mit gondolunk a tudományról, tudományosságról, tudományos diskurzusról. Vagy visszautasítjuk az etimologizálást mint metateoretikus tevékenységet (míg persze megõrizhetjük az õt megilletõ helyet a nyelvészetben vagy az eszmetörténetben), vagy pedig elfogadjuk mint a fogalomelemzés legitim módszerét. Az elõbbi álláspont ahhoz a nézethez kötõdik, hogy a tudományban használt (!) nyelvnek semmi köze az elemzés tárgyához, s különösen ha olyan összetett és kifinomult dologgal foglalkozunk, mint amilyen az irodalom, nincs értelme magukon az elméleti fogalmakon (azok nyelvi megalkotottságán vagy történetén) tépelõdni, sõt az efféle spekuláció kifejezetten félrevezetõ lehet. Az egyik szó éppoly jó, mint a másik. Történetük kívül esik az irodalomelmélet voltaképpeni hatókörén (és kívül is kell tartani). Az utóbbi álláspont azt sugallja, hogy az irodalommal való foglalatoskodás annak része, amit Schmidt irodalom-rendszernek nevez, közvetítõ, meggyõzõ funkciója van, részvétel az irodalmi kommunikációban, s így nem szabadulhat ,meg a retorikától, sõt, olykor a lehetõ legközelebb kell kerülnie saját tárgyához. Az elõbbi álláspont szerint az irodalomelméletnek az egyetemlegességre kell törnie; az utóbbi szerint ez hiú törekvés. Ezek az álláspontok talán végletesek, és biztos, hogy számtalan árnyalat létezik.

Túlságosan is kézenfekvõ példa volna Derrida differanciája, amely magyarra nyilvánvalóan nem ültethetõ át hosszas magyarázatok nélkül; angolul (s az újlatin nyelveken) még talán érthetõ, de ezek a nyelvek elenyészõ kisebbségben vannak a világon beszélt nyelvek között. Vagy példaként hozhatnánk Thomas Docherty kiváló könyvének bevezetõjét, ahol a szerzõ úgy vezeti be a tekintély/autoritás/szerzõség és az olvasás kategóriáit, hogy az olvasás (reading) szó óangol, középangol stb. jelentésváltozásait veszi szemügyre. Az angol olvasás vajon más, mint a magyar, a hindi, a szuahéli? Nyilván igen. Nyilván nem. Nagy kérdés, hogy segít-e, számít-e ennek az (állítólag) kultúrákon átívelõ tevékenységnek a megközelítésében a nagyon is nyelvhez és kultúrához kötött magyarázat.

A differancia nemcsak visszavezet az etimológiához, hanem egyúttal szójáték is. A dekonstrukció csak nyilvánvalóvá, feltûnõvé teszi, s nem egyszer tematizálja azt, ami sokszor (ha nem “mindig is”) jelen volt a fõként filozófiai diskurzusokban: a többjelentésû, a félreértést kihívó, az asszociációkat elõcsalogató szavakat és megfogalmazásokat. Ha az etimológia még legitim eljárásnak álcázhatja magát, s körül van bástyázva a nyelvészet, filológia, gondolkodástörténet úgynevezett “tényeivel”, akkor a szójáték nyíltan vállalja a botrányt. Olyan területrõl kerül a (“tudományos”) diskurzusba, amely maga a tudománytalanság, a mindennapiság, az irracionalitás.

A szójáték olyan kellemetlen tényezõ, amelyet ki kell rekeszteni a “komoly” diskurzusból, nyelvi anomália, amelyet a gyermeki, a játékos, az irodalmi birodalmába való visszaszorítással kell ellenõrzés alatt tartani.

Ha az irodalmi területérõl az irodalomról szóló diskurzus területére téved a szójáték, akkor határt sért. A szójáték áttöri a részvétel és a megfigyelés közötti falat. Olyasmit visz az irodalomelméleti diskurzusba, ami csak az irodalom mezején engedélyezett. Összemossa a diskurzusokat. Vannak ezért kritikusok, akik kifejezetten veszedelmesnek tartják ezt a jelenséget. Stein Haughom Olsen szerint például káros az irodalom és a kritika közötti határok megsértése, ilyenkor a kritika a szójátékon és a retorikai tetszésen fog múlni, s így aztán

... nincs többé mérce a kritikai érvelésben, s nincs más kritériuma a jó érvnek, mint a tetszésre és a meggyõzésre való képesség.

Ebbõl pedig az következik, hogy

a kritika elméleti koncepciója nem pusztán normatív, hanem forradalmi. Nem a jelen gyakorlat magyarázatát tûzi ki célul, hanem megváltoztatását. Az igazi kérdés, amelyet ez a koncepció felvet, ezért nem elméleti, hanem politikai.

Hogy a szójáték az irodalomelméleti diskurzusban nemcsak afféle színezõ elem, hanem komolyabb jelentõsége van, azt a másik oldalon állók is megerõsítik:

A szójátéknak azért van ekkora hatalma, mert aláaknázza azt az alapzatot, amelyen a nyelv kommunikatív hatékonyságáról alkotott elképzeléseink nyugszanak: Saussure megfogalmazásában, hogy minden jelölõnek megfelel egy tõle elválaszthatatlan jelölt, s a kettõ egymástól kölcsönösen annyira függ, mint egy papírlap két oldala. Amennyiben a – természetes vagy mesterséges – nyelv nem tudja összehozni az egyedi jelölõt az egyedi jelentettel, akkor állítólag nyelvként is kudarcot vall. A szójáték lehetõsége esendõségünk jegye – úgy tetszik, nyelvünket, mint létünk minden más aspektusát is, megérinti a tökéletlenség.

A szójáték tehát kérdésessé teszi a használt (“tudományos”) nyelv tisztaságát, a diskurzus-területek elhatárolását, a mércét, a komolyságot – sõt, magát a módszert is. A szójáték egyedi, alkalmi, nem általánosítható, és nem követhetõ: nem módszeres, nem rendszeres. Ráadásul bezár egy nyelvbe, mert fordíthatatlan. Nem tör univerzalitásra, sõt, kizárja (legtöbbször) már a másik nyelvet is.

Lehet azt mondani, hogy csak újabb fejleményrõl, s az idõben sem elõre, sem hátra nem vonható le belõle következtetés: nem volt mindig így, s nem is lesz. (“Múló divat”.) Csakhogy a kérdés az, nem a nyelvnek (az irodalomelméleti diskurzus nyelvének is) inherens sajátosságáról van-e szó. (Ez ellen joggal berzenkedhetünk.) Vagy: nem olyan jelenségrõl van-e szó, amely bár véletlenszerûen, alkalmilag, talán tudattalanul, semmiképpen sem programatikusan, mégis: sokszor áthatotta az irodalomelmélet diskurzusát? Amely mindig is lehetetlenné tette (de legalábbis nehezítette) az univerzalitás igényének érvényre juttatását?

Az ígért két példa mellett itt van, ráadásként, egy harmadik. Az irodalomelméleti diskurzus nyelvhez-kötöttsége csakúgy, mint kultúrába-ágyazottsága, az irodalmi és az irodalomelméleti közötti folytonos határátlépése megnyilvánulhat abban is, amit az irodalomelméleti diskurzus intertextualitásának nevezhetünk. Michal Glowinski például azon töpreng, vajon az intertextuális mozzanatok (“túlzott”) használata nem vezet-e a kritika felbomlasztásához. Végkövetkeztetése mégis az, hogy

Az intertextualitás itt nem válik a metatextualitás ellentétévé, épp ellenkezõleg, minthogy két (vagy több) nyelv dialógusára épül, magába szívja a metatextualitás elemeit, és ennek következményeképpen megõrzõdnek az alapvetõ kritikai funkciók.

Az az etimologizálásban, a szójátékban és az intertextualitásban közös vonás a viszonylagosság: a terminus jelentése idõtõl és tértõl függõen alakul, a kontextusok változása megmutatja a szó elmozduló jelentését, a szöveg más szövegekhez képest új jelentésekkel telítõdik. Amikor az irodalomelméleti diskurzus ezekre hagyatkozik, akkor (még ha “beszélõi” nem is tudatosítják ezt) lemond az örökérvényûségrõl, a módszerességrõl, az egyetemességrõl. Megmutatja, hogy attól a nyelvtõl függ, amelyet használ, s nem is akarja ezt a függést felszámolni.

6. Amikor olyan irodalomelméleti kérdések fogalmazódnak meg, amelyek az irodalom társadalmi beágyazottságát, a hatalmi és alárendeltségi viszonyokat, a befogadás és az alkotás történeti-társadalmi meghatározottságát érintik, akkor válik egészen kézzelfoghatóvá, hogy maga az irodalomelméleti diskurzus is részese annak, amirõl “beszél”. Ekkor válik egyértelmûvé, hogy a “részvétel” és a “vizsgálat” (vagy “megfigyelés”) különválasztása csakis (jóindulattal:) mesterséges, ideiglenes, feltételes és hipotetikus lehet, vagy (rosszindulattal:) hamis és félrevezetõ. S. J. Schmidt empirikus irodalomtudományában a tudományos tevékenység élesen elválik a rendszer játékaiban való puszta részvételtõl (s implicit módon ez utóbbi ezért valamelyest alacsonyabb pozícióba kerül). Schmidt felfogása szerint világos különbséget kell tenni a diskurzusok univerzuma között, s nem kell “felemelni” az egyiket a másikhoz: az elméleti vagy tudományos diskurzus nem vegyítendõ össze a gyakorlati vagy résztvevõ vagy értelmezõ diskurzussal, az irodalom rendszerét meg kell különböztetni az irodalom tanulmányozásának rendszerétõl, hiszen ez utóbbi az irodalomtudomány (Literaturwissenschaft) része. Így a szerepek egyfajta demokratikus és axiológiailag semleges újrafelosztása játszódik le: az elméletmentes olvasás és értelmezés öröme, élvezete, erotikus jellege kap hangsúlyt, s ekként kirekesztõdik az okoskodás, a logikus érvelés, az okfejtés – röviden: a tudományos diskurzus területérõl. Csakhogy az irodalmi élet gyakorlata (az irodalom-rendszeré, ahogyan Schmidt nevezi) és az irodalomelmélet mezeje nem függetleníthetõ egymástól. Nem csak arról van szó, hogy az irodalmi mûvek számos esetben befolyásolják az irodalomelmélet-alkotást, az irodalomelmélet mûvelését, hanem arról is, hogy az irodalmi mûvek értelmezése számos ötletet adhat az irodalomelméletnek magának is, sõt, bizonyos esetekben éppen az irodalmi mûértelmezés az elméletek kialakulásának bölcsõje. Másfelõl az elméletek több csatornán keresztül is visszakapcsolódnak az irodalmi életbe: az oktatást csakúgy, mint a kánonalkotást át- meg áthatják bizonyos elméleti megfontolások (amelyek viszont nem függetlenek az ideológiai vagy akár politikai megfontolásoktól).

Ez azonban csak a probléma egyik része – vagyis inkább egyik megfogalmazása, ahogyan azt az empirikus irodalomtudomány kínálja.

Lássunk néhány kurrens témát az irodalomelmélet mai terepérõl. A kultúrák különbségeit jól mutatja a következõ eset. A nyugati szakirodalom (s fõleg az amerikai) a 80-as és 90-es években tele volt a tudományos élet résztvevõinek meghatározó és nyomasztó tekintélyérõl és hatalmáról folytatott vitákkal, amelyekben megkérdõjelezhetetlen elõföltevés volt az, hogy az egyetemi élet nagyhatalmú urai döntõ befolyással bírnak az egész kulturális életre, de még az egyes értelmezõi stratégiák alakulására is. Ezzel összefüggésben ugyancsak komoly küzdelmek zajlottak a kánonok dolga körül, a kánon-változásokról, amelyeket bizonyos hatalommal bíró és befolyásos kultúra-irányító csoport põre érdekei motiválnak. A kánonok természetének vizsgálata kemény empirikus munkát igényel. Bizonyára ez a felismerés vezetett számos teoretikust és irodalomtörténészt – különösen az Egyesült Államokban – arra, hogy alaposan megvizsgálják azt, amit a kánonalakítás legnyilvánvalóbb intézményes manifesztációjának vélnek: az egyetemi tanterveket. Ha megnézzük azokat az írásokat (például az MLA CD-ROM bibliográfiájában), amelyeket az utóbbi évtizedben a kánon kérdésérõl közzétettek, világos, hogy az irodalmárok nagy része számára az egyetlen útja annak, hogy közel kerüljenek a kánon-probléma lényegéhez az, hogy tanterveket elemeznek. Ez azt is sugallja, hogy csak az egyetemet kell figyelembe venni (aligha találhatók írások a középiskolákról, nem is beszélve az általános iskolákról), éspedig a tanterv történetét és jelen állapotát; azokat a neveket és mûveket, amelyek megjelennek az óraleírásokban; és így tovább.

A kánon problémái gyakorta speciális amerikai problémák, amelyeket más kultúrákból érkezõk teljes mélységükben nem ismerhetnek (hiszen speciálisak), nem is szólva az európai elemzõk számára végképp kevéssé ismert ázsiai vagy afrikai kultúrák speciális problémáiról. Nagyon egyszerûen és tiszteletlenül fogalmazva: az amerikai megközelítés és anyaga annyira speciális, egyedi, partikuláris, hogy nevezhetnénk provinciálisnak vagy “etnikainak” vagy furcsa, de elhanyagolható kisebbséget reprezentálónak is. Ha az európai vagy ázsiai irodalmár megpróbálja az amerikai fogalmakat, terminusokat, megközelítési módokat alkalmazni saját kultúrájára, hamarosan beleveszhet az analógiák hiábavaló keresésébe, vagy, ami még rosszabb, egyszerûen utánozni kezdi a Nagy Amerikai Testvért.

Márpedig a kánon-változásnak ez a felfogása (vagy ez a jelensége) korántsem univerzális természetû. A világ számos szegletében bizonyára nagy óvatossággal és számos fenntartással kellene kezelni. Egyáltalán nem biztos, hogy azok a kategóriák, amelyekkel a modern nyugati társadalom szerkezete megnyugtatóan leírható (s amelyekkel ennélfogva a társadalomban mûködõ intézmények, így az irodalmi folyamatok is, ezekkel elég ésszerûen megközelíthetõk), bárhol és bármikor érvényesek volnának. Ha arra teszünk kísérletet, hogy e kategóriákat generalizáljuk (kissé ideologikusan terheltebb megfogalmazással: totalizáljuk), akkor nem teszünk mást, mint a lokálisat, a pillanatnyit állítjuk paradigmatikus esetnek. Ebben az értelemben az irodalomelméleti spekulációk (vagy meglátások, gondolatmenetek, felismerések stb.) nyelv- vagy kultúra-függõek; provinciálisak, ha úgy tetszik. Azok az irodalmárok, akik különbözõ kultúrákból érkeznek, rendkívül érdekes dolgokat közölhetnek ugyan egymással, de nem feltétlenül releváns vagy alkalmazható dolgokat. S vajon kell-e törekedni valamiféle univerzalitásra? Van-e ennek értelme, haszna, célja, perspektívája, egyáltalán: lehetõsége? S nem volna-e ez maga is univerzális követelmény, valamely idõtõl és tértõl független tudományelképzelés következménye?

Az a helyzet persze, hogy az irodalomtörténeti és irodalomelméleti terminusok maguk is átvételek, másolatok, ismétlések, csak épp vagy elhomályosult már az átvétel mozzanata, vagy éppen pozitív elõjelet kapott: ezzel emelõdik be a nemzeti irodalom a világirodalomba. Amirõl szó van, mindennapos jelenség. Ráadásul nagy kérdés, hogy megszabadulhatunk-e az univerzalizmustól; nem válunk-e rabjaivá a partikularitásnak, a nacionalizmusnak, nem zárkózunk-e be, nem saját beszûkültségünket iedologizáljuk-e meg.

S mi a helyzet az értelmezõi közösségek fogalmával? Az a mókás helyzet áll elõ, hogy maga az értelmezõi közösségek kategóriája is értelmezõi közösségek terméke. Ha valamennyire is jogos az az elképzelés, hogy az értelmezõi közösségbe való besorolás – az a tulajdonító tevékenység, amikor egy értelmezés helyét egy bizonyos értelmezõi közösségben rögzítjük vagy egy értelmezõi stratégiát egy bizonyos értelmezõi közösséggel hozunk kapcsolatba – maga is értelmezés, s ennélfogva ugyancsak értelmezõi közösség függvénye; ha tehát azt állíthatjuk, hogy az értelmezõi közösségeket más értelmezõi közösségek teremtik – akkor joggal vethetõ fel az a kérdés is, hogy egyáltalán az értelmezõi közösségek problémája nem valamely értelmezõi közösség(ek)tõl függ-e. Hogyan is állíthatnánk, hogy univerzális, tértõl és idõtõl független kérdésrõl volna szó? Ahogyan azt mondhatjuk, hogy annak megítélése: valamely értelmezés egy bizonyos értelmezõi közösség terméke-e (s hogy melyiké), maga a kategória – az értelmezõi közösségek kategóriája – sem örökérvényû és rögzített, hanem egy bizonyos értelmezõi közösségtõl, a jelenkori európai és amerikai irodalomelméleti diskurzus mûködésétõl függ. A sensus communis kategóriája akkor keletkezik (s különösen: akkor válik fontossá), amikor probléma lesz; a közízlés, az érthetõség, a közérthetõség, az értelmezés módjainak széttagolódása történetileg leírható (tehát: tagolt, nem örök, nem változatlan) problémák.

11.Canonized interpretations

Now I would like to concentrate on one or two tentative sentences of an older study of mine. I have tried to argue that a canon is not merely a set of texts but, rather, it is a range of socially preferred interpretations of some texts. That is, what is taken as canonical is a text along with its interpretation, and this interpretation is, accordingly, taken as a canonical one. As I argued, “canon can be regarded as an entrenched or even institutionalized variety of the interpretation which is canonical; what changes is a certain set of interpretive assumptions and, along with this change or perhaps as a consequence of it, there is a also change in the texts picked out as valuable, as apt subjects of analysis or education.”– If it is true, it can provide an explanation for the fact that new texts can be incorporated into the canon, that is, a canon is not a fixed set of texts but a set which can be extended, enriched, modified.

My hypothesis, then, is that a text is part of the canon together with its interpretation which will make it possible that other texts, in some way or another resembling to that text, can be interpreted in a much more smooth way, and thus incorporated into the canon.

A very clear example could be the case of patriotic poetry of the nineteenth century. The followers of this trend will have much more chance to be parts of the canon than those ignoring or turning against it. This maybe one of the reasons of epigonism. However, the issue must be much more complicated than that. First of all, even if texts become canonical together with their interpretation, it is not just any canonical text which will generate a set of canonical interpretations. The interpretive tradition of Balzac will help in including minor Hungarian Realist writers into the canon, but not necessarily vice versa; we often read second rate poetry along the conventions of interpreting great, canonized poetry, however, it is not at all the case that we extend our interpretations of the second rate poetry to the canonized one. That is, maybe there are levels of canonicity, depending on the corresponding canonical interpretation.

Second, the history of canonical interpretive conventions is far from being the same history as that of canonical texts. Canonical interpretations (or canons of interpretation) may prove to be much more long lasting or conservative than the texts themselves they have been originally attached to. It well may be that some texts are not read any more when their interpretations still influence the interpretations of some later texts. Maybe sometimes there is an asymmetry of this kind. Then, it is a question what makes interpretations survive while their corresponding texts fade away.

Third, it is a question what powers are behind these canonical interpretations backing and changing them. Whereas we may have some hope to find the particular critics, interpreters and institutions which are responsible for the canonization of the particular canonical texts, perhaps it is a more difficult endeavour to trace back the formation of a canonical interpretation. In my earlier paper I have indicated that some texts may preserve their canonical position even if their interpretation is somewhat modified. However, it is a question why and when some canonical interpretations, canonized strategies of interpretation will preserve their status.

Canonical interpretations could be conceived of as higher or even as great narratives (to refer to Lyotard’s term). They tell the way an encounter between the text and the reader should take place. A canonical interpretation is a general scenario which has particular forms in a given case. Now let me give you some examples. I will try to give a sketch of two canonized interpretations, or, rather, two patterns of canonized interpretations. Either of them is connected to any specific literary text; rather, both are related to a set of texts. The first example is the canonical reception of Realist narratives; the second is the canonical position of folk art in “high” literature.

In the case of the Realist novel, the canonical interpretation (that is, the narrative describing or rather prescribing the text/reader relation) goes something like this: the uninformed reader turns to the text in order to gain information about the society (or the history of the society), to have an insight into the hidden motives of the actors of the society (or history). The text, being a good, reliable, canonical Realist text, fulfils these expectations, and, moreover, it offers some patterns of behavior or role models. The role of the reader is to look through the text, the text is transparent for the reader. It can either be exhausted, or at least its pool of meanings is rather restricted. It is, in Roland Barthes’s words, readable.

Think of the reception of Realist works in the second half of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century. Reflection of the real life, giving account of the social layers, and unmasking the hidden motives have long been the most important elements of the interpretation of Realist narratives. What counted as the cornerstones of interpretation, then, were denotative and ideological functions of the text (rather than, say, textual characteristics or intertextual relations). The novelists of the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century were praised because of their ability to show the true history or present of the society, because of their illustrative capacity, and because of their reliance on the facts and reality. This pattern is somewhat modified throughout the ages: Realist narrative was regarded as a modern chronicle, a reliable account of the present or the past, an essentially objective form of literature (as opposed to the subjectivity of lyrical poetry). Narrative literature is read, according to this interpretation, in order to have access to the facts of life, as well as to draw some ethical conclusions from the lives of the people depicted in the narrative. A narrative then can be included into the (Realist) canon if and only if it can be read/interpreted along these lines, if it complies with the canonized interpretations of the Realist narrative.

Later, in the post-war Hungarian literary history writing for instance, Realism became a magic label which served as a tool of legitimating Romantic or Classicist or whatever earlier text. Once the traits (or traces) of Realism could be detected in a literary work, it deserved its position in the canon. Following Engels’s remarks on Balzac, Realists were regarded as inherently and perhaps unconsciously revolutionaries. On the other hand, new works had to be read as Realist ones in order to be in accordance with the ruling canon. There has also been a tendency that modern novels, those of the twenties or the sixties, should be subsumed under the label of Realism: that is, partly at least, this move was motivated by highly ideological, almost political considerations. If the literary historians, the people who are in charge of the defence and maintenance of the canon, wish to include outstanding works which otherwise would be left out, a label like Realism is pretty comfortable.

This picture may well seem to be a caricature, and I must admit that it is highly superficial and sketchy. The point is that the vulnerability or fallibility of a great narrative like this, the historically transitory character of a canonical interpretation becomes tangible only when a competing interpretation emerges. For instance, the most canonical figure of Realist narrative, Balzac, whose interpretation seemed to govern the guidelines of all other interpretations of the Realist novel, was radically reinterpreted by Roland Barthes in his S/Z. One of the consequences of this reinterpretation was that although Realism preserved its canonical position, the whole scenario of the desired interpretation was rewritten. Realist novel is not transparent any more, it has subtle textual structure, and its representational nature is not at all the most important one. Consequently, the structure of the canon is modified: perhaps some of the readable works will drop out, whereas some works (earlier regarded as traditional Realist works) will prove to be writable.

Let me turn to my second example. In the last two centuries, and especially in some East and Central European literatures, popular art became a major source of "high" or canonized literature. More specifically, as of the age of Romanticism (and perhaps earlier) the importance of folk song and folk tale in the literature became outstanding. That is, a specific interpretation of folk literature served as a point of reference for some influential writers. One of these interpretations, or rather, a general pattern of interpretation was to take folk literature as representing a counter-culture, as if folk songs or folk tales expressed, fundamentally and essentially, a gesture of resistance.

So what is the canonical interpretation corresponding to the poetry of popular roots? What is the scenario (or narrative) of the encounter of the text and its reader?

First of all, the reader must realize that what she or he faces has some intertextual relation to what he believes is popular poetry. It is thus presupposed that the reader has at his or her disposal a sort of repertoire of the popular culture: specific rhyme patterns, repetitions, parallelisms, meter, thematic structure, genre rules, and the like. The reader must interpret this presence as a hallmark of popularity. Moreover, he or she will suppose that since folk literature is, by its own, essentially, anti-totalitarian, subversive, even it has a revolutionary character, the text referring back to this source will also be, by its own nature, subversive.

Thus, for instance, not only one of the major Hungarian poets of the nineteenth century, Petofi became an emblematic figure of the harmony of poetry and revolutionary thought, but, following the scenario of his canonical interpretation, the literary reception of popular literature became an expression of progressive and patriotic attitude. A slight reference to folk poetry rang the bell of national resistance or solidarity with the poor.

This tradition of interpretation became canonical up to the twentieth century, maybe even until our days. Turning to folk literature and entering into all sorts of intertextual relations with it was perhaps not a sine qua non for canonicity, but it definitely made it easier for the text to be connected to the great tradition, and, thus, become part of the canon.

To take an early example, a great Hungarian poet, Endre Ady, in one of his poems used some lines taken from an old Hungarian folk song. The folk song, originally, was about a peacock, saying that it will fly up to the roof of the county council, and the poor prisoners will be freed. For Ady, it became a symbol of political freedom; in this interpretation (that is, in the poem which itself is an interpretation of the original subtext of the folk song), he followed the tradition of regarding the poor prisoner, the outlaw, even the bandit as an emblematic figure of freedom, something like cowboys for North Americans, and, moreover, regarding folk ballads and folk songs as the most genuine expressions of the people’s desire to live a free life. It is not accidental that this was one of the very few poems of Ady which became famous in Hungary in the arrangement for choir by Kodaly.

Now Ady was not at all a follower of the popularistic trend; he was a Modern poet, and this poem of his is more or less unique. There are very few references in his work to the folk poetry. Nevertheless, his poem, along with Kodaly’s choir work, has a solid place in the canon because it strengthens the canonical interpretation. Still, there may come another interpretation, a counter-canonical one, which of those who made wide use of folk poetry may lead to the consequence that this has much more structural, rhythmic or poetic character than ideological. Or there may be attempts to show that this vision of folk poetry can be called into question, that folk poetry is not always and not in itself subversive or anti-authoritarian. These reinterpretations would perhaps change, again, the canonical scene, although the main figures and main works would preserve their position.

Finally, it is worth while to reflect on the fact the most obvious examples of canonized interpretations are those of the nineteenth century and perhaps the Realism of the twentieth. That is, when one looks for well established and widely known conventions of reading, operations which enable new works to take their place among the canonical works, it is never Avant-garde or Modernism, not even the conventions of reading Medieval texts. So maybe there is a canonical hierarchy even among the scenarios or narratives of interpretation. There may be a canon of canonical interpretations, and some of these may probe to be more powerful than the others.

12. Literariness of Theory*

The title indicates a number of interesting approaches. One of them would certainly be to regard literature as a theoretical sort of product: either as texts which embody a number of theoretical ideas, or as a site of theory, inasmuch as reading is always theoretically loaded. Reading, which is a prerequisite of literature, is never innocent (or, as it is often said, it is never a first reading); furthermore, the reader, whatever naive he or she may be, always have some theories of what he or she is up to with his or her reading activity. It may be a bit far fetched to call these often subconscious, automatized, ideas a theory; any theoretician could easily reject such a use of the word. Still, there is a theoretical possibility to find theories underlying readings.

On the other hand, theories themselves can be regarded as literary texts: do not take this sentence too seriously, here I must make a number of qualifications. First of all, it is in clear in a number of cases (though not necessarily all of them) what counts as a literary text and what as a theoretical one. Usually, we have a rather firm set of conventions concerning the position of texts; we know what discourse we are involved in, we know the tacit rules of understanding, whatever they may be. Also, regarding theoretical texts as literary ones may have a number of motives: it may have its roots in simple ignorance of the traditions of reading that text; it also may be a consequence of a momentary mistake; it can be that the very point of the discourse in question tends to blur or deconstruct the distinction; or it may be a deliberate effort on the part of the interpreter (either as part of his or her irony, or as part of some demonstration) to show that just any text can be taken to be whatever one wishes to.

An example of the last motive could be Berel Lang’s ironic speculation on the reading of the telephone book, which is to suggest that this text is very close to what we would suppose to be a literary text. Other examples are many, from Nietzsche to Derrida, where the status of the discourse is either non-conventional, or it is exactly the status what is at stake, or where different reading conventions can function simultaneously.

Nevertheless, all I have said so far is bound to collapse or at least to be shaken. The very terms literature and theory are hitherto taken as something granted, as a sort of essential to one or another text, and it does not really help if we take them as characteristics of one or another discourse: the essentialist or fundamentalist nature of the concepts themselves will probably survive. And perhaps there is no way out of this situation: the best one can do is to admit (or pretend to accept) that there is some sort of boundary between these texts or discourses or activities, and continue the argumentation accordingly.

Do we read Umberto Eco’s or David Lodge’s novels as being full of theoretical allusions and even implications just because we happen to know that the biographical author is familiar, to say the least, with the theories in question? Or are they theoretical as they are, in themselves? What is Rousseau’s Émile? Is it philosophy (that is, theory), or a narrative? What is Borges, in a number of his short stories? Does the story of Pierre Ménard have serious and interesting theoretical implications - or is it our reading, the tradition of reading of Borges that makes him a quasi-theoretician? And what about Swift’s passage on the strange system of naming in Gulliver? It became, just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice, a favorite for the philosophers of language. Is it because it does contain something crucial about theory, or is it the history of their interpretation, the tradition of understanding Swift or Carroll that assigns to these texts or portions of text theoretical value? And what about the reflections on literature and aesthetics by Flaubert in Bouvart et Pécuchet? Are Heidegger’s poems part of his philosophy, or are they just literary works? What about the ars poetici of thousands of writers for thousands of years? I will leave these questions unanswered; all they serve is to indicate that we must face a terrible difficult business, with a number of dead ends.

It was almost twenty years ago that Elizabeth Bruss has published her Beautiful Theories, a seminal book concentrating to the theoretical/literary interface. Of course, I can neither substantially modify nor even to summarize the main theses of the book. All I can do is to add some minor contributions to the excellent insights of Bruss’s. As you will remember, her idea is that, I quote, “Following Derrida, we might say that “theory” is neither fact or fiction, neither the real not the imaginary, but establishes a point where such dichotomies break down and an apparently exhaustive taxonomy shows itself inadequate.” Consequently, instead of - or at least besides - asking the question of appropriateness or truth or validity of one theory or another, there is a possibility to concentrate on how the theory is fabricated, the way it is presented, the textual, tropical or generic nature of the theoretical text.

Without calling into question the extraordinary novelty of Bruss’s book, it must be noted that the idea itself is neither a brand new one nor is it unique. On the one hand, there is a genre tradition, that of the essay, which can traced back at least to the Romanticism or to Montaigne or perhaps even to Plato, that of the theory formed artistically; and the very texts that Bruss chooses for analysis are, so to speak, in the tradition of the essay: for instance, Susan Sontag or Roland Barthes or Harold Bloom undoubtedly fall within this tradition. In some cases this tradition is even contaminated with the conventions of scholarly journalism (without any negative overtone of the word): Barthes’ Mythologies is a clear example. On the other hand, reading theoretical works as having at least a touch of literature was, by the time Bruss’s volume was published, a well known, though far from systematic, practice. In fact, Bruss himself refers to Culler’s arguments defending Lévi-Strauss as someone who made myths “interesting”, or to Derrida or to Hayden White, and it is exactly these ways of reading theories that trigger her own account. One could also add to her list the radical (and very interesting) reading of Austin by Shoshana Felman, which pictures the Oxford philosopher of language as an ironic writer, as a parallel of Moliere.

In this paper, apart from listing all the difficulties we have to face and complaining about them, I would wish to forward two theses: one is which I will not elaborate upon, although I am sure it should be done (even if perhaps it cannot be done); and another, more simple one. The first thesis is that there may be a systematic review of how a theoretical text is formed in order to be taken as a more or less literary one; the second thesis is that we should turn to some extreme cases of theoretical/literary relation in order to have a better insight to the problem itself.

As I indicated, the first thesis is a programmatic one, rather than something completed: it well may be that one can single out some characteristic types of literalization (if that is a correct word) of literary theory. I must tell you in advance that I will not be able to do that job; still, there may be a well justified ambition to point out some literary characteristics that theoretical texts may have, to present a sort of list and then make a more or less systematic typology. The idea rests on the disqualified concept of the Russian Formalism of literariness (literaturnost’): that is, it may be supposed that certain characteristics of the text itself warrant a specific (literary) status of the text. Even though the hypothesis is admittedly false, that would not cause the main problem: it is always very interesting to review the consequences of a misconceived starting point. But the closer one gets to these issues, the less transparent they seem to be (as in the most cases it used to happen). For instance, Hayden White’s tropical analysis of the of the narrative, including the historical narrative, is absolutely convincing; so that the inherent and necessarily metaphorical nature of literary theoretical texts could be taken as one of the aspects of “literariness”, and should be added to our list. Also, one should take into account that literary history is inevitably history, story, with characters, motives, places, time and plot, perhaps climax and anti-climax. Literary history is telling a story of how literature emerged, developed and perhaps disappeared: a typical story-telling situation.

However, it remains a question how far and what specific texts are regarded as theoretical and/or historical: we often face histories which are generally classified as a non-literary texts, but some histories, such as Tacitus, Livius or Gibbon are traditionally regarded as pieces of literature. Also, it is a question whether theoretical texts should undergo a narrative analysis. The process of reading or reception of the literary work is, of course, a temporal phenomenon, and temporality would indicate the presence of at least a kernel of the narrative. But what about translation, then? It also has its temporal aspects, as well as interpretation itself: does it really mean that speaking about literary theory whatsoever we must always think in terms of narrative?

Theoretically, we could take into account several levels of literariness (a misleading concept, I repeat). One could look for the metaphors of the text, the repetitions on different levels, the parallelisms and the chiastic or mirror structures; the rhythm of the sentences (length, punctuation, repetition of sentence structure); the position of the persona behind the text (singular or plural, apostrophe, whether it turns to the reader or not, etc.); we could look for the traces of certain genres in theoretical texts, starting from drama (dialog, as in Plato or Diderot) to lyrical poetry (as in Barthes or perhaps Heidegger) to narrative (as in literary histories).

Of course, one can never find the gist of literariness: still, there may be a more or less comfortable list of what “literary means” (priyom) are used by theoretical texts even when they clearly remain on the side of theory. Moreover, a list like this list should be done - even if it cannot be made, as I have indicated: because the very idea of describing a text, from a neutral, innocent, external point of view seems to be doomed to failure. Just as we can never establish the “literariness” of a literary text, just because we are always in a communicative situation with that text which preforms our conception of that text, the same applies to any other text. All we can perhaps do is to give account of our own conventions.

Nevertheless, it is a common experience of us all that some theoretical texts differ from some other ones. Let me take two examples, two ends of the range, so to speak: one from the sixties, another from the nineties. The first is Roland Barthes’s Systeme de la Mode, and the other is Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s first chapter of his Loose Canons. Now Barthes is, admittedly, one of those theoreticians who always explore and transgress the boundaries, if any, between literary and theoretical discourse. He is generally supposed to be, and rightly, I think, a full-fledged writer in the same time as a real, genuine theoretician. This image of Barthes is much fainter when one turns to his so-called Structuralist works: the Éléments de la sémiologie, for instance, is never praised for its literary potentials. It is not by chance that Bruss uses this work only as a meta-text in her book, illuminating Barthes’s conception of writing. Similarly, she refers only once to the Systeme de la Mode. Now if you read that rather early work carefully, you will find, on some quite hidden points, very strange stylistic lapses (are they lapses?), some fractions or eruptions: there are, for instance, evocations of the genre of the ode on some points, highly poetized and rhetorized paragraphs, asides and repetitions. These may be taken simply as slips of the tongue, or as proofs of Barthes’ early attraction to literary way of writing. But they may also raise the suspicions whether the rest of the book is not rhetorized in a way or another: whether the very strict technical descriptions and argumentations are not, in themselves, parodic or at least parts of a literary project. Seen from this angle, it may become apparent that Barthes’ sentences are extremely long, and that he just loves colons and semi-colons, by which he binds together several long and sarmentose sentences. He uses catalogues, the text is full of aphorisms, and the terms written with capitals dangerously resemble to the characters of a story.

We find a real story on the other extreme (or at least the other pole of the range), which would be Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s short story, Canon Confidential: A Sam Slide Caper. As some of you will remember, it is a short detective story, with overt intertextual references to Raymond Chandler and written completely complying to the conventions of what Chandler’s prose has established, where the fist person singular narrator, a private investigator, tries to find out what goes on in the tricky canon business, and, in the end (like sometimes in Chandler’s stories) he himself becomes very much involved in the dirty practices of the canon people. This excellent piece can be taken as a reflection on the status, nature and history of canon formation: it is, then, a theoretical work. But is it not a theoretical work simply because we know that Gates is in the tricky literary theory business? The setting, some characters, the story itself are clearly fictive; the narrator is evidently different from what we believe Henry Louis Gates Jr. would be. (By the way, is Barthes’ narrator identical with the biographical Roland Barthes? Is it theoretically possible? And if not, is it not another sign of the inherent literariness - or at least fictitiousness – of any theory, and, to be sure, of any writing?)

We could perhaps take Gates’s funny story as nothing more than a funny story, a pastime entertainment of an academic, an atelier text written in order to make the professionals laugh and to make other professionals ridiculous. But is it not because we have some prejudices about what a serious theoretician should do? And if so, how can we take theoretically seriously texts which have been written by serious writers but definitely not theoreticians?

Let me finish by some university experiences of mine. Last year in Santiago de Compostela, Djelal Kadir has asked us to have seminars or classes about the topic of the would-be conference, Literatures of Theory, and he even sent us later the project of his own course. Now we are having this conference and I must confess that we in Pécs did not have any seminar with that title or with that topic. However, the issue seems to be a hot one. Although we did not have Literatures of Theory course proper, our students have repeatedly raised issues directly related to this problem. Just to quote some examples: One of our students has written a paper on the philosophical aspects of the poetry an outstanding contemporary Hungarian poet. Another chose to analyze a turn of the century Hungarian Positivistic literary history (which was very influential, even decades after its publication) to show that not only is it full of metaphors and other tropes but it also can be read as a (literary) narrative. A favorite topic of a third student of ours was the anecdotes of the New Historicist Greenblatt, which can be taken part and parcel of Greenblatt’s theory as well as an element of literary communication. There was a very interesting paper commenting on the impossible debate between Gadamer and Derrida, and emphatically exploring the different stances that these two take towards writing, which has its consequences in the literary nature of Derrida’s texts versus theoretical nature of those of Gadamer. And in other courses the literary nature of theoretical texts has repeatedly been addressed.

Speaking of university education, to emphasize the literary nature of theoretical texts may have some curious side-effects. Sometimes it leads the students just to give up any argumentation or logic whatsoever (even if we know that argumentation and logic is highly questionable in literary studies), and they choose to imitate the literary text in question or to write a literary paraphrase or to get as close to the literary discourse as they can. It is, of course, a pretty common critical practice, literary critics very often try to evoke the literary works they talk about by this sort of literary intertextuality as Michal Glowinski labeled it. Subjective accounts of emotions or streams of thought provoked by the literary text is a natural consequence of the literary theoretical thinking of our age. Also there may be a sort of despair, a feel of loss of the firm basis of distinction between discourses: it is often asked whether this or that type of text still counts as literary theoretical proper, if it is legitimate to play aro2und literary texts or to let the free associations flow instead of strictly analyzing works of art, in a properly controlled way, pursuing, in this sense, normal, traditional literary studies. Too much freedom may sometimes frighten the uninitiated. And perhaps not only them.

13. Practice

13.1. Do Contemporary Theories Help in the Practice of Interpretation?

Although I will have some theses in this paper, most of my statements are formulated in a "yes and no" manner. First, I do believe that literary interpretation and literary theory go hand in hand, that there are several interesting connections between them, and that most theories have some theoretical implications just as most literary interpretations can be processed in a theoretical framework. Still, I will argue that their close and direct relation as well as their subordination or juxtaposition or coexistence is not at all beyond doubt. Second, I will argue that what we call theories of literature are quite often not theories at all; still, their status is clearly different from that of interpretation, so that a distinction is always made, on whatever suspicious grounds. Third, I do believe that pursuing literary theory is a very important activity, and, moreover, that theorizing is fun. However, I doubt if the vision of theory as central and kernel, as origin or root is a valid one.

My title requires a number of clarifications. Not to mention the word "contemporary", theory and interpretation are far from being evident; furthermore, the presupposition hidden behind the sentence is that theories are in a way or another connected to the practice of interpretation even if they do not help them.

First, then, let me reflect on the last element of this series, on interpretation as practice. We tend to call interpretation texts about texts: a pretty vague circumscription, and it would perhaps be a bit more precise if we formulated this in the following way: a text is taken as an interpretation of another text if it can be given an interpretation (wow!) so that this text will count as a text about another one, and, more specifically, if it refers to that text, describes it, evaluates it, or points out certain meanings that it alleges to be parts of that text. I am fully aware that this definition is not at all satisfactory, apart from being ugly and long. And, in fact, we really do not need any definition whatsoever. We will usually recognize an interpretation when we see one.

It does not mean that we could not circumscribe any conventions of literary interpretation. For instance, we could say that an interpretation should be about a certain text; that is, the receiver/reader of the interpretation should assign the function or act of reference to the interpretation. Or we could say that most interpretations have a moment of evaluation, besides description, that is, the reader will probably interpret certain expressions or words or rhetorical structures as acts of evaluation. Typically, these conventions are activated in some more or less institutionalized contexts. A piece of criticism, say, in a newspaper or in a literary magazine will be taken as an interpretation of the work indicated in the subtitle of the text since we have mastered the conventions of reading literary criticism; we will also interpret a scholarly study in a scholarly journal as an interpretation; however, we might be reluctant to call a parody or a transcription of a text an interpretation perhaps mainly because they do not fit into the system of genres or sub-genres we accept as those of interpretation.

In an even more institutionalized context, we encounter interpretations in the classroom -- either in oral or in written form. These interpretations can be taken as exercises, in Wittgenstein's sense, if you like: they are produced primarily as examples of a particular language game or system of rules, in order to comply with the university requirements, to demonstrate the ability on the part of the student to form an interpretation in accordance with the guidelines on which the instruction is based. That is, university students and even secondary school students are taught to make explicit their understanding of the literary texts in a way that corresponds to certain conventions. Moreover, some theoretical assumptions are made explicit during this process: students are asked not to rely exclusively on biographical data, to argue instead of to express their feelings, to take into consideration certain grammatical, stylistic and rhetorical characteristics.

Thus, the group of texts called interpretation comprises a number of texts with substantial differences in their genres, levels, the groups supporting or receiving them, etc. Even what we call critical practice is very much pluralistic in nature (we have professional, lay, educational, journalistic, occasional interpretations, and we have reception as unreflected, unmediated interpretation). And, we must add, the word interpretation is often used as an inherently honorific term. A school paper, for instance, which has no other ambition but to repeat the plot level of a certain narrative, is deprived of the honor of being an interpretation; what we call descriptions or descriptive analyses of, say, a poem, are often set in opposition with full fledged, genuine interpretations. Thus, interpretation in this strict sense will not be applied either to tacit understanding, or to texts appealing to some discredited conventions (such as retelling the plot or describing the meter of a poem).

Now, second, let's see theory. If we take this term very seriously, it is not at all clear what we find under the label of literary theory. Let me list some so-called theories of our field. We have Positivism and Geistesgeschichte, we have Formalism, Structuralism, and we have Deconstruction and New Historicism, Post-Colonial studies and Feminism. Whenever philosophers of science speak of theories, they have serious difficulties in finding a nest for literary theory, and, in general, for theories of the humanities. In Logical Positivism, the first systematic attempt to formulate the rules of scientific research, there is no place for any investigation of literature or of the arts. If literary studies can be taken as a science, or if it has the ambition to become a science, it either fails or there must be some particular rules and terms to satisfy the special needs of such a strange scientific enterprise.

Nevertheless, some theories of literature have got rather close to the idea of scientific theories, or at least they succeeded in imitating the structure of a scientific theory. Think of Positivism and Structuralism. In several respects, in most of their principles, they were absolutely opposed to each other; still, both aimed at approaching the status of science, both wished to have very clear and distinct rules, to define input and output data, and to have a transparent logic of processing them as well as inferring from descriptions to theoretical statements. However, Positivism was full of vague psychological speculations and obscure ideas of nationalism and spirit; and later Structuralism itself has challenged its own theoretical foundations. In the last decades, Hermeneutics established itself as a very special science, certainly not science in the Logical Positivist sense and perhaps not even in the sense of later philosophies of science; and several representatives of Deconstruction have repeatedly denied that Deconstruction should or would serve as a theory of any kind. Even if there are theories which tend to advertise themselves as theories, this term could be taken as the term philosophy in expressions like "the philosophy of this company" or "the philosophy of the government". No philosopher would ever admit that these are real philosophies; so would we admit that the literary theory of Feminism or Post-Colonial Studies is a real theory? I have no doubt that these trends will substantially contribute to our understanding of certain texts, even that they provide points of view that cannot be overlooked any more. But does it mean that they are theories?

Just as interpretation is a honorific term, philosophy and theory also have a very high prestige. If you deal with theory, you will certainly know more and better than those poor devils working in the field of practice. Moreover, theory seems to have a priority both temporally and on the scale of prestige over practical interpretation. Theory first. You will not possibly know what you are doing unless (or before) you have a theoretical background. Studying, teaching or pursuing theory is commonly regarded as something much more substantial, serious and demanding activity than dealing with texts. In this respect, literary interpretation is regarded as a more or less correct application of the theories developed by wise people, and has no more role than a pawn in the game.

A good example is Deconstruction. More than fifteen years go, Jonathan Culler has described the situation of the "fathers" and the "followers" of Deconstruction; according to this account, those working along the lines of the authoritative founders of Deconstruction would inevitably distort, dissolve or merely imitate the core ideas of the original texts. However, Culler argues, one of the main targets of Deconstruction is precisely the dichotomy of center/periphery, the notion of originality or source, etc. Thus, the criticism, which wishes to defend the original as opposed to its iterations, imitations or distortions, is based on principles, which clearly contradict to those of Deconstruction.

This is an interesting case, maybe we could draw some conclusions from it. If Deconstruction denies the primacy of so called theory to the so-called practice, or even it challenges this dichotomy altogether, maybe this idea can be extrapolated to other theories and practices as well. Why would we take the theory of Structuralism or Formalism or Positivism or any other school as the first, initial, original and decisive formulation of what this school think of literature, of reception, of the structure of the literary work, and so on? Is it really the theory, which offers us the most thorough and elaborate insight of the nature of literature, of its processes and contexts?

On the one hand, he answer is yes: in theoretical texts, we hope to find statements, which will apply to whatever age or nation or region, or particular text we study. We need theory because we hope it will give us the framework of our inquiry; it will prescribe the logic of our reasoning, the methods we can legitimately use, and the conclusions we can plausibly draw. We hope that theory is beyond time and space, it mediates a logic and a method which transcends cultures. We will never speak of Spanish or American or Hungarian literary theory: we will only say literary theory in Spain, in the USA or in Hungary. Literary theory is regarded as the cornerstone of each and every concrete literary interpretation.

On the other hand the Deconstructionist attempt at blending text, interpretation and theory reveals the relative nature of text types. Literary interpretations can and in fact do include theoretical moments; even literary texts themselves (if they do exist in themselves, which is a question) may have theoretical implications. Theories, on the other hand, will never lack interpretation; moreover, they have their own rhetorical character, they even can be regarded as fictive constructs. So we could say that there is no real difference between theory and practice, construction and application; the difference may be of pragmatic nature, of course, but in no way of prestige, heuristic force or scientific value.

So I managed to give a double answer again. Frankly, I think the second one is a bit more convincing, though I do maintain that we cannot do without literary theory. But let us move on: who cares about theory at all? Is it really an important issue? What about the actual connection between theories and interpretations?

Although it is often supposed that interpretations can be labeled according to the theoretical school they belong to, it remains a question whether interpretations have ever been followers of theoretical insights. No doubt, certain theoretical schools had the ambition to assess or prove the validity or usefulness of their methods or their theses by demonstrating that their application will bring about interesting results. And, on the other hand, literary interpretation often gains its legitimization from some theoretical positions. But do theories really matter? Even if one takes theories as the sources or origins of the critical practice, what are the ways that theories must follow in order to penetrate into critical practice? Here it must be noted that theories are spread in a rather limited circle, that is, in a circle that is both sociologically delimited and culturally restricted. What we are talking about is a very slow and complex process. Developments of interpretive practice, on the other hand, gain theoretical interest in a capricious and random manner.

The dissemination of contemporary theories takes place in a very limited number of sites. There are the specific loci of their occurrence, including institutions of (higher) education, literary life, cultural policy, canonization (of both works and theoretical texts), and scholarly discourse. Theory is, more or less, the business of the professionals. Whatever the lay, the uninitiated readers of literature know (that is, consciously know) of literary theory is mediated by practical literary criticism. In the last half century students in the secondary school are taught not to interpret literary works according to the personal biography of the author, but rather with respect to the parallelisms, repetitions or constructions of its structure, or if in the last decade or so they are taught to look for the inherent contradictions, the lacunae, the self-reflection in the text; also, preferences of the cultural policy - and, accordingly, tendencies of canonization - may reflect changes in the theoretical stance, for instance, the modification of the concept of literary text of changes of the idea of entity, composition, referentiality, and so on. All these developments can be taken as a follow-up of the literary theory of the age. Still, it is highly illusory to presume that literary theory has a direct influence on these changes, and even if it does, most often it is not reflected upon. Moreover, literary theory does not necessarily have an independent way of it own: it is influenced by a number of other social subsystems, from literary reception to the system of other disciplines, from social needs to psychological changes.

There is, of course, a strong trend to establish interpretation as a direct derivation of theoretical dogmas. The idea of "scientific" interpretation, as first delineated by the Positivism, then mainly in Structuralist schools, emphasized the priority of theoretical background, against which any practical interpretation can and should be measured. The idea is that interpretation has a method, it has well described aims and tools. One of the reactions to this conception is the idea of atheoretical or antitheoretical literary studies. It would suggest that there is no method whatsoever in literary interpretation: it is a pure participation in the literary process, an enjoyment of the literary communication, and it is regarded as prior to any theoretical consideration. Thus, theory and interpretation should be completely separated. Paradoxically, this reaction is characteristic both to Impressionistic or essayistic trends, where theory gains a pretty low prestige, it is a superfluous, luxury game of no value, and to S. J. Schmidt's empirical literary studies where scientific activity is sharply divided from mere participation in the games of the system (and, implicitly, the latter is placed in a somewhat lower position).

A clear distinction should be made between these reactions. Although both aims at a separation of theory and interpretation, and both wishes to give a freedom to the latter, they are fundamentally different. Anti-theoretical views revive the Romantic vision of the genius poet and the congenial critic, where theory is only an intruder, and where poetic text is given primacy above all. Interpretation of literature, for this view, must subordinate itself to the work, it must be dissolved and it must give up its independence. Whereas in the conception of Schmidt, the universes of discourse must be clearly distinguished: theoretical or scientific discourse should not be contaminated with practical or participating or interpretive discourse, literary system should be distinguished from the system of studying literature, the later belonging to that of literary studies (Literaturwissenschaft).

Although I would not argue for the close solidarity of theory and interpretation, I think both views deserve thorough criticism. Whereas in the first case what is at stake is the emancipation of critical activity, where the interpreter of literary work is elevated to the level of the Author or Creator, and the scholar has no place in this sphere, in the second case a sort of democratic and axiologically neutral redistribution of roles takes place. Thus, in the first case the issue is more or less a power problem: the sensitive, reactive, congenial interpreter of literary works should be emancipated. In the second case, however, by emphasizing the enjoyment, the pleasure of theory-free reading and interpreting, the erotic nature of interpretation, it is excluded from the realm of reasoning, logical argumentation, shortly: from scholarly discourse. However, the practice of literary life (literary system, in Schmidt's words) and the field of literary theory are not independent. Not only in that literary works will in several cases influence literary theory making, but also literary interpretation gives several ideas to literary theory proper, and even in some cases it is the proper field of the early development of theories. And also, theories have several channels of feedback into literary life; as I have mentioned, education as well as canon-formation is sometimes informed by theoretical considerations (which, in turn, are not independent of ideological or even political considerations).

Now let me end by discussing the two possible answers to the initial question and their respective consequences or difficulties. So, again, do contemporary theories help in the practice of interpretation?

Let's say first yes. We do in fact have some evidence that literary interpretations make wide use of the assumptions and methods developed in the literary theories of their own age. It can be demonstrated that a Positivist or a Structuralist literary interpretation is not at all independent of what we call Positivist or Structuralist literary theory; or a literary interpretation written in the spirit of Deconstruction will certainly use a number of categories, arguments or rhetorical figures taken from other Deconstructionist texts (even if we would not call these texts theories). But if the answer is positive, we have to face a number of difficulties. ***First of all, a theory is supposed to consist of a series of highly generalized statements, whereas literary interpretation will have only occasional or rather implicit generalizations. Second, even their subject is different: theories are about the literary work or the literary process or about creation or reception of the work; literary interpretations assume a concept of the work, of the process, of its creation or reception, and are about a specific work or a set of works. And third, if we put these considerations aside, there remains the problem that literary interpretations very often lag behind or transcend their respective theories; they may suggest either much more or less than explicit theories do. And, last, does practical interpretation have any consequences for literary theory? If there is a close connection, it should have a reciprocal nature.

These are serious problems, and one may tend to conclude that the positive answer must be abandoned. However, it can be argued that these are, so to speak, theoretical problems, which will be mostly resolved in practice. As to generalization, there is a common sense understanding of how we can draw general conclusions from a specific analysis; as to subject, all interpretations will in a way or another touch upon the issues of the mode of existence of the literary work; as to discrepancies, it is a problem only if we fix theory in the center, that is, only if it is supposed that any interpretation should be measured against a specific theory; and as to reciprocity, there are several cases, from Russian Formalism to Deconstruction or New Historicism when literary interpretation do in fact precede literary theory formation.

But what if we say no? What if we deny that contemporary theories will be of any help for literary interpretation? Does it mean that we do not need any literary theory any more, that interpretation is quite enough? No, not at all. If the negative answer implied such a conclusion, that would suggest a merely utilitarian conception of theory (that is, it would mean that a theory of literature can be assessed or proved only by confronting it with literary practice, and, thus, the value of the theory would solely depend on its usefulness); and that would also suggest an illusory expectation, that is, a too heavy burden loaded on literary interpretation, namely, that each and every theoretical problem should be confronted again and again in interpretations, which is clearly absurd. However, I think that a carefully qualified negative answer might have justifiable consequences. It may place theory and interpretation to their functionally due positions, even blur their sharp borderlines, and offer some more freedom for both. I know that I could not do it here and now; but I hope I could suggest some arguments for a faint and conditional NO.

 

13.2. canons and Writing literary history: Lajos Kassák as Pusztaszabolcs (In Hungarian)

Nem is olyan régen a Budapest–Pécs vonalon még a gyorsvonat volt a leggyorsabb. Ahogyan máig rejtély számomra, hogy miért kell még az Intercitynek is Szentlôrincen megállnia, sose értettem igazán, hogy annak idején a gyorsvonat vajon miért éppen Pusztaszabolcson és Sárbogárdon vesztegelt néhány drága percet. Csak arra tudtam gondolni, hogy valamely fontos vasúti csomópontok ezek, hogy sokak átszállását könnyítik meg, hogy esetleg az egyszerû utas számára áttekinthetetlen, felfoghatatlan vagonrendezési, teherátrakodási és kikerülési manôverek helyszíne ez a két (három) állomás. Mindenesetre az világos, hogy – bármily kedvesek legyenek is e települések az ott lakók vagy bárki más számára – maga Pusztaszabolcs vagy Sárbogárd mérete, fontossága, lakosainak száma nem feltétlenül indokolja, hogy kitüntetett szerepe legyen a vasúti közlekedés hálózatában.

Amibôl mindössze annyi volna a tanulság, hogy az önmagában vett fontosság (ha van ilyen; inkább: a más összefüggésbôl vizsgált fontosság) nem feltétlenül esik egybe a rendszerben elfoglalt hely kitüntetett szerepével. Pusztaszabolcs mint város, mint kulturális, pénzügyi vagy gazdasági centrum talán nem nevezhetô kiemelkedônek, a vasúti hálózatban azonban a jelek szerint igen fontos funkciója van.

A nagyság, jelentôség, fontosság és a hálózatban (rendszerben) betöltött szerep különbségei nem csak a vasúti közlekedés kontextusában érdekesek. Itt van például rögtön az irodalom. Ahol is igen nehéz és kockázatos – mi több, eleve avulásra és revízióra ítéltetett – a nagyság bármiféle tulajdonítása; a “ki a nagyobb költô/író?” kérdését legföljebb kávéházi asztalnál, szigorúan a nyilvánosság kizárásával szokás felvetni, a “Kafka vagy Thomas Mann”-típusú dilemmák eleve gyanúsak, ideológiailag a kelleténél is jobban terheltek, s inkább mint elég tartósan rágható gumicsontok használnak az irodalomtörténészi fogazat élesen tartására. Másrészt azonban elkerülhetetlen, hogy az irodalomtörténet folyamatáról valamilyen képet kialakítsunk (már ha egyáltalán érdekel ez a történet, s nem pusztán egyes mûvek egymással semmi módon össze nem függô halmazát akarjuk látni); s ehhez szükség van bizonyos csomópontokra, olyan helyekre, ahol változások elindulását lokalizálhatjuk, mindenképpen beszélnünk kell korszakokról és korszakfordulókról, hagyományról, avulásról, forradalomról és visszatérésrôl, felforgatásról és megôrzésrôl. Amikor ekképpen adunk számot az irodalmi folyamatról, a szövegekrôl, az irodalom-rendszer történetérôl, akkor mégiscsak kijelölünk fontosabb és kevésbé fontos alkotókat vagy szövegeket. Akkor mégiscsak valamiféle minôsítést végzünk, s ha nem is mondunk ki olyasmit, hogy valamely író jobb volna, mint a másik – azért jelentôségrôl, fontosságról, érdekességrôl szó kell, hogy essék.

Lehetséges viszont, hogy bizonyos alkotók, egész életmûvek a rendszer egésze szempontjából meghatározó jelentôségûek lehetnek, de mai befogadásunk (vagy akár a kortársi befogadás) számára nem kínálnak elegendô izgalmat; ha nem is olvashatatlanok, nem tudjuk ôket maradéktalanul élvezni. Egyszerûen szólva: nem elég jók (természetesen mindig úgy értve: számomra, a befogadó számára nem azok), bár fontosságuk, jelentôségük kétségbevonhatatlan. Valahogyan úgy, ahogyan Pusztaszabolcs, Sárbogárd (vagy egy másik vonalról: Rákosrendezô) lehet a vasúti (teher-)közlekedés számára létfontosságú, de azért egyikünk sem menne ezekre a helyekre várost nézni, tôzsdézni vagy operába. Gondolom, kevesen szeretik ma Kassák Lajost; akik szeretik, talán azok is elismerik, hogy mégsem akkora költô, mint mondjuk Ady vagy József Attila. Az viszont aligha lehet vitatott, hogy az irodalomtörténet folyamatában kulcsszerepet töltött be, hogy hatása nem volt ugyan látványos, de mégis erôs volt, hogy nélküle aligha alakulhatott volna úgy a magyar költészet, ahogyan alakult.

Ha tehát egymásra vonatkoztatjuk a két rendszert, ha megpróbáljuk a jelentôséget és a kiválóságot, a fontosságot és az esztétikai élményt valahogyan megfeleltetni egymásnak, különös elmozdulásokat és hiányokat látunk. A fordítottja is könnyen elképzelhetô: irodalomtörténeti értelemben jelentéktelennek tetszô alkotókat/szövegeket rendkívül nagy élvezettel olvasunk, a nagy megújítók utánzói olykor csodákra képesek. Per analogiam: nyilván gyönyörû kis falvak, mûemlékekben gazdag, virágzó kistelepülések maradnak ki teljesen a vasúti hálózatból, vagy épp hogy csak keresztülrobog rajtuk a vonat: azt a rendszert nem mindig érdeklik más (kulturális, gazdasági, pénzügyi) megfontolások.

Tovább bonyolódik a helyzet, ha a társadalmi forradalmak és a nagy irodalmi változások összefüggéseit vizsgáljuk (s itt fel kell hagynom a vonatközlekedési metaforával, mert ebben már nemigen tudnám értelmezni a következôket). Egykoron szokás volt (s jobb híján ma is gyakran fordulnak ehhez az eljáráshoz), hogy az irodalmi korszakfordulókat egyszerûen azonosították a nagy társadalmi változásokkal; jeles dátumokhoz kötötték az irodalomtörténetnek (és más mûvészetek történetének) korszakváltásait, mintha például 1789, 1948, 1918-19 vagy 1945 éppúgy valamiféle határvonalat jelentenének az irodalom (zene, képzômûvészet stb.) történetében, mint ahogyan kétségkívül fordulópontot jelentettek az egyes nemzetek politika-, társadalom-, gazdaságtörténetében.

Kényelmes és olcsó megoldás, de kár volna túl gyorsan megszabadulni tôle. Nyilván praktikus megfontolások is szerepet játszanak az ilyen korszakolásban; könnyebb felidézni a dátumokat, nagy történelmi eseményekhez lehet kötni a kultúra történetének amúgy elfolyó, amorf, kétes körvonalú produktumait. De tudjuk, hogy az elgondolás az alapban-felépítményben való gondolkodást követi, amely meglehetôsen erôs és közvetlen kapcsolatot tételez fel a társadalmi-gazdasági-politikai változások és a szellemi élet szférája között. Mindenesetre két okból is érdemes újra meg újra felülvizsgálni az efféle elképzeléseket: az egyik az, hogy maguk a dátumok is változhatnak, s ez az “alap” történetének revízióiról tanúskodik, amelyhez azután igazítani kell a “felépítmény” történetérôl szóló elképzelést, márpedig érdekes kérdés az, hogy mitôl és hogyan következnek be ezek a korszakolás-változások. A másik ok pedig az, hogy így rájöhetünk, hol lóg ki egymás alól a két történet, a két rendszer, hol vannak egymást fedô vonalak vagy csomópontok, és hol nincs semmiféle kapcsolat.

Az irodalmi (poétikai) forradalmak márpedig nemigen szoktak egybeesni a társadalmi forradalmakkal. Ha valaha bizonyos nagy költôket a forradalmak viharmadarainak volt szokás nevezni, akkor ez azt is sejttette, hogy a társadalmi forradalom elôtt jártak; s még ha minden forradalom megtalálta is a maga irodalmi elôzményét, azok az írók/szövegek, amelyeket magából kitermelt, a felszínre dobott vagy favorizált, a hatástörténetbôl gyakran kikoptak, nem bizonyultak tartósnak, s mindenféle más, sajnálatos esemény történt velük. Az is elég banális tény, hogy bizonyos kiemelkedô alkotók (akik tehát akár az irodalomtörténet rendszere szempontjából kiemelkedôek, vagy akár a mai befogadás szemszögébôl számítanak különösen értékesnek) gyakran egyáltalán nem hozhatók összefüggésbe semmiféle társadalmi mozgalommal vagy forradalommal. Balassit, aki nem akármit tett a magyar költészet megújításáért (már ha egyáltalán beszélhetünk Balassi elôtti magyar költészetrôl), aligha lehet felforgató társadalmi mozgásokhoz kötni; ha lehettek is Csokonainak kapcsolatai a magyar jakobinusokkal, forradalmár nem volt; Kafka meg, vagy Joyce... ugyan már.

Bourdieu szerint a mûvészet területén zajló forradalom: az anómia intézményesítése. Az, aki forradalmat hajt végre az irodalomban (vagy a zenében, vagy a képzômûvészetben), az a mezô szerkezetének átalakítására tör, a mezô nomosát akarja megváltoztatni. Eközben természetesen függvénye éppen annak a mezônek, amelyen ô is tevékenykedik, s annál nagyobb az esélye a sikerre, a mezônek minél több elemével képes szembenézni és számolni. Az olyan (irodalmi) forradalmárok, mint Flaubert, nagyon pontosan tudták, hogy mi folyik körülöttük; érzékenyen reagáltak mindarra, ami az irodalom mezején történt; ismerték a terepet, hogy leszámolhassanak vele. A forradalom éppen ezért gyakran a fennálló paródiája, elmozdítása, kifordítása, meghazudtolása, s egyben összefoglalása is.

Egyáltalán nem kell dogmatikus marxistaként hinnünk az “alap-felépítmény”-koncepcióban ahhoz, hogy belássuk: a társadalmi változások hatással kell hogy legyenek például az irodalmi életre is. Hogy ezúttal S. J. Schmidt nézeteire hivatkozzam, az irodalom-rendszer bizony kapcsolatban áll a társadalom-rendszerrel, s egyes elemei az átfogóbb rendszer változásait követik. Ha a cenzúra intézménye megszûnik, akkor annak nem akármilyen befolyása lehet az irodalom folyamataira. Ha az állam tartja kézben a könyvpiacot, vagy ha az irodalomhoz kapcsolódó ismeretek oktatása kizárólag egyházi kézben van, az meghatározza az ilyen keretek között folyó irodalmi életet is. Ezért mindezen feltételek módosulása így vagy úgy, elôbb vagy utóbb az irodalom-rendszerre, s aztán az irodalom-rendszer termékére, az irodalmi szövegre is hatással lesz.

Ha pedig most – itt az ideje – feltesszük azt az egyszerû kérdést, hogy vajon az 1988-1989-es nagy magyarországi változások miféle irodalmi-mûvészeti forradalommal jártak együtt, akkor a válasz elôszörre mindenképpen a vállvonogatástól a határozott tagadásig terjed majd. Valóban, nem tapasztalhattuk, hogy – a bourdieu-i értelemben – forradalmi változások történtek volna a magyar irodalomban. Nincs sehol az a nagy mû, az az áttekintô-rendszerezô-felforgató alkotó, amely vagy aki szembenézett volna mindazzal, ami elôtte történt s ami körötte történik. Ennek a (talán nem is így tudatosított) igénynek adnak mindennapi kifejezést az irodalomkritika azon panaszai, amelyek a korszak nagy regényét várják; mintha éppen és kizárólag a regény volna képes arra, hogy ezt az átrendezô felülvizsgálatot elvégezze.

Tehát rögtön két kérdés tehetô fel ezekkel a várakozásokkal kapcsolatban. Egyrészt, hogy van-e tényleg valami mûfajilag inherens excellenciája a regénynek; másrészt hogy vajon tényleg éppen most kellett-e eljönni annak az idônek, amely az eddigi poétikai rend alapos és végleges felforgatását hozza magával. A válasz természetesen mindkét kérdésre negatív; kissé tétova, de elég határozott nem. A regény elôtérbe állítása nyilván azzal függ össze, hogy az elbeszélô mûvek gyakran olvashatók úgy, mint amelyek valahogyan közvetlenül referálnak a “körülöttünk lévô”, “adott” “világra”, s ekként az olvasói várakozások között fontos szerephez jut a társadalom, a valóság megismerése – sokkal fontosabbhoz, mint esetleg a líra esetében. Ha nagy társadalmi-politikai kataklizmán esünk túl, azt reméljük, hogy ezt valahogyan (tárgyában, közvetlen utalások alakjában, esetleg még durvább formában is) tükrözni fogja az elbeszélô mû. Hogy az a mûfaj, amely tipikusan történetet beszél el, majd elmondja a mi történetünket, pontosabban: új történetet mond majd el, az eddigiekhez képest egészen más szereplôkkel, fordulatokkal és értékrendekkel. Holott az irodalom forradalma – ha szabad ezt a patetikus és távolról sem pontos kategóriát használni – egyáltalán nem ebbôl áll. Esetleg éppen abból, hogy eleddig háttérbe szorult mûfajok bukkannak fel újra (ezt az orosz formalisták, elsôsorban Tinyanov írta le érzékletesen), és azok, amelyektôl oly sokat vártunk volna, a háttérbe vagy a margóra szorulnak. A történet másféleségének pedig nem az az egyetlen megvalósulási lehetôsége, hogy tárgya (szereplôi, fordulatai, értékrendje) más, hanem az is (vagy sokkal inkább az), hogy másként mondódik el.

Ami a forradalom idejét illeti, az, mint utaltam rá, korántsem szükségszerûen esik egybe a társadalmi-politikai forradalmakkal. Sôt, legtöbbször megelôzi ôket (bár ennek ellenére nem kell hinnünk felszabadító, mozgósító, forradalmasító hatásában; ez olykor igaz lehet, máskor nem). A mi esetünkre alkalmazva mindezt: vajon nem képzelhetô-e el, hogy a magyar irodalom nagy fordulata korábban megtörtént, mikor senki még csak nem is álmodott a társadalmi fordulatról? Vajon nem úgy áll-e a helyzet, hogy az anómia intézményesítése nem éppen 1988-89-ben, hanem valamikor azelôtt történt meg?

Bizonyos politikai változások persze gyökeres fordulatot hoztak az irodalom-rendszerben, s ennek idejét nemigen lehet jóval a fordulat elôtt kijelölni. A cenzúra megszûnt, a könyvkiadás felszabadult, új lapok sokasága alakult, ugyanakkor a terjesztés gyengélkedni kezdett; az oktatás sokszínûbb lett, magán-, alapítványi és egyházi iskolák kezdték meg mûködésüket. Mindez bizonyára módosított a késztermékek, a produktumok jellegén is (ha minôségén nem is feltétlenül). Azok a bizonyos asztalfiókban aszalódó mûvek, amelyekrôl késôbb kiderült, hogy nem sokan vannak és jelentôségük nem sorsdöntô, elôkerülhettek, nyilvánosságot kaphattak; a “termelô” (az író) a piacot befolyásoló tényezôk közül másra kezdett tekintettel lenni, mint a cenzúrára; a “fogyasztó” (az olvasó) ugyancsak szabad piacon találta magát, annak minden kaotikusságával együtt, de így szabadabban hozzáférhetett bármihez, ezért olvasási szokásai, sôt olvasási konvenciói is megváltozhattak.

Mindez közhely, újságírói kultúrnyavalygások és -lelkendezések tárgya. Itt mindössze annyi érdekes belôle, hogy szemmel látható: az irodalom-rendszert környezô és részint meghatározó társadalmi-politikai rendszer gyökeres változásai nem hoztak lényeges fordulatot magának az irodalmi mûnek a szerkezetében. Ahogyan 1848 vagy 1945 után sem kezdtek hirtelen egészen másként írni vagy olvasni, ahogyan Kassák és Ady költôi forradalma megelôzött minden többé-kevésbé átmenetinek bizonyuló fordulatot, feltételezhetô, hogy az 1988-89-es változásoknak egy korábbi poétikai átalakulás feleltethetô meg. S hogy végre valami állítást is megkockáztassak, úgy hiszem, hogy ez a változás az 1970-es években következett be; a költészetben Tandori és Petri, a prózában Esterházy és Nádas (esetleg kisebb részben Konrád) fellépésével.

Amikor ezt kimondom, nem az említett szerzôk politikai vagy ideológiai olvasatát tartom szem elôtt, jóllehet ezek valószínûleg kikerülhetetlenek, kiirthatatlanul benne vannak az ô (s bárki más) befogadásukban. Sokkal inkább arra gondolok, hogy már a hetvenes évektôl (fôleg a lírában) s a 80-as évek elején-közepén (a prózában) megtörtént “a mezô pozícióinak” felülvizsgálata, a leszámolás az addigi és éppen fennálló konvenciókkal, az író és az irodalmi mû számára kijelölt hely elmozdítása. Mindezt akkoriban úgy lehetett érzékelni, mint merészséget, a határok áthágását, politikailag gyanús üzelmekbe keveredést, formabontást, szabadosságot; ráadásul a szövegek, amelyekrôl szó van, valamennyien az adottal szemben, annak természetét alaposan kiismerve léptek fel úgy, hogy annak érvényességét, örökérvényûségét, nomosát tették kérdésessé.

Mindezen írók/szövegek talán múló epizódnak bizonyultak volna, ha felbukkanásuk nem igazolódik a hatástörténetben. Esterházy vagy Tandori írásmódja felszabadító erejûnek (és jó darabig meghaladhatatlannak, legfeljebb imitálhatónak) bizonyult. Az újabb próza (és talán kevésbé a líra) már ezeket az írásmódokat tekinti adottnak, fennállónak, s ezekkel szemben kénytelen pozicionálni önmagát, ezzel erôsítve meg saját helyét is és az erôs, nagy változásokat hozó szövegek helyét is az irodalom rendszerében.

Külön kérdés, hogy azoknak az alkotóknak a pályája, akiket az irodalomban végbement fordulat képviselôinek tartok, hogyan alakult akkor, amikor politikai fordulat következett be. Egyrészt látható, hogy bár respektusuk többé-kevésbé töretlen maradt, nem váltak (visszamenôleg) viharmadarakká, azaz alkalmatlannak bizonyultak arra, hogy a politikai-társadalmi változások valamiféle megtestesítôjeként, jósaiként vagy legadekvátabb kifejezôiként kanonizálódjanak. (Kanonizálásuk megtörtént ugyan, de nem efféle olvasat alapján.) Másrészt jellegzetesnek látom Esterházy fordulatát a publicisztika felé; mintha mindazon túllenne már, amit a prózában meg lehetett tenni, s ezért egy amúgy is erôsen emelkedôben levô mûfaj újjáélesztésének egyik fô alakja lesz; vagy mintha szorosabban akarná írásmódját (az írás forradalmát) az éppen zajló változásokhoz kötni, s ez éppen az aktualitásokra gyorsan reagáló, referenciális természetû mûfajban valósulhatna meg.

Az irodalom magyarországi fordulata tehát nem esik egybe a társadalmi változások idôpontjával. Nagy kérdés, hogy a fordulat legfontosabb alakjainak az irodalom történetében elfoglalt fontos helye meg fog-e felelni (és mikor, kinek a számára) az esztétikailag jelentôs szövegek pozíciójának. Hogy mikor, melyikük lesz fontos újító, de kétséges érték; csomópont, de nem olyan nagyon érdekes; Pusztaszabolcs.

13.3. Ways of representing discontinuous memories

Re-arranging the canonical order by breaking with classical literary historiography

Here my aim is to speculate on the interconnections of canonicity, continuity, and literary historiography. My point is that there is a way of changing, more or less radically, the literary canon which amounts to breaking with the vision of continuous literary history, that is, a revision of the memory of the professional community that is supposed to be responsible for the creating of that canon.

Traditional literary historiography can be characterized as serving the enforcement of the idea of continuity: it implies a vision of literary history as a continuous narrative. It also tells the tale of how the heroes of this story, the canonical figures/works, have gained their well-deserved positions. The memory embodied in this narrative can be characterized as continuous: although there are, inevitably, lacunae, oppressions, omissions, this memory is always eager to create the illusion of wholeness, completeness and flawlessness. That is, it pretends that it works.

Now what we have witnessed for several decades is that besides this kind of (traditional) writing of literary history, besides this linear and all encompassing memory, there have existed several other ways of approaching literary history. Just to list some types of these modes:

– analysis of the single work of art, isolated from all its history and reception;
– connections between geographically or temporally very distant works or phenomena, without any reference or even hint on influence, tradition or any connection whatsoever, except for those constructed by the comparison itself;
– literary histories of forms, genres, modes of reception or agents of the literary communication other than the author, where traditional concepts of work and author are either excluded or remain in the background;
– or literary histories of non-linear temporality, roving here and there between periods and centuries.

What is common in these efforts is the desire to rearrange the pattern of conventional literary historiography, to shift its focus and, accordingly, to present another functioning of the memory inherent in writing and understanding literary history. Some of these modes are now well-established, and some of them can be easily associated with trends like Structuralism, systemic approaches to literature, reception theory or Postmodernist eclecticism, whereas others remain in the rubric of essayist or Impressionistic schools. What I would like to suggest here is that deviations from the traditional, linear model of writing literary history (and, thus, forming a canon and representing a continuous memory) are signals of a desire to form a new canon (and, besides, may be signals of a new thinking in writing literary history).

It must be asked, What is the history of literature the history of? Whose story is told? Is it that of the works, or of the creators of these works, or of the participants of the literary communication, or of the literary communication itself? Or is it just the history of canonical works and participants?

Most often, we read accounts of literary history (and, by extension, any comments on literary texts) as referring to something; that is, as texts of reference, just as we read newspapers, maps, phonebooks, etc. Now the question is not whether they do in fact refer to something (we read them as such, so it is not a reasonable issue), but what they refer to. If we ask, What are they the history of?, it can be translated to the question, What is remembered and what is narrated?

Now let me reflect for a moment on the connection between narrative, memory and literary history. Whether memory exist outside texts, without them or beyond them is an intricate question. So let me suppose here that, at least according to a possible interpretation, memory is not only what is remembered but it is always told or written, that is, whenever we speak of human memory it should be understood as a textual/verbal construct. It can be, moreover, a sort of narrative, however fragmentary, defective, transformed or punctual it may be. It has a temporality, space, characters, causal relations.

We remember quite a lot of things, important and unimportant alike. The memories we tend to talk or write about are, however, always important in one way or another. We have a point when we present them, when we thematize them; our narrative will have an occasion, it will react to other texts. If we use narrated memories as an analogy for literary historiography (and it well may be that it is far more than an analogy – I will come back to this soon), then an exemplary case is that of the account of great events and participants of a national literature. A full-fledged, classical, conventional literary history is something like an account of the main events and characters of one's personal life, seen, of course, from a special angle. We emphasize some points and drop others; we try to invent a temporal order and a course of events; we have our heroes as well as our villains; we hope to produce the causes and consequences; like in narrative, like in memory.

Just as sometimes we may wish to fill all the gaps of our memory and try to recall the most unimportant details in a minute way, some literary histories aim at giving an account of everything that had happened; just think of Positivistic historiography. And just as some people tend to build her or his memories/narratives around some great events and great people, there is a tendency in literary historiography to concentrate on great works and great writers. Also, there is the element of forgetting in both memory (or the narrative of that memory) and writing literary history: sometimes we forget events or characters which later turn out to be of some importance, and literary historians leave writers and works in the background, although later they may be shown to be decisive.

Still, there is something disturbing in the identification of memory and literary history. It contains a sort of personification, which I would be reluctant to take for granted. Namely, the communities or even the professionals who (among others) engage in producing and forming the canon, are taken here as persons, with their own memories, with a past that they remember or not. It is clear, however, that whereas a person has her or his memories in a spontaneous way, formed by her or his subconscious, intellectual limits, age, and so on, a community (a nation, an interpretive community, the professionals) do not have this sort of memory: what they have as memory and what they present as such is always produced and reproduced, it is strongly influenced by political, ideological, aesthetic factors, by the institutions and by the tradition. A subjective memory contains things not remembered any more because of psychological reasons; we suppress or sublimate our bad experiences, feelings or events of our lives which, if public, could be sanctioned. I would not assign such a psychological mechanism to the working of the literary institutions. What takes place in the field of literature is not really forgetting proper: the mechanisms governing "forgetting" in the memory of the professionals are absolutely different. Personal memory and literary history are both narratives; but they are formed by very different forces and according to very different conventions.

However, the new modes of literary historiography I have mentioned above can be paralleled by the fact that subjective memories do not always and not exclusively follow the pattern of temporal and spatial sequences, that sometimes they produce astonishing connections, there are daring and distant links. In this respect, again, memory is a good analogy for the writing of literary history.

If it is supposed that the types of literary historiography sketched above can be confronted, and, thus, we may call them two distinct and opposing types, then we might wish to label the first (linear, classical, traditional) type as metonymic, whereas the latter (associative, non-conventional) type as metaphoric. This may be both too rough and metaphorical, but the point is simply to show that while the first narrative aims at filling the temporal gaps, and seeks to present the events and their characters in their sequential order, as they follow one another, making use of the contiguity in time and space, as well as relying on the causal relations between events, the second is more appealed by the similarities, comparisons, associative relations.

It would be a gross simplification (and would not have any explanatory value) if one supposed that new modes of literary histories are new simply because they are written according to some new fashions, because their writers hope to gain some institutional power or intellectual prestige by transforming the old models. These factors (fashion, power, prestige) may be relevant in some or most cases; however, something specific to the field of literature must be underlying these changes. My point is that an old story cannot be told in a new formulation, and, vice versa, a new formulation of the story will produce new aspects, time order, even new characters.

Whereas classical literary historiography can be characterized by titles like ''Life and work of...", new histories concentrate on what is not remembered, neither forgotten, but taken as the presupposition, framework or condition of the "thing" remembered, i.e., the circumstances, the conventions of the thing "happened", etc. This will also mean that they have quite a new conception of the canon and canonical positions (of works and writers). Canon is not a list of works and writers.

As a (national) memory embodied, the metonymic, classical sort of history writing has been predominant in literary history, education and it has greatly effected literary interpretation. Interpretations of individual works and text-oriented approaches have been regarded as either fragmentary, insufficient, incomplete manifestations of a (virtual) Great History, or even as perverted, dangerous steps which may challenge the integrity of cultural memory. Thus, the critical trends since Structuralism which tend to concentrate on texts and textual relations while putting aside the linear chronology as well as the (pseudo-)causal narrative structure, can be regarded not simply as a "methodological" turn but also as an attack on the traditional canon. By emphasizing the poetic and textual interrelations, independent of any forged historical continuity, points of discontinuity are underlined, the traditional, entrenched visions of national literary history are called into question, and the old canon is redefined.

What is the position of the canon among these concepts? If – I say if – canon is conceived of as a series of great works and/or their writers, then the great events and characters are to memory just as great works and writers are to literary history. They are the cornerstones, compositional bases and structuring principles of these narratives. However, canon can and I think should be taken not as a set of elements but, rather, as these elements along with the conventions of their interpretation, their intertextual connections, the conditions of their reading as canonical works or writers. Some people even say that what is canonical can be taken as a special constellation of intertextuality. To use the analogy of the personal memory again: if somebody gives account of her or his great encounters with outstanding people or of the events which changed her or his life, what is implied in the narrative is not simply the fact that these people or events occurred, but rather that there is a hidden system of preferences, value choices, attractions, intellectual decisions leading to the emphasis given to just those people and events. Accordingly, a canon is also a set of conventions, even instructions of interpretation: it is this set which make possible the incorporation of other, new, works and writers to the established canon.

It is possible – and nowadays, it seems, desirable – to reflect on these conditions. Indeed, it seems that this aspect of the canon is not only inherent part of the narrative, but also that we are socialized to take it into account. As the psychologist Jerome Bruner puts it,

Four-years-olds may not know much about the culture, but they know what's canonical and are eager to provide a tale to account for what is not. [Bruner, Jerome. Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, Mass. – London: Harvard U P, 1990. pp. 82-83]

It implies that the canonicity of certain interpretive conventions (and not necessarily texts) is a matter of the narrative told about them. They are as much part of the canon as the texts celebrated.

The question arises whether some of these new modes of literary historiography imply that the literary work will loose its importance. Does it mean that we are not interested in the great work any more? I have two remarks here. First of all, one of the challenges for the continuity-oriented literary historiography is precisely the concentration on the single work, as if displaced from its context; it is the Structuralist type of resistance to the history of Great Continuity. Second, it is highly questionable whether what we as readers really face is the literary work of art. We often encounter fragments, images and portions of the work itself, or allusions and references to it, well before we really read it. And what we get is something marketed, mediated, pre-interpreted, and all these contextual factors of its communication will highly determine our interpretation. Thus, worries for the Great Works are based on an illusion.

Besides, discontinuous literary historiography may help a great deal in preserving cultural memory. It can open the ways of interesting interpretations, its re-structuring the hitherto continuous, linear memory can unfold new connections. And new ways of reading will be of an asset for any literary history.

Let me conclude by summarizing my main points. I tried to argue that if the classical literary historiography is based on continuity, and if there are other modes of writing literary history which are based, rather, on either discontinuity or on association and comparison, then the first can be called metonymic while the latter metaphoric. It is perfectly clear that in the latter class there are several subclasses some of which are mutually exclusive. If you concentrate on the single work, excluding its history, then you are committed to the idea of The Work; if you choose to focus on the literary communication instead, it is difficult to pick out the author or the work as principal elements. Anyway, all these orientations are common in refuting the older model, and turn to other modes of operation of the memory: to the discontinuous and to the capricious associations.

14. Unfinished Appendix: Systems: Back to Structuralism?

Introduction

In the previous chapters, I have been arguing that by taking a pragmatic aspect of literature as a starting point, one may be lead to the inquiry of the specific communities among and by which literature operates; that is, the examination of the literary communication must be extended to the (institutional) conditions of that communication process, including the groups of people participating in, creating and furthering this process.

This inquiry is perhaps neither inevitable nor necessary; one may quite well imagine other tracks of thought, such as those focusing upon the ideologies involved in literary communication, powers connected to it, or psychological problems arising related to it. If we take literature not as a certain corpus of texts, but as a specific process of communication among a number of other ways of communication, and if we suppose that there are a number of different processes of communication with their own rules and conventions, and, further, if we admit that these "language games" rather than the texts in question determine the meaning of a text, then we stay close enough to the stance sketched in the first part of this book; that is, I believe that a speech act theoretical approach to literature is, at least, not in contradiction with all these theses. However, what has been treated in the second and third part is obviously beyond the scope of any theory of speech acts. It is high time, then, to reflect upon our own tools and methods, that is, to try to elucidate what sort of framework should be used in order to get as close as possible to a convincing depiction of these issues.

14. 1. A Way Out, a Digression, or a Way Back?

But first let us turn back for a minute to the theory of speech acts. There have been quite a number of objections leveled against speech act theory in general, and its application or extension to the field of literature. Some of them have been mentioned, en passant, in the study above. Let us add some more.

Speech act theory, and probably as any linguistic approach to fields other than language proper, is seen by Bourdieu as a sort digression, a superfluous detour, since after it purpoterdly started from what it regarded as purely linguistic facts and concluded that they embody social relations, it desperately fights to find its way back to social reality while trying to preserve its "pure" linguistic nature; that is, instead of realizing, from the outset, that language (more precisely, discourses) appears on the social scene ("market", for Bourdieu) and is in every inch influenced or even determined by it, linguists arrive, if at all, to this assumption as a conclusion.

Every speech act and, more generally, every action, is a conjuncture, an encounter between independent causal series. On the one hand, there are the socially constructed dispositions of the linguistic habitus, which imply a certain propensity to speak and to say determinate things (the expressive interest) and a certain capacity to speak, which involves both the linguistic capacity to generate and infinite number of grammatically correct discourses, and the social capacity to use this competence adequately in a determinate situation. On the other hand, there are the structures of the linguistic market, which impose themselves as a system of specific sanctions and censorships. ...This simple model of linguistic production and circulation, as the relation between linguistic habitus and the markets on which they offer their products, does not seek either to challenge or to replace a strictly linguistic analysis of the code. But it does enable us to understand the errors and failures to which linguistics succumbs when, relying on only one of the factors involved - a strictly linguistic competence, abstractly defined, ignoring everything that it owes to the social conditions of its production - it tries to give an adequate account of discourse in all its conjunctural singularity. In fact, as long as they are unaware of the limits that constitute their science, linguists have no choice but to search deaparetely in language, for something that is actually inscribed in the social relations within which it functions, or to engage in a sociology without knowing it, that is, with the risk of discovering, in grammar itself, something that their spontaneous sociology has unwittingly imported into it. (Bourdieu 1982/1991b: 37-38)

This sort of criticism may suggest, then, that it is reasonable to turn to a system theory, whatever it may be, or at least a study of communicative behavior, more particularly literary communication, within the framework of linguistic, cultural, social systems.

However, it must be noted in advance that systems theory is not an absolute remedy for all the limitations and weaknesses one had to face on this field. Systems theory, it seems, does not define its own position in the system it examines, or if and when it does, it is that of the dispassionate, indifferent professional. Moreover, it more often than not misses to clarify that the features assigned to the system are in fact assigned or conferred to it, and not products of the thing itself. As Bourdieu says,

Objectivism constitutes the social world as a spectacle offered to an observer who takes up a 'point of view' on the action and who, putting into the object of principles of his relation to the object, proceeds as if it were intended solely for knowledge and if all the interactions within were purely symbolic exchanges. This viewpoint is the one taken from high positions in the social structure, from which the social world is seen as a representation (as the word is used in idealist philosophy, but also as in painting) or a performance (in the theatrical or musical sense), and practices are seen as no more than the acting-out of roles, the playing of scores or the implementation of plans. The theory of practice as practice insists, contrary to positivist materialism, that the objects of knowledge are constructed, not passively recorded, and, contrary to intellectualist idealism, that the principle of this construction is the system of structured, structuring dispositions, the habitus, which is constituted in practice and is always oriented towards practical functions. (Bourdieu 1980/1990: 52)

Or, as Attridge says, in a critique directed precisely against Bourdieu and the sociology of literature,

... such a study would necessarily be part of the struggle of interpretations which is itself part of the wider political struggle, with its own conscious or unconscious goals and rules, and one would never stop (one could never stop) offering readings of texts to be worked over, modified, or rejected, in many places and at many times. (Attridge 1988: 15-16)

Or again, in connection with the function of criticism targeting the institute of education, viz., universities, Burt and Vanpée comments,

empirical critique does not stand outside the conceptual space of the university but always analyzes in the name of a model university whose concept it does not question. (Burt and Vanpée 1990: 2)

There may be still another consideration which suggests that one should be cautious in turning, as a final relief, to the concept of systems. Will not this step take one back to the good old Structuralism, is there a difference wide and spectacular enough to identify the more promising path? Or should one, rather, think in terms of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and regard systems theory as a rich and inclusive aggregate of all sensible that has been told before? Or, simply: is it not a resignation, a defeat, is it not just a new name for old ideas?

Partly, of course, these anxieties are well founded. No doubt, the prominent representatives of what will be labelled below as systems theory, have been greatly formed, informed, transformed by the ideas of the Structuralists and the Formalists.

14. 1. 1. Systems in Other Frameworks

It would be an impossible task to summarize here the origins, history and development of the reflections on the theory of systems

Not only may there be worries, as I have indicated in the preceding part, that one might be lead back to the old fashioned Structuralism, it is also a question whether Marxism and, in general, a broad social approach to literature is not another word for systems theoretical approaches. Viehoff, for instance, a representative of the empirical school of literary studies, refers to "The broader assumption ... an assumption that is amenable to empirical examination ... that the global values directing critical discourse are the result of changes in social values." (Viehoff 1991: 247)

Among the proponents of systems theoretical approach, there may be serious contraditions. For Fokkema, for instance, Luhmann, having been concerned only with speculation and conceptualization, and "by disapproving of the distinction between the knowing subject and the examined object, ... has blocked the road to empirical research" (Fokkema 1991: 364). Fokkema also stresses the instrumental character of the system, as against Lumann's conception where it has, rather, the character of a world view (ibid.)

14. 1. 1. 1. Some Examples

Theoreticians of literature influenced (slightly or strongly) by the theory of speech acts have also been among those who pointed out the importance of systems. Monroe Beardsley, for one, tends to accept the perspective of "systems" or "wide ranges" of cultural products, as opposed to the conception of individual, isolated works. He characterizes the view emphasizing the systemic nature of culture the following way:

Culture, on this view, is essentially a complex of semiotic systems of communication, or at least involves such systems as a necessary ingredient. Structuralists inquiring into what is signified by paradigmatic choices in food and clothing, students of "vernacular architecture" articulating signals sent by characteristic features of suburban houses (ranchlike shape, wide lawns, hitching posts to hold mailboxes, etc.) and social psychologists interested in "body language" and its elements that convey information even when the parties are hardly aware of what is going on - all these investigators see their corner of culture in semiotic terms, like those who are concerned with more pervasive and fundamental aspects of culture, such as political and economical institutions, religion, philosophy. (Beardsley 1980/1986: 188)

Then he adds that the problem of relativity of interpretations must be seen from this angle:

The second view may serve to put the general issue over the relativity of artwork-interpretation in the right perspective, by placing the emphasis where it belongs. Of course it may not close all the interpretation gaps, so as to leave no room for any relativism. The operative conventions for interpreting a poem may not, at a given time, be sufficient to rule out all alternative readings, leaving some to choice. (In that case, since the choice would be, by hypothesis, ungrounded in the poem, perhaps it is somewhat odd to call it interpreting; there is strictly nothing there for the interpretation to reveal.) And there is always the possibility that other applicable conventions, less well known, can be invoked (perhaps by extension from a related area) to make a reasoned decision, however diffident, between the remaining possibilities. (1980/1986: 189)

Beardsley then refers to the problem of competing interpretations and the coresponding "systems", and, implicitly, the connected problem of canons (ibid.). It is his contention that "further inquiry into the nature of each system" may lead one to see the reasons of adopting or rejecting an interpretation; that is, the problem of interpretive communities may be, if not solved, illuminated by placing the whole problem into the context of systems.

14. 1. 1. 2. Fokkema

Perhaps it is not quite fair to criticize a short text, in fact, a text of a public lecture delivered on a conference, in order to show how the same old problems arise, now in the framework of the system-theoretical approach, that one encountered with in other approaches. Unlike most of Douwe Fokkema's writings, this one offers quite a umber of lessons of this sort.

Fokkema, first, offers a short manifesto canvassing for the use of the notion of system; a programmatic declaration of why systems theory should be used in literary studies:

In my opinion, the concept of system is a useful instrument both in acquiring knowledge and in action: it is not a world view, as it tends to be in Luhmann's conception. In research about literary communication, the notion of system has a heuristic function, and we continue to use it since it has proven to be useful. Apparently, the notion of system serves as a model of certain aspects of reality; it helps us to discover, describe and explain those aspects. If the knowledge obtained this way is also profitable in action, it contributes, in the words of Von Glaserfeld (1985), to our viability. [Fokkema 1991: 364]

Besides, he assures his readers that this conception accommodates all the aspects hitherto regarded as mutually exclusive:

Different from structuralist views, which made a strict separation between diachronic and synchronic research (Saussure 1915), the notion of system is capable of accomodating both a given status quo as well as movement, change, and process (Moisan 1987: 165). [Fokkema 1991: 364-365)

He then goes on confronting the Structuralist and the systemic approach, and concludes that

when it comes to studying the interaction of living human beings, it is systems theory rather than structuralism which offers itself as an appropriate approach. [Fokkema 1991: 365]

Now what is a system theoretical approach to literature? What is, to begin with, a system? According to Fokkema,

"the border line of a literary system (in modern times, and in the Western world) is determined by the criterion whether or not the agents in literary communication are prepared to respect the esthetic convention when dealing with texts."

And he continues by defining the "esthetic convention" as

"shared knowledge among a population, that the members of that population when they are inclined to deal with a text in an esthetic way are capable of processing that text according to the norms and interpretive rules valid for esthetic interaction; this means that they are prepared to exclude direct references to an established model of reality as well as questions of immediate practical relevance of that text (cf. Schmidt 1982: 51-52; 1989: 430; Fokkema 1989). [Fokkema 1991: 365]"

This definition is rather unsatisfactory, not only because it is slightly circular, but also because it does not offer much more than the good old Kantian formula on beauty. One could ask in what sense the word "knowledge" is used here - is it an aggregate of the things consciously stored in one's mind, or is it a set of tacit conventions, or both, or something else? And why use the term "population", a word applied nowhere else throughout his study, instead of, say, "interpretive community" or "agents of the system"? And do the "population" taking part in "esthetic interaction" really "exclude direct references to an established model of reality"? What is a "direct" reference (as opposed to, perhaps, an indirect one)? How can one decide if there are "questions of immediate practical relevance" present in a text? And are they necessarily and obligatorily excluded in an "esthetic interaction"? It is not saying that Fokkema's definition (following, in fact, Schmidt's and others line of argumentation) does not have a certain degree of validity. Of course it does.

Addressing the relation of the literary system to other systems (in fact, defining the functional relation of the literary system), Fokkema writes:

A literary system has a functional relation with other social systems, including other cultural and artistic systems. The literary system, for instance, has close relations with criticism - which even may be considered part of the literary system - , the system of journalism and the educational system.[Fokkema 1991: 365]

Naturally, Fokkema's ambition here is not to clarify the relation of criticism to the literary system, still, his second sentence is more than embarrassing. Is, then, criticism a system? Is it cultural or artistic or both? And what is Fokkema's answer to the question whether it is part of the literary system?

Fokkema then sets out to sketch "the internal organization of the literary system" which, for him, "can be phrased in terms of acting roles (production, distribution, reception, text processing), or in terms of conventions underlying these various roles" (Fokkema 1991: 365-366) - although it is not obvious how the two phrasings could be differentiated. Canon-formation is

not simply a subsystem or internal differentiation ('Ausdifferenzierung') of the literary system, but it has overlaps with the educational system, while it also affects the economic system of the distribution of texts. It can be called a hybrid of literary, educational and economic parentage. My definition of a literary canon is 'a selection of well-known texts, which are considered valuable, are used in education, and serve as a framework of reference for literary critics' (Fokkema 1986: 246). This would imply that the boundary of the system of canon-formation would be determined by the criterion whether agents participating in the literary system or interfering with it are setting aside certain texts as being of great literary value, with the purpose of using these texts as treasure houses of guidelines for cultural behavior (Fokkema 1991: 366)

The account of the canon as a product of a closed system of producers of literary texts, institutions of education, book market, consumers, and critics seems to reiterate the problem of the relation between the model and practice, of which Bourdieu writes,

One of the practical contradictions of scientific analysis of a practical logic lies in the paradoxical fact that the most coherent and also the most economical model, giving the simplest and most economical account of the whole set of facts observed, is not the principle of practices hich explains it better than any construct; or - which amounts to the same thing - that practice does not imply - or rather excludes - mastery of the logic that is expressed within it. (Bourdieu 1980/1990: 11)

But a system is not just an ordered set of participants and actions; it is supposed to have a function as well.

The function of the canon-formation system is to satisfy a demand of literary criticism, which cannot work on the basis of abstract norms alone. It also satisfies a need in educational policy at school, only a selection of works can be read and taught, and in order to prevent this selection from being completely arbitrary, it is guided by certain norms. The canon should offer a matrix of relevant questions and possible answers. It can be considered an instrument for problem solving. Perhaps canon-formation should also satisfy the more general demand of the educated laymen in need of a beacon in a largely secularized world. (Fokkema 1991: 366)

Canon-formation, then, serves the aims of the literary critics - but who is the actor in that activity? Is it just a lapse that the subject is not clear in Fokkema's sentences? This whole function-business does not seem to be that simple, anyway. For Viehoff, for instance, in the same volume,

The function of literary criticism is the orientation of the literary system towards goals; in particular, it governs the process of literary communication by legitimizing and implementing prevailing literary values. It is therefore correct to claim that there can be no criticism without literature, but there can be no literature without criticism either (cf. Margolin 1983). Literary critics cannot escape this interdependence when meeting the requirements of their role. (Viehoff 1991: 247)

Let us, again, turn to Fokkema's delimitation of the realm of literary system. He asserts that

"the border line of a literary system (in modern times, and in the Western world) is determined by the criterion whether or not the agents in literary communication are prepared to respect the esthetic convention when dealing with texts." [Fokkema 1991: 365]

14. 1. 1. 3. System vs network

Earlier, in connection with the communities of interpretation, it has been raised that the word "community" is certainly misleading; even if one uses it as a technical term and ignores its traditional meaning (which is, of course, is impossible to ignore), it would be useful to choose another term. Brodkey, for instance, proposes to employ the word "network" instead:

... social network is sociology's attempt to substantiate empirically the sense of community. In the literature on network analysis, a social network is consistently described in terms of observable social practices. Perhaps then what is meant by community might be better understood as a social network or, even more likely, as a collectivity of interdependent social networks.(1989: 36)

She then goes on explaining that

"A network is a group of people bound by their social circumstances" (ibid.), and introduces Lomnitz's distinction between egocentric and exocentric networks, the former being closed and offering reciprocal services, the latter subject of exterior influences, depending and competing with other networks (36-38).

This idea is very impressing and it is hardly a question that networks (or communities, for that matter) must be part of a description of a system. But since goods, services, money, rewards, objects, or manipulations, maneuvers, control, frame, action and cognitions are pretty difficult to locate in the network, system still remains an apt term to apply.

14. 1. 1. 4. System vs Field

There are strong arguments, especially those forwarded by Bourdieu, to use the concept of "field" instead that of "system":

In my view, there are in systems-theory a number of postulates about social reality that one cannot accept, such as the hypothesis of a process of self-regulation, the idea of internal cohesion or of common functions. All these organicist postulates are very dangerous. By using the notion of field, I want to make explicit the fact that literary products may be systematic without being the products of a system. ... In particular, the system may be the product of conflict and, using the notion of field, I want to emphasize the fact that fields of cultural production are based on the acceptance of common goals, of common stakes which make possible an agreement about points of disagreement. (Bourdieu 1989: 31)

Moreover, there are methodological considerations which may lead one to prefer the concept of field:

What the concept of field suggests, then, is a general method, a general mode of generating questions and building anwers. In every field that you study, you know that agents will look to accumulate capital, that there will be struggles over the capital, but you do not know what specific capital, how it is accumulated, where the 'banks' of capital are, and thus where boundaries of the field lie. (Bourdieu 1989: 28)

Concentrating to the field, one may surpass the investigation of individual phenomena, the - often hopeless and only locally interesting - research on institutions:

...the field is not a mere aggregation of points, it's not an additive entity. What is important in a field is not the individual or the given institution: it is the space formed by objective relations between the positions occupied by individuals or institutions. The field is made up, not of personal, interactional relationships, but of objective relationships, such as those of domination. (Bourdieu 1989: 35)

In the debate between Bourdieu and Schmidt, it seems evident that Schmidt insists on and will continue to use the term system. Others agree that this is the right notion: "In research about literary communication, the notion of system has a heuristic function, and we continue to use it since it has proven to be useful. Apparently, the notion of system serves as a model of certain aspects of reality; it helps us to discover, describe and explain those aspects. If the knowledge obtained this way is also profitable in action, it contributes, in the words of Von Glaserfeld (1985), to our viability." (Fokkema 1991: 364)

Intuitively knowing, more or less, the world around us, the participants and (or) the main factors and (or) institutions of the literary field can be quite easily be listed. These has been quite a lot written about each of them, individually; but not about their constellations and relations.

As to the participants of the system, roles which later on became autonomuous and distinct had been, in earlier systems, intermingled and overlapping. Thus, in the 18th century, publishers, authors and distributors could belong to the same group (as opposed to the consumers).

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