28 mar. 2006

Is literature something that belongs to a nation, a cultural patrimony? That's implicit in my field, which is based on the literature of a single modern nation state--even projected back before Spain was a nation in the modern sense. With different "nationalities" within contemporary Spain things get very complicated. Can Galician literature be about anything more than Galician cultural/national identity? (about in two sense: that's the subject of the works themselves, and that's the question posed by the very existence of such a thing.)

It's implicit in Comparative Literature--the "comparison" is between or among "national" traditions.

With Latin American lit at least there is an entire continent, with several regions, nations within these regions, etc... So the field doesn't get defined that way. There are still Mexicanists and colombianistas, of course, but they never get the entire field to themselves.

It's implicit in American Literature--that the implicit question, always, is what makes it American. Some American writers are more American than others. Emerson, Whitman, Williams, Melville.

I never thought I was that interested in this question. That is, I never really liked the idea of literature as belonging to someone's project of what the nation should be--whether it is right or left wing project or somewhere in between. Yet it is hard to step around such a big elephant. It is the displinary organization and ideology, all wrapped up in one package. It has to be unpacked.

9 comentarios:

François dijo...

I've had the same concerns lately, stemming from a current argument with a friend, he arguing that the best poetry came from Poland and France, I against any form of hierarchy in comparative literature. An interesting question arises when we have consider nomadic poets (to use Pierre Joris's term). What do we make of Joris (from Luxembourg, but writing in English), Samuel Beckett (co-opted into the French cannon), Tristan Tzara or more importantly Paul Celan? There are of course others and the question itself is not new. But I guess it needs to be constantly asked in comparative literature.

Henry Gould dijo...

Be careful to differentiate your analytical categories - the "aspects" of a work which you want to consider - from the substance of the work as a whole.

The failure to make such a distinction, it seems to me, leads to such notions as that Galician poetry, for example, could only be "about" Galician "identity".

Don't confuse your own methodological-disiplinary tools for the thing itself.

It seems to me that the neo-Aristotelian Chicago Critics are very helpful, if not exactly fashionable, on these issues of method.

Jonathan dijo...

If I were careful about my analytic categories this would not be a blog post written in 4 minutes.

The "thing itself" arises in an institutional context. I'm not saying there's not other issues in Galician literature, but that the very category exists because of a prior decision to define a literature in terms of a national identity. That leads to a certain selection in what counts as Galician in the first place.

Even a poem not about this problem in its thematics will still be a statement about cultural identity--simply by virtue of being written in this language within this institutional context. it will be part of the debate. Is the Red Wheelbarrow "about" being a specifically American poet? I think it might be. I'm not saying that the "American studies" context is the only one to consider, the only valid interpretive framework. In fact, my post was meant to suggest a way of stepping outside of this framework, if only so we could see it better.

Henry Gould dijo...

But how is a poem written "within this institutional context"?

This seems to be the point where you are, in a sense, evacuating the unique objectivity & wholeness of the poetry under consideration.

It is being absorbed by academic osmosis.

The poem is written. The scholar creates an institutional context. These are 2 different things.

A poem may indeed be written within a cultural/ideological set of motivations, which include nationalism, or whatever.

But this should not simply be assumed from the outset. That's why, I would think, one would want to distinguish carefully between the poem itself and the various analytical or interpretive frameworks that are set up to consider it.

Jonathan dijo...

I agree, Henry. What I should have said is that these poems are, generally speaking, written as well as consumed within a cultural/ideological set of motivations. All the more so the stronger these motivations are in the official cultural policy of the state. That's why I chose the Galician example. You don't write in Irish or Galician without some sense of cultural identity tied up with the language. Or very few do so.

Jonathan dijo...

With Beckett, too, you have the library problem. There's the PR Beckett books (English). And the PQ Beckett books (French).

Henry Gould dijo...

Not to mention the [I Can't Go On], [I'll Go On] Garden of the Forking Decision-Paths Dilemma.

michael dijo...

nationalism is mega-coproplenteous & poets should be the first to assert their privilege of ignoring those boundaries. perhaps at times a poet has a political identification--this is still not a basis for creating such a class of writing.

the real issue: what do poets read?

but it's hard to set up a curriculum on a subject that branches so fractally. even tracing the lineage of one writer hugely ramifies.

in sum: what poets share are ideas, not addresses.


Jonathan dijo...

I think there are American poets read only (or 95%) American poetry, know only English, etc... Their nationalism is more passive than it is an active choice.