Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer, eds., The History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, vol. 1, 2004, 647 pp.; vol. 2, 2005, 514 pp.
The recently published two volumes of The History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe are part of the University of Toronto Literary History Project, initiated in 1996, with Mario J. Valdes and Linda Hutcheon as general editors. Collectively, the volumes on East-Central European and Latin American literary cultures are intended to reform the way literary history is conceived and written and to answer the challenge of renewing the theoretical models of literary studies by exploring the concrete possibilities opened up by these challenges. (1)
The very title--History of the Literary Cultures, rather than a more traditional "History of Literature"--emphasizes the broad transnational and sociopolitical direction of this enterprise, which from the very beginning announces itself as a rewriting of exclusively aesthetic and formalist analyses of national literatures. The four volumes of the East-Central European series, coordinated by Marcel Cornis Pope and John Neubauer, involve some 120 scholars and approximately 200 articles that seek to redesign the profile of a region with fluctuating, multicultural, and plural identities.
Implicitly polemicizing with both nationalistic and purely theoretical ways of representing the region and its literature, Cornis-Pope and Neubauer seek to create a work that not only remaps a geographic space, but also challenges traditional categories of literary history, such as national literature and writers, national movements, history as a grand narrative, and literature as a .xed corpus of texts exemplified by canonical genres and clearly defined artistic movements. Instead, the structure of the four volumes is built around concepts such as "temporal nodes," "literary topographies," "margino centric cities," "nomadic literary figures," "shifting genres," "transnational/regional spaces," "cultural interfaces," and "imaginary communities," to name just a few. A succinct semantic analysis of these concepts elucidates the theoretical attempt of the editors and contributors to generate a regionally specific and culturally diverse yet ethnically and formally comprehensive narrative of East-Central Europe.
In this spirit, the subchapters of the two volumes focus on regional sites of cultural hybridization, defined by phenomena of cross-cultural interaction. Examples range from the literary cultures of the Danubian corridor to multicultural regions such as Transylvania, the Balkans, the various spaces inhabited by Jewish populations, and the regional spaces of Galicia, Pannonia, Macedonia, and Istra. To this exercise in cultural topography, which emphasizes the importance of border regions, geocultural corridors, and boundary transgressions, one can add other initiatives that challenge a traditional type of literary history no longer suitable for representing the cross-cultural reality and understanding of the region.
One of the most relevant means of decentralization is reflected in the historical conception of the project, which, far from following a linear, chronological scheme, embraces T. S. Eliot's theory of the reversed tradition, which posits that the really new work of art necessarily alters the order of the canon and thus establishes a kind of conformity between the past and the present. Using Eliot's principle that "the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past," the authors of the History consider the cultures of East-Central Europe from a contemporary perspective, placing more importance on cross-cultural phenomena, which have defined the entire area, instead of focusing on single figures and movements that might have impacted each culture of the region singly. …