An Application of the Systemic and Empirical Framework
in Diaspora and Ethnic Studies


This Festschrift in honour of Siegfried J. Schmidt has been conceived as a collection in which  contributors explore in their texts the varied ways in and through which they have applied and developed the work of Siegfried J. Schmidt. As suggested by the editors of the volume, such an encounter may be biographical, bibliographical, personal, theoretical, etc. As it happens, in my own case this involvement with Schmidt and his work has occurred in multiple ways, both intellectual and personal. I first encountered Schmidt's work in 1984 one afternoon strolling in and picking my way through the PN section for literary theory of the University of Alberta library. This is two years after Schmidt's seminal Grundriss der Empirischen Literaturwissenschaft appeared in German in two volumes and the first volume in English, translated by Robert de Beaugrande. Before 1984 I have heard of Itamar Even-Zohar's polysystem studies and of the French school of bibliologie and I have applied both frameworks in my work when a graduate student of comparative literature. While these approaches and methodologies in and for the study of literature appeared to me more interesting than most others - at least for the type of study and research I was interested in - in my own intellectual interests I was interested in a more holistic approach that at the same time had a precise methodology. Thus, my "chance" encounter with the two volumes of the Grundriss was perhaps some sort of lucky response to my own search for a framework that would satisfy my desire to study literature and culture in a specific way. After several weeks of reading and thinking about Schmidt's Grundriss, I set to work and after I first applied Schmidt's theoretical framework and methodology in a study of prefaces to nineteenth-century English- and French-Canadian novels, (see Tötösy 1989, 1993), I followed Schmidt's notions with over one hundred articles and books on a variety of topics, theoretical and/or applied. My involvement with the work of Schmidt also extended to participation in the learned association Schmidt founded, IGEL: International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature as whose president I served 1994-96. More recently, I began to develop Schmidt's notions for a framework I designate "comparative cultural studies" (see Tötösy 1999 <> and I began to develop a framework of the said framework of comparative cultural studies with Schmidt's notions for a new media scholarship including audience studies (see Tötösy 2000, 2001).

It is known enough in literary studies how controversial Schmidt's work is and the resistance to  the basic notions in his work, such as the "empirical" or the notion of "systems theory," is no different in North America. I will not extend my counter arguments here. Instead, in keeping with the editors' objective in this Festschrift honouring Schmidt, I present a theoretical mini framework based on Schmidt's theory, followed by an application of the said mini theory. It was in Porto, Portugal, in 1995, when Siegfried explained at length - over several glasses of vino verde in a restaurant over the river where they make porto - how he has become dissatisfied with the situation of literary scholarship, intellectually and institutionally, in Germany and, for that matter, everywhere. A few months later he left his professorship at the University of Siegen and with that the field of literary study and took up a new professorship in media and communication studies at the University of Münster. His move - intellectual and institutional - is a serious loss to literary studies, at least in my opinion but it is a gain for communication and media studies because of the dimensions he brings to the field, especially in his theoretical work applicable in cultural studies that often is a sub-section of communication and media studies. I believe that Schmidt's work in literary studies is seminal and it is pity that the field has not embraced it. All is not exceptional however: one area I find Schmidt's work lacking is his focus on German-language sources. While most scholars in most nations usually focus on sources of their own language - that is, the French on French, the Germans on German, the Italian on Italian, the US American on Us American (and only small nations pay attention to more than one-language sources, by necessity - it is particularly surprising to find that in his work Schmidt refers to almost only German-language sources. As I argued many times with Siegfried over this, it would, at least in my opinion, add to the intellectual width of his work to be more comparative. Another matter I have been suggesting to Siegfried over the years repeatedly is the necessity to have his books published in English translation, for obvious reasons. It remains yet to be seen whether he takes up this suggestion.

A Theory for and Application in Diaspora and Ethnic Studies

While national literatures and/or main-language literatures possessing a decisive number of systemic elements such as a historical locus, established parameters of tradition, and power bases of  politics and economics obviously determine their visibility and importance, there is a significant "other" corpus of literature, namely that of diaspora and ethnic writing. This type of writing is by no means small and depending from the point of view of the observer, it is either with focus on the original literature wherefrom the text is created -- either in thematics, or language, or in any further or other parameters and in this case it is designated as "diaspora writing" -- or with focus on its new location in which case it is designated as "ethnic writing." In other words, Chinese or Hungarian literature written in Canada is designated as diaspora writing in Chinese or Hungarian literary scholarship and it is designated as ethnic writing in Canadian literary scholarship. And such literatures are, in recognition and in function within the system of culture, peripheral in all cases.

Diaspora and ethnic literature is difficult to account for, difficult to canonize, difficult to recognize. As most recognition occurs in a complicated and fragmented way based on factors and in areas such as critical and academic attention, readership, production and distribution parameters, sales figures, literary historical attention, etc., diaspora and ethnic writing is and remains hard to assess and, and consequently, to accept as a significant corpus of literature in the scholarship of literature and culture. However, in recent years there has been increasing interest in all aspects of diaspora and ethnic writing in all major Western literatures. In the North American English-speaking theoretical and critical landscape, Charles Bernheimer's (ed.) Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam's Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media, Gurbhagat Singh's (ed.) Differential Multilogue: Comparative Literature and National Literatures, Susan P. Castillo's Notes from the Periphery: Marginality in North American Literature and Culture, Winfried Siemerling and Katrin Schwenk's (eds.) Cultural Difference and the Literary Text: Pluralism and the Limits of Authenticity in North American Literatures, David Palumbo-Liu's (ed.) The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions and Interventions, Sneja Gunew's Framing Marginality: Multicultural Literary Studies, or Satya P. Mohanty's Literary Theory and the Claims of History are good examples (for a bibliography of theoretical works about ethnic writing with particular reference to Canadian ethnic writing, see Tötösy 1996d, 1999d; for my own previous work on ethnic writing, see, for instance, 1996a,b,c). Mohanty's book is, in addition, an example for the emergence of the notion of objectivity on the North American theoretical landscape, a notion which I propagate with the systemic and empirical approach to literature and culture below.

In my opinion, what all these works lack is methodology, as ideologically and politically correct they may be and as important their introduction to the ethnic corpus may indeed be. In addition, on a deeper ideological level, their basic premise "to see universalism and particularism as inevitably opposed ideals" (see Mohanty xii), resulted in a situation where diaspora and ethnic writing remains in-between, on the periphery, and the attention payed to them polarizes instead of achieving general recognition and created a situation where only strong rhetoric and political correctness can result - not always - attention and recognition. In response to the above briefly outlined situation in scholarship and in the general perception of readership and audience of culture, there are three notions which I would like explore in my paper. First, the connection between the discipline of comparative literature (and culture) and diaspora and ethnic writing. Second, the question of methodology here with specific attention to the study of diaspora and ethnic writing, and third, the notion of the applicability of my theory of "in-between peripherality" for the study of diaspora and ethnic writing. It should be noted, however, that all this is built on the theoretical work of Siegfried J. Schmidt, Itamar Even-Zohar, and Pierre Bourdieu (for a bibliography, see Tötösy 1999b).

It has been argued that the discipline of comparative literature has always payed attention to the peripheral, to alterité, to the "Other." I agree with this perspective of the discipline and stated that this as the discipline's seventh principle in my recent position paper, "From Comparative Literature Today toward Comparative Cultural Studies":"The Seventh General Principle of Comparative Literature is its theoretical, methodological as well as ideological and political approach of inclusion. This inclusion extends to all Other, all marginal, minority, and peripheral and it encompasses both form and substance" and I again refer to the notion in the tenth principle of the discipline: "Because I believe that scholarship where interdisciplinarity, the recognition and inclusion of the Other, and where the in-depth knowledge of several languages and literatures are basic parameters advances our knowledge in a particular as well as advantageous manner. I prefer the multi‑facetted approach of this discipline, that, at the same time, is based on scholarly rigor and multi‑layered knowledge" (Tötösy 1997b; for a further developed notion, see Tötösy 1999a).  To me, it is evident that comparative literature is historically, theoretically, and in application best equipped to study diaspora and ethnic writing, and demonstrably so (see, for example, Gnisci; Gnisci and Sinopoli, among many others). As I have proposed elsewhere (e.g., 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999a), in my opinion it is misguided that literary scholarship continues to conduct research and study in a metaphoric, hermeneutic, and narratological manner, all without or, at best, with limited and/or oblique taxonomy and methodology. This basic approach to the study of literature determines that I favor frameworks such as the systemic and empirical approach, the polysystem theory, or similar theoretically and methodologically more explicit frameworks (see, for example, Schmidt; Even-Zohar; Bourdieu). Further, that the systemic and empirical approach would provide advantageous theoretical and methodological properties for the study of diaspora and ethnic writing, I will underline by an analogy. Toril Moi's well-known article, "Appropriating Bourdieu: Feminist Theory and Pierre Bourdieu's Sociology of Culture" contains, although not explicitly, an argument for the advantages of the systemic approach in the study of literature. In Moi's words: "Bourdieu's sociology of culture, I would argue, is promising terrain for feminists precisely because it allows us to produce highly concrete and specific analyses of the social determinants of the literary énonciation" (1018). Of course, Bourdieu's proximity to the theoretical framework of the systemic approach to literature is well known (see Bourdieu 1991, 1991; on the approximation of Schmidt's, Even-Zohar's, and Bourdieu's frameworks, see Tötösy 1997a). In addition, Moi argues that the dislocation of doxa is particularly advantageous with an approach as with that of Bourdieu. Thus, Moi's recognition of the "systemic" approach for the study of feminist writing is conceptually similar to the suggestion that the systemic approach would be useful for the study of diaspora and ethnic writing in that these types of literatures, feminist and diaspora, are traditionally peripheral literatures. In the case of diaspora and ethnic writing they have been on the periphery mainly because literary scholars - in very genereal terms - approached diaspora and ethnic literary texts with a point of view focused on the texts' aesthetic properties only. Because the systemic and empirical approach allows for the study of diaspora and ethnic literary texts in the context of social communicative action, the use of the framework will result in a more inclusive view of culture and literature (for my first reference to the connection of the approach and ethnic writing, see Tötösy 1992, 31-32). In other words, I rate highly the framework's ability to avoid the mistake of downgrading (marginalizing) the literary, indeed, polyvalence and consequently canonical value of some, if not all, diaspora and ethnic writing.

Recently, I developed the notion of "in-between peripherality" for the study of Central and East Central European literatures (see Tötösy 1998, 1999c). Briefly, my theoretical postulates are that Central and East Central European literatures traditionally exist on the periphery of the major European literatures, following their historical, economical, and political marginalization, including the field of literary scholarship. However, because of their cultural self-referentiality, they are not only "peripheral" but also "in-between," that is, in-between their own national cultural self-referentiality and the cultural influence and primacy of the major Western cultures they are influenced by. While my notion may be understood as a macro theory because it deals with "national" literatures, the notion of in-between peripherality can be also applied to diaspora and ethnic writing as a parallel macro theory based on the large corpus of writing in existence. The parameters are similar: the diaspora author and text is "in-between" the original culture and literature the author and his/her text emanate from and both are "peripheral" with regard to the original culture and literature and their location. My notion is not new, in principle. For example, Homi K. Bhabha writes in his The Location of Culture that multicultural writing "is the `inter' - the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the inbetween space - that carries the burden of the meaning of culture" (38). And in English-language scholarship in general, there are many further examples and attempts to define diaspora and ethnic writing as I suggested in my introduction. In American scholarship the notion of "border writing" (see, for example, Jay), or Amin Malak's "ambivalent affiliations" and "in-betweenness," François Paré's "exiguity" and the "margins of literature" may serve as excellent examples. However, as I mentioned above, these frameworks all lack methodology and/or precise taxonomy.


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