Steven TOTOSY de ZEPETNEK
An Application of the Systemic and Empirical Framework
in Diaspora and Ethnic Studies
Abschnitt 2

   
             
 
   Home    
   

It appears to me that in particular the systemic and empirical approach and its framework's ability to avoid the mistake of downgrading the literary, indeed, polyvalence and consequently canonical value of some, if not all, diaspora and ethnic literature is most advantageous. In other words, the systemic and empirical approach allows us to take into account extra-literary factors which often mark, indeed, designate, the perception of diaspora and ethnic literature. As I already mentioned, in very general terms, diaspora and ethnic literature appears to be more often than not having difficulties in the overall canonization process in the sense of primary or even secondary recognition. The reasons for this are manyfold and here are some examples of the why of this marginalization. For example, Robert S. Newman writes that "it is safe to say that we normally expect exile or refugee literature to be transparent. That is, we assume that those who encounter it will accept it at face value and perhaps even understand its subtextual implications. But the varying reception of exiles and refugees over the years should make us wonder about this model of transparency" (87). An alternative is proposed, for example, by Francesco Loriggio, who suggests that "One of the more interesting aspects of ethnic literature as a field of study is the obligations it entails. The critic is forced to work on many levels simultaneously. S/he must name the texts, disseminate them, and, at the same time, at this particular stage of the game, define them, situate them within the agenda of the century and the debate it has fostered" (575). This a priori positioning of the study of diaspora and ethnic literature is - among other reasons - why I designate the approach and its object of study as "systemic." More to the point, once the "systemic" positioning of the diaspora/ethnic text is performed, it already obtains a higher order of perception with regards to its more sophisticated analysis, and hence, possible recognition toward canonization. Because in a systemic context the text is located within the framework of the interrelation between its function as a peripheral text that is related to both the "home" literature and the literary origins based in its location of production. Following Loriggio's argumentation that the positioning of an ethnic text involves historical strategies, in which "ethnicity is active disemia, disemia congenital to one's biography and behaviour, historically and institutionally overdetermined" (585), the systemic positioning of diaspora and ethnic writing with reference to what appears to be the criticized historical and autobiographical element, becomes, evidently, multi-layeredness and creative sophistication. In other words, the tenets of the systemic and empirical approach to literature and culture which proposes to observe and to describe the extra-textual factors of a literary text in a specific manner are appropriate as well as advantageous for the study and legitimization of diaspora and ethnic writing.

Following the above outlined theoretical and methodological presuppositions, next I apply my postulates to an aspect of Central and East Central European literature and culture. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989-90, Central and East Central Europe gained new currency in general social discourse, in politics, economics, as well as in literature and culture. In general social and political discourse, the designation of "Central Europe" and the discussion around it has been at times fierce; nevertheless, the discussion itself raised many questions about identity and culture. Milan Kundera, Timothy Garton Ash, Czeslaw Milosz, György Konrád, Péter Esterházy, Claudio Magris, Adam Michnik, Danilo Kis, and scores of other prominent intellectuals and writers discussed and discuss the notion of Central Europe and whether it exists in various shapes and forms or not. More often than not, the debate ends, in an affirmation of the notion of Central Europe. Perhaps the most astute and informed as well as impartial piece of writing being Garton Ash's 1986 article, "Does Central Europe Exist?" The current interest in the idea of a Central Europe -- as well as its tandem notions of East Central Europe, South Eastern Europe, the debate on Mitteleuropa in Austria and in Germany, the historical relevance of Zwischeneuropa, etc. -- relates to the economics and the political aspects of Europe and the European Union and the larger problematics of globalization and markets. Central European nation states make great efforts to join the European Union and they wish to join clearly for economic reasons. Germany is interested in the countries of the former states of the Iron Curtain for historical reasons as well as current economic and market considerations. Austria, itself  the quintessential Central European country and culture debates fiercely whether to support its successor states of the Danube monarchy in their efforts to join the European Union or not (see, for example, Gauss). And clearly, behind these economic and political factors culture plays a crucial role in the argumentation for the joining of Central European states with the European Union.

With regard to the history of the notion of Central Europe, we must pay attention to Milan Kundera, who argues that "the geographic boundaries of Central Europe are vague, changeable, and debatable ... Central Europe is polycentral and looks different from different vantage points: Warsaw or Vienna, Budapest or Ljubljana ... Central Europe never was an intentional, desired unit. With the exception of the Hapsburg emperor, his court, and few isolated intellectuals, no Central European desired a Central Europe. The cultures of the individual peoples had centrifugal, separatist tendencies; they far preferred to look to England, France, or Russia than one another; and if in spite of that (or perhaps because of that) they resembled each other, it was without their will or against their will" (12)

If the history and genesis of a Central Europe or a Central European culture is questionable as Kundera suggests, the notion, as he states, "that they resembled each other" is a more accepted idea. Virgil Nemoianu, for instance, argues in his 1993 article, "Learning over Class: The Case of the Central European Ethos" that there is a structure of Central Europeanness which he calls an "ethos" and which explains as being a specific configuration of education and the Roman Catholic religious imagination, resulting in a specific cultural and behavioral value system. Another recent example is Louis Rose's The Freudian Calling: Early Viennese Psychoanalysis and the Pursuit of Cultural Science (1998) where he argues in many aspects similarly to Nemoianu that humanist education (Bildung) in a context of traditional aesthetic culture and the leadership by a Roman Catholic aristocracy created a specific characteristic and cultural space of and in the region (28-29). In my recent book, Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application (1998), I too argue for the existence of a Central European cultural space and I propose the said theoretical designation of "in-between peripherality" -- a framework that takes into account the 40-year impact of Soviet communist rule over all previous Habsburg lands except Austria and where I argue for cultural specificities and a common cultural character of Central Europe. The framework is then applied to contemporary Hungarian and Romanian literary texts: the result of the application makes it clear that the argument for the existence of a contemporary Central European literature as representing certain characteristics specific to the region may be valid. Further, in recent years, the theme of Central European philosophy, connected with but independent of literature, has been given more thorough attention. The Polish logical school, logical neopositivism, phenomenology, the Prague school of linguistics, and analytic philosophy, Gestalt psychology, the Vienna economics school -- as well as individual thinkers -- are all movements and groups specifically Central European and continuing to make a strong impact on thinking and artistic expression today.

In general social discourse about culture, the existence and location of a specific Central European space (a cultural noyau) is generally accepted, it appears, despite Kundera's and many others' more cautious and differentiated view. The difficulty arises when it has to be explained in detail and exemplified. What is needed, therefore, is a comparative and synthesizing approach and method which take into account several areas of cultural expression from a good number of cultural regions of Central Europe. In addition, it may also be of some importance from which location the observation is performed. For instance, while Kundera is right in his assessment of the history of the notion and idea of Central Europe, what his argument lacks is the perspective from the outside. True, the Hungarian in Hungary or the Slovak in Slovakia is foremost Hungarian and Slovak, respectively (that is, "still" but perhaps not as homogeneously as before). And he or she would certainly pay more attention to Germany or the USA than to a notion of Central Europe when he/she is in Hungary or Slovakia. And the same observation can be made in scholarly discourse. The perspective changes, however, once the individual is outside of his/her original location, cultural or other. In other words, when Milan Kundera lives in Paris, or  Josef Skvorecky or George Faludy live in Toronto, that is when they often become of a dual intellectual and personal hybrid: Hungarian or Czech and Central European. It is common knowledge that members of nationalities -- ethnic groups in Canada, the USA, or other locations of emigration and/or exile -- interact in many aspects when before they would not. Thus, Czechs and Hungarians, for example, discover kinship and the Central European dimension when they are together in Toronto or Berlin. This perspective of the "removed location" is both an important aspect of the Central European designation as well as an important force of the construction of the Central European designation. Clearly, the voices of a "removed location" in the sense I suggest applies very strongly to the designation of Central Europe, simply for historical reasons: the wars and revolutions and the economic hardship that was experienced in the region we call Central and East Central Europe created large waves of exile and emigration to all countries in Western Europe as well as North America, as we know.

Now, I would like to briefly explore and discuss several recent memoirs by Jewish-Hungarian women authors whose writing serves as an example for my proposed theoretical framework as applied to Central European literature and culture, in turn in the proposed framework of in-between peripherality. But why the specific attention to Jewish-Hungarian writing? John Willett, in an editorial entitled "Is There a Central European Culture?" writes that "the elements of a new Central European culture must come from even farther afield than they did before Hitler and Stalin. We certainly cannot expect them to depend on the spontaneous German-Jewish-Yiddish tradition that once seemed to link the comedian Peischacke Burstein in Vilnius with the writer Ettore Schmitz in Trieste: however unforgettable, the source is barred, buried under the masonry of the great concentration camp memorials. But the essence of mid-Europe surely is that its cultural inspiration must come from both East and West, and its role be to test ideas against one another and use the result in its own creativity". (15)

top

 
Abschnitt 1

Abschnitt 2

Abschnitt 3

Literatur

Druckversion