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  • History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries
  • Monika Baár (bio)
Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer (eds.), History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries. 2 Vols. (= A Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages, 19). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2004 and 2006, ISBN 90-272-3452-3 (Vol. 1), 90-272-5453-1 (Vol. 2); €198 (Vol. 1), €190 (Vol. 2).

History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe is a significant and monumental venture, comprising four volumes, two of which have already been published. It forms part of the series Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages, and follows on from the publication of the History of Literature in the Caribbean. Authored by a team of international experts, it aims to offer a new direction in the study of East-Central European literature over the last two hundred [End Page 468] years. The project attempts to re-conceptualize literary traditions in the region by deconstructing national myths and focusing on common themes, thereby opening up perspectives which are routinely overlooked in traditional national literary histories. The four volumes of History approach literary traditions from five distinct angles: key political events; literary periods and genres; cities and regions; literary institutions; and real and imaginary figures.

The enterprise is reinforced by the editors' mission to provide foundations for the integration of the region's literary cultures into the European 'canon', a process which they see as compatible with that of European integration. They believe that this incorporation can only succeed if individual nations 'are willing and able to surrender some of their autonomy in exchange for a recognition of inner diversity as well as of an external commonweal with the neighbours' (Vol. 1, p. xi). The authors' definition of East-Central Europe is more inclusive than the conventional interpretation, which associates the successor states of the Habsburg Empire and the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with this region. For the purpose of this series, East Central-Europe stretches from the Baltic countries in the north to the South Slavic countries and Albania in the south, and from the Czech Republic in the west to the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova in the east.

Volume One of History comprises two parts, 'Nodes of political time' and 'Histories of literary form', which are introduced with an essay that addresses both the content and the chosen methodology. Inspired by the ground-breaking A New History of French Literature (1989, edited by Denis Hollister), in the first part of the volume the authors eschew the traditional totalizing and encyclopaedic narrative in favour of a series of essays which revolve around temporal nodes, with specific years representing watersheds in the history of the region. The absence of a teleological perspective enables the authors to reverse the chronological order. Therefore, the discussion of 'historical nodes' commences with 1989 and finishes with 1776, covering such crucial turning points as 1968, 1956, 1945, 1918 and 1848 in between. The second part of Volume One focuses on literary periods and genres, offering paradigmatic studies using a transnational approach, opting again for a non-totalizing perspective. It also addresses the transgressions between boundaries and the emergence of new genres like reportage and fictionalized autobiography and includes a subsection on opera and film.

Volume Two consists of three sections: 'Cities as sites of hybrid literary identity and multicultural production', 'Regional sites of cultural [End Page 469] hybridization', and 'The literary reconstruction of East-Central Europe's imagined communities: Native to Diasporic'. It discusses various topographic sites, in particular multicultural cities, multiethnic regions and border areas. The strength of this volume is that it gives equal weight to diverse cultural and national influences in relation to individual cities and regions in order to overcome the exclusivist perspective of individual national traditions. Such a variety is manifest in the multiple names of the cities discussed, such as Vilnius / Vilna / Wilno and Czernowitz / Cernąuţi / Chernovtsy / Chernitvsti / Czerniowce. Regions that are covered include, beyond what would usually be expected, Transylvania...


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pp. 468-471
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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