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  • The Nation between the Epic and the Novel: France PreŠeren’s The Baptism on the Savica as a Compromise “World Text”*
  • Marko Juvan

In this article, I take as the point of departure two concepts produced by Franco Moretti: the concept of the “modern epic” as the “sacred/world text” of a given cultural tradition (Modern 1–39, 88), and the concept of “compromise” as the form and content of the interliterary contact between the center and the periphery (“Conjectures” 58–60; “More Conjectures” 78–79). As understood by Moretti, the modern epic is an important agent of the fracture between unified, class homogeneous “classical writing” and pluralist “modern writing” marked by class conflict—the process that, for example, Roland Barthes (17, 58–60) identifies in nineteenth-century French literature and its construction of the institution of Literature. Just when Literature had firmly established itself within the framework of classical writing, it immediately began to fall apart, as authors turned to modern writing under the influence of the bourgeois ideologeme of pluralism. In the absence of a common sociocultural framework, the styles of the mid-nineteenth century became equal, comparable, and interchangeable, which led authors to a frustrating engagement with the problematic nature of language as a literary medium (Barthes 60–61).

In contrast to the natural individuality of personal style and the spontaneous reality of the language system, Barthes conceives of writing as a social framework for the discourse consciously or unconsciously chosen by the writer. Writing is therefore a mode of “the relationship between creation and society,” “the morality of form, the choice of that social area within which the writer elects to situate the Nature of his language” (Barthes 14–15). The transition from classical to modern writing is also manifest in the correlation between the genre system and the political processes participating in the construction of a nation in pre-bourgeois and bourgeois societies. While (semi)-peripheral European literatures, including, for example, German literature, seek to establish national identity with the aid of the epic as a privileged [End Page 382] form of classical writing, the central and well-established national literatures, such as English literature, demonstrate their identity with the novel as a popular form of modern writing distributed via the print media of the bourgeois society (see Moretti, Modern 50; Anderson 24–25).

The novel, which according to Benedict Anderson and Moretti is a key ideological factor in the conception of a nation, played its part more quietly and in the background compared to the epic, which functioned as an explicitly nation-building genre and had a lasting effect on a broader readership. The novel acted on the imaginary social ties between individuals immersed in their privacy with spheres of action that marked the living space of a nation (see Moretti, Atlas), with a language that sought to mimetically internalize the reality of contemporary heteroglossia and with plausible narratives about heroes with whom readers could identify, seeing themselves as the heroes’ compatriots. As Moretti explains, the prosaic regularity of everyday life of the “serious century” was presented by the novel to its bourgeois readership through a subdued rhetoric of the effects of the real (see Moretti, “Serious” 368–70, 375–86, 391–92).

The subterranean ideological agency of the novel, which, with its “prosaics” (Morson and Emerson 15–25), turned the idea of society based on a common language, traditions, habits, and space into something natural, everyday, and real, represents a modern alternative to the traditionally aristocratic and poetic monumentality of the epic. Thus, treating the arts that symbolically unite and represent nations (for example, monumental architecture, sculpture, patriotic music, and historical painting), Hegel, the metaphysicist of German cultural nationalism, provides a particularly extensive treatment of epic poetry in his Lectures on Aesthetics, specifically mentioning “a national epic [ein nationales Epos]” (Hegel 1057). In “epic proper,” Hegel sees the sacred book of a nation, its foundation and the expression of its history, spirit, and culture: “[T]he content and form of epic proper is the entire world-outlook and objective manifestation of a national spirit presented in its self-objectifying shape as an actual event” (1044). The monumental, heroic, and poetic form of...


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