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  • Rereading, Rewriting, and Other Literary Things We DoOr, Matei’s Uncanny Prescience and the Irresistable Rise of Zombie Novels
  • Liedeke Plate (bio)

Shortly after the publication of Rereading, Matei Călinescu writes an essay entitled “Rewriting,” in which he discusses the characteristics of postmodern rewriting. The move is not surprising. As Călinescu states in this essay, rewriting “is tied in various fashions to reading and rereading” (243). In Rereading, his discussions of “reading as a form of mental (re)writing” (76) led to their being sometimes used interchangeably, as when he writes of “writerly rereading or mental rewriting” (277). Also, in the Epilogue, he discusses the “reader who will not only become deeply absorbed but will possibly cross the threshold from purely mental (re)writing to real creative writing” (275). In the opening paragraphs of “Rewriting,” he goes on to explain that “the repeated reading of certain classics over time generates the idea of rewriting them,” adding that, “more importantly,” “rewriting ideally asks for rereading, or for the kind of attention that is characteristic of reflective rereading, both in regard to the master text and to the text that is derived from it” (243). For me, however, as a student of Matei at the time, the move also felt threatening. To his question, “what will you write your dissertation on?”, repeated at intervals at departmental picnics or in the elevator of Ballantine Hall, the building that houses the Comparative Literature Program at Indiana University, where he had been teaching since 1973, I had [End Page 147] been answering for some time that I thought of writing on rewriting.1 That my projected dissertation director was now devoting an article to the subject felt like he was treading on my territory, making his what I thought of as “my topic.” This fear of appropriation became strongest when he asked me to comment on its draft and supply him with examples of rewriting. I have kept the documents on file; and as I now compare the article as it is published in the International Postmodernism volume (edited by Hans Bertens and Douwe Fokkema) with my copies of his draft and of my answer to his request, I note with some pleasure that the only change he made to his text (besides minor, typographical corrections) was to add some of the texts I mentioned to his set of examples of postmodern rewriting. I am happy to see I have helped him make his point, humbly noting that my contribution to the article was absolutely minimal, merely bolstering an argument that was entirely his.

I tell this anecdote not so much to situate myself and my research in relation to Matei Călinescu’s, as to situate research on rewriting and the arguments made about it in a particular moment. More than a personal trajectory and an institutional setting, rewriting is also a “location.” I am not the only student of Matei to have written my dissertation on rewriting. Nor are we the only scholars to have attended to the subject. Marcel Cornis-Pope, to name one, devoted a book to what he termed “critical rewriting,” arguing in Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting (1992) for a critical and pedagogical practice of narrative interpretation as rewriting. The topic is trendy, then, even though it can also pride itself on a distinguished track record. Călinescu remarks upon this in the opening sentence of his essay, observing that “rewriting … is a relatively new and fashionable term for a number of very old techniques of literary composition.” There is, of course, a nice parallel in Călinescu’s oeuvre between the book entitled Rereading and the article bearing the title “Rewriting”—a parallel that underscores the relationship between rereading and rewriting as literary acts. Repeated reading leads to rewriting, which is its consequence and its materialization, the mental, cognitive work of rereading made into actual text. Yet as I note that Călinescu’s article is really about postmodern rewriting, asking and answering the question, “What are the distinctive features of postmodern rewriting” (244), and as I notice that the book of his student and mentee Christian Moraru similarly bears the singular title Rewriting...


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pp. 147-162
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