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Literature as System: Essays Toward the Theory of Literary History

Literature as System: Essays Toward the Theory of Literary History

Copyright Date: 1971
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    Literature as System: Essays Toward the Theory of Literary History
    Book Description:

    Writing in the tradition of Ortega y Gasset'sHistory as a Systemand Saussure's linguistic model, Claudio Guillén proposes a structural approach to literary history.

    Originally published in 1971.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6927-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-14)

    I have gathered in this volume eleven essays that I venture to regard as—in a large degree—theoretical. The oldest, “Stylistics of Silence,” was published in Spanish some dozen years ago; and I have both translated and, of course, rewritten it. The same applies to two other Spanish articles, and to portions of a few more. The remaining pieces were written originally in English. I have retouched them a bit—and perhaps translated them as well, if the term may be used to denote the passage from one stage of thought to another.

    Only the first two essays deal...

  5. I

    • ESSAY 1 The Aesthetics of Literary Influence
      (pp. 17-52)

      A theoretical discussion such as this must confront, for better or for worse, a wealth of possibilities.¹ What Ferdinand Brunetière once called “the nearly infinite field of comparative literature”² requires, to be sure, the use not of one but of many methods, as the huge range of phenomena that it covers is submitted to more than one theoretical model. Does this diversity of both object and hypothesis reflect, as some scholars have thought, the nearness of the discipline to the texture and the winding course of literary history, i.e., to the very reluctance with which this species of history yields...

    • ESSAY 2 A Note on Influences and Conventions
      (pp. 53-68)

      Scholars are embarrassed at times, as well as aroused, by the remembrance of things past.¹ Forty years ago Gustave Rudler was able to state with a great deal of plausibility: “la Littérature Comparée est un cas particulier de la critique d’influence.”² Today, instead, the sway of influence studies seems to have come to an end. The specific field that they covered has been increasingly encroached upon by the survey, generally speaking, of traditions and conventions.

      The facts of the case, nevertheless, will not vanish. Artistic influences continue to exist, or rather, to happen. The contacts betweenDon QuixoteandTom...

  6. II

    • ESSAY 3 Toward a Definition of the Picaresque
      (pp. 71-106)

      I enjoy a double advantage as I begin. The publication of various contemporary novels of more or less roguish character has proved, beyond any doubt, that to regard the picaresque as an event of the pastonlyis a pedantic and erroneous view. The fact, besides, that this Congress has officially in mind the problems involved in “the preparation of a dictionary of literary terminology” excludes from the start any levity or roguery of method. To be sure, a full definition of the term “picaresque” cannot be attempted here.¹ I propose, rather, to sketch a way toward such a definition,...

    • ESSAY 4 On the Uses of Literary Genre
      (pp. 107-134)

      The concept of genre occupies a central position in the study of literary history, very probably, because it has succeeded so well and for so long in bridging the gap between critical theory and the practice of literary criticism. As every student of the subject knows, the theory of genres is coextensive with the history of poetics. Since Aristotle and Plato, it has normally subsumed philosophical inquiries which were vaster and more ambitious than itself. On the other hand, it has traditionally served as a practical instrument for poets as well as critics. While on a certain level the age-old...

    • ESSAY 5 Genre and Countergenre: The Discovery of the Picaresque
      (pp. 135-158)

      Bibliographical research, of which the works of Antonio Rodríguez-Moñino offer today an eminent example,¹ provides the student of literature with a very substantial problem: that of the relationship between a poem and its readers. As everyone suspects in the most generic way—scripta manent—art can and often does succeed in conquering time. But how does literature, in addition, traverse space? Is one of these dimensions a condition of the other? This is what a certain branch of the sociology of literature, of which Robert Escarpit is the persuasive advocate, attempts to clarify. These studies deal with the aftermath of...

    • ESSAY 6 Literature as Historical Contradiction: El Abencerraje, the Moorish Novel, and the Eclogue
      (pp. 159-218)

      Written between 1550 and 1560,El Abencerraje, like its contemporaryLazarillo de Tormes, marks a clear beginning in the history of European literature. Each of these brief and anonymous tales is deservedly regarded as a masterpiece. Each gave rise ultimately to a new narrative genre: in the case ofEl Abencerraje, to the Spanishnovela moriscaand its European posterity, usually called the Hispano-Moorish novel, or more simply, the Moorish novel. To be sure, the itinerary of a genre, i.e., the continuing modification of a formal model, is a process of change. When the object of one’s study, moreover, is...

  7. III

    • ESSAY 7 Stylistics of Silence
      (pp. 221-280)

      It has become common for the critic of poems to assume the attitude of an uncertain Oedipus before the sphinx. We hear frequently about the riddles, the enigmas, and even the mysteries of poetic creation. These perplexities are, most probably, a function of the very advances that have taken place in the formal analysis of poems. The repertory of methods and instruments available for the detailed interpretation of literary texts has doubtless been refined and expanded to a considerable degree during the last thirty years. Yet the more penetrating the critical intuition, the more vigorously there emerges the riddle of...

  8. IV

    • ESSAY 8 On The Concept and Metaphor of Perspective
      (pp. 283-372)

      In the fourth chapter of theirTheory of Literature, René Wellek and Austin Warren discussed the fallacies of “relativism” and “absolutism” as critical approaches to literature. Relativism, by referring the literary work exclusively to the values of its own time, ignores its continuing identity and forfeits any effective instrument of valuation. Absolutism disdains all relations between literature and history, or submits them to doctrinaire preconceptions. The answer to both, the authors proposed, was “perspectivism,” an intermediate attitude signifying “that we recognize that there is one poetry, one literature, comparable in all ages, developing, changing, full of possibilities.”¹ Poetic works should...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  9. V

    • ESSAY 9 Literature as System
      (pp. 375-419)

      There are a number of reasons for thinking that literature constitutes systems, or that it manifests itself as system. Let us leave aside all nonhistorical acceptations of “literature,” of the sort one is likely to encounter in aesthetics or in the theory of criticism. Let us assume that our concern is with the manifestation of systems in historical time. There are, then, several ways in which one can speak of literary systems. They correspond to the following areas of study (though additions and further subdivisions could of course be made): poetics, that is, mainly the theory of genres and the...

    • ESSAY 10 Second Thoughts on Literary Periods
      (pp. 420-469)

      To explore the idea of literary history may very well be the main theoretical task confronting the student of literature today. Where criticism is concerned, no one will deny that the work of theorists in recent years has been spectacular and influential. The most subtle command of terms and methods can be encountered in the writings of countless scholarcritics. Metaphors have been applied to the concept of metaphor, symbols to the symbol, and myths to myth. But the situation is remarkably different in the area of literary history, where the understanding of basic terms and methods seems oddly limited or...

    • ESSAY 11 On the Object of Literary Change
      (pp. 470-510)

      One often hopes that theory might benefit from the imminence of practice. The theoretical questions that are posed by the organization of literary history are seldom simple and never superficial. Today we are reminded of these questions by the “History of European Literature” which the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is planning in cooperation with the International Comparative Literature Association. This project fully deserves the support and collaboration of comparatists everywhere. In the initial stages, our support may well take the form of theoretical discussions concerning the basic problems of literary historiology.¹

      That the leading role is being assumed by the...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 511-528)