The problem of plot and narration, and of narratology as their overarching scholarly category, has become the thematic core of this double issue of Word and Sense. Narratology has come to the fore in the scholarly debate over the last few years, proving to be a productive school of thought that brings to bear an entire range of new methodological perspectives and stimuli. Nonetheless, no literary discipline has managed to embed itself in the almost incomprehensible multitude of parallel concepts, subsystems and methodological variants in such a short space of time. Many times it has seemed as if this discipline’s main goal was to interpret itself, to search for an exit from its own scholarly crossroads and defiles, as if it had forgotten about the very subject of its enquiry: that is, narration in its varied forms and expressions.
In this issue the interview feature A Question For… is at the centre of our enquiries. Petr A. Bílek has formulated a trinity of questions relating both to past and present, to the constitution and perspectives of narratology as an independent scholarly discipline and also as a component of literary enquiry. Colleagues Uri Margolin, Holt Meyer and Wolf Schmid – were kind enough to supply their reactions to these questions.
The sections Studies and Sketches, however, also address this initial problem. Here we have attempted to present some less-common ways of working with the topic of narration, all of which offer a variety of inspiring approaches and ideas. The initial text of this double issue, and the first one in the Studies section, is Renata Lachmannová’s essay, entitled “Rhetorical Instrumentation in Comenius’s Bildungsroman The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart”. In it, Lachmannováfollows Comenius’s method of explicating our labyrinthine existence, which the author interprets from several perspectives and cultural-literary traditions: the mythological tradition of the classical conception of the labyrinth; the Hebrew tradition; the tradition of the Gnostic concept of the world as “illusion” and prison; the tradition of the allegory of the “upside-down world” of absurdity; or the Baroque-Christian (hedonist) conception of the “paradise of the heart”. This approach entails some significant consequences for Comenius’s linguistic-philosophical conception of a universal language that would contain all layers of meaning, exclude polysemy and serve as the realisation of his artificial phonosemantics project. As the author shows, Comenius’s interpretation of the concept of the labyrinth rests precisely on this noteworthy linguistic constructivism and methodical semantic structuredness.
A further work published in the Studies section is Petr Málek’s article “The Melancholy of Angels: Between the Allegory of the Fall and the Utopia of Salvation, or the Conceptualisation of Language in the Literature of the Central European Moderne.” Málek’s study locates and labels narrative strategies in the prose works of Richard Weiner, Bruno Schulz and Franz Kafka that concern themselves with the fall of language into the sin of “re-presentation”. The figure of the angel in Málek’s text links the authors with Walter Benjamin’s views of modernity and also becomes a symbolisation of the narrative ambivalences in their prose works, their deep scepticism towards language and the almost physical tension that the authors sensed between the possibility of expression and the longing to do so. At the same time, Málek strives in his study to partially uncover certain internal characteristics of the central European moderne.
Martin Pokorný’s study “An Odyssey of Attention: Meir Sternberg and the Affectivity of Narration” focuses on the problematised work of Meir Sternberg, who is the most significant figure from an international perspective in the loose scholarly circle of the literary “Tel Aviv School” and the long-time editor of the quarterly Poetics Today. Nowadays Sternberg is among those authors well known to specialists, but frequently passed over in teaching. He tends to be cited less in the scholarly literature than the scope and seriousness of his analyses would warrant. Sternberg repeatedly points to a key difference between his own approach and other types of narratological analysis: while the main current in narratology directs attention towards meaning, semiotics and grammar, Sternberg – drawing on the European tradition of poetics and the aesthetics of criticism – follows sense, rhetorical effectiveness and the affective pragmatics of the text. In doing so, he does not neglect the labelling, semiotic aspect of the analysis, but rather understands it as derived, “proteally” creative according to the current demands of the contextual situation. All Sternberg’s works are evidently meant to focus in on a certain unifying conception of the poetics of impact, which itself, however, lacks certain characteristics that we would expect from a fully-fledged narratological conceptualisation. It presents itself in an ad hocfashion, rather than in generally valid theses, while he criticises and picks apart others’ attempts at a unified theory, and if he does present some such theses, in many instances these seem to be principles of unbounded openness or unbounded remedy.
The fourth study presented – Tanja Zimmermanová’s “Copying the Soviet Imperial Narratives: Tito’s ‘Third Path’ as a Neo-Avant-Garde of Marxism” – views the formation of a new model of state-building in post-war Yugoslavia through an analysis of narrative units in propagandistic texts, which Tito’s regime presented against a backdrop of increasing exclusion of the practices exemplified in Stalinist socialist regimes.
The texts in the Sketches section are set against the backdrop of the general issue of narration or analysis of narrative strategies, and they address various problems. Jiří Homoláč takes up the problem of politicalcorrectness through analysing discourse presented primarily on a variety of websites. He investigates this phenomenon from the perspective of a member categorisation analysis, although his goal is not to define the term. Rather, he explores which characteristics (categorical predicates, in the given approach) members of a given grouping, in this case primarily users of the Czech internet, ascribe to “political correctness”. Last but not least, he draws attention to the sorts of (non-)linguistic activity that tend to be labelled as “politically correct” in dictionaries and encyclopaedias, for example.
In her article “Exoticism and Intertextuality”, Moe Binarová addresses the significant issue of exoticism in literature and art, which she understands as containing subversive characteristics. The concept as defined crosses not only geographical boundaries and the interface between domestic literatures and cultures. Its motivation is to break down the borders between one text and another, to loosen the bonds with literary tradition, with fiction, and to introduce something new. The attempt at a zero degree of textual reference is viewed as the foremost impulse involved in a modern conceptualisation of exoticism. The relationship between intertextuality and exoticism thus seems to the author to be an ambivalent one.
Tomáš Jirsa, in his sketch “Escaping the Captivity of the Sense” enumerates the strategies used in 20th-century literature by e.g. Witold Gombrowicz. These essentially mean a escape from the language of representation, which is supposed to bring meaning, to the language immediately related to the body, where speaking of “sense” constitutes a pure human manipulation of power. This very manipulation forms a central interest both for the prose writers analysed and for their interpreter.
In his text “The Narrativity of Prosthesis”, Ondřej Klimeš concentrates on the analysis of Klesit’s short story “The Dancer and the Puppet”. He compares the author’s narrative strategies with the topicalised artificial movement of a puppet and with the illusory nature of a dancer’s motions. The topic turns out to be internally intertwined with the narrative abilities of the author, narrator and characters, and also with the problematic of the relation between body and a language that is not capable of describing that body, let alone of expressing it.
Tereza Kabátová’s article “The Imaginative and the Religious: Reynek’s Sowing Lonelinessesas one of the Concepts of Imaginative Semiosis in the Lyric of the 1930s” takes as its departure point the literary and cultural- anthropological conception of Wolfgang Iser, who understands the concept “imaginary” primarily as a human ability and as a defined function and event in relation to the literary text. Treated in this perspective, the imaginary always exists in combination with specific phenomena and their contents – whether with consciousness, with seeing, or with visions – and in the forms through whose mediation we confront the world. The author shows how a strategy of imaginative semiosis is realised in the poetry of Bohuslav Reynek through a paradoxical integrity that coexists in a special relationship with the details that serve as the foundation for viewing the natural world.
In her article “Rituality in the Non-fictive and Fictive Narratives of Jarmila Glazarová”, Marie Mravcová outlines one of the most noticeable features of both fiction and non-fiction narratives by Glazarová, namely the proportion of human thought and action that has a ritualistic nature. These rituals are part of ancient customs and signify a connection with a higher transcendent power, or with repeated everyday and holiday tasks to which a rituality is ascribed and which in many instances (although not necessarily) connect with the repetition of the yearly cycle. For her research into and interpretive evaluation of the work of Glazarová, she makes use of roughly two classes of ritualistic motives, images and acts, and those latently containing rituality. The first class is linked to space in the home and the archetype of home. The second class – which is connected especially with the mythical consciousness of human societies – forms, as is known, a considerable part of the image of life of Wallachian mountain dwellers: an image fashioned by the author both in the form of artistic (literary) ethnography and also in the form of novelistic fiction, i.e. of epic fiction, albeit with a strong current of lyricity and, especially later on, dramaticity.
Václav Vaněk, in his article “‘A Picture So Beautifully Frightening...’: Reverie, Sleep and Death in the Historical Prose Works of V. K. Klicpera” lends support to the heretofore unremarked fact that Klicpera is evidently the first prose writer in Czech literature to fully exploit the impulses of European romanticism and to make the Czech Middle Ages an integral part of romantic fiction. However, his prose works can also be regarded as the very first autonomous demonstrations of modern Czech narrative art, as the true undergirding and founding works of Czech narrative prose. They are characterised by a constant regard for the emotional life of characters, by the need to differentiate expressions of emotion and to find the plausible if extreme motivations of human acts. The author further goes on to show how at the same time, Klicpera had to come to grips with the limitations placed on him by the genre of the knightly tale and by a language not adequate to the expression of more subtle experiences.
The section Critical Views contains a panel of papers given at the end of June and beginning of July 2006 in České Budějovice during the Czechoslovak Society for Arts and Sciences World Congress. They concern the re-presentation of literature and re-presentation in literature. In his contribution, Vladimír Papoušek methodologically delineatesthe concept of re-presentation in relation to a possible model of literary history. Petr A. Bílek focuses on an analysis of literary re-presentations of Joseph Stalin and Klement Gottwald created immediately after their deaths. Michal Bauer updates the re-presentation of the “national hero” using depictions of Julius Fučík in Czech literary scholarship at the beginning of the 1950s, while Kamil Činátl concentrates on the problematics of reflections of Fučík’s Report from the Gallows in contemporary propagandistic contexts, and Vít Schmarc focuses on the mythologisation of space in Czechoslovak socialist realism.
In the section Translations_Překlady we present a translation of a lesser- known essay by Roland Barthes, “The Rustle of Language”, translated for Word and Sense by Tomáš Jirsa and appearing with the kind permission of the Paris publisher Seuil. In the section Překlady_Translations we publish a selection of the prison poems of a key Czech underground poet of the 1970s and 1980s, Ivan M. Jirous. His poetry has been translated by American scholar Kirsten Lodge, while the introductory portrait of the poet was written by Martin Machovec, an editor, translator, and expert in underground literature.
A bibliography of contributions to issues 1–10 of Word & Sense rounds out this double issue.
Libuše Heczková, Josef Vojvodík and Jan Wiendl; translated by Neil Bermel