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  • Author or Editor: Péter Hajdu x
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Abstract  

Unity is so usual a requirement in criticism of the novel that it rarely seems to need any justification or foundation. On the other hand, the ideal interpretation seems to be an interpretation that is able to account for every part of a piece of literature in its relation to every other part and to the whole, i.e., one which can demonstrate the perfect unity of the work. Theoreticians usually admit that due to the resistance of the literary text such ideal interpretation is practically impossible. The first theoretical explanation of the requirement for unity appeared in Aristotle's Poetics, where it discussed the unity of the plot. In nineteenth-century criticism of the novel the Aristotelian heritage had two derivatives, the dramatic unity of the plot and a thematic unity of a philosophical teaching. Unity may be considered as the western reader's projection rather than an intrinsic value of the text. The reader, who has learned his reading strategies from a critical system based on Aristotle's approach to the drama, wants to receive a complete and coherent worldview, and thus he reads a literary text with the presupposition that it constitutes a unitary whole. Wolfgang Iser's theory of reading may also support this hypothesis. In his concept, however, perfect understanding, or the understanding of a work as a unity, is impossible because what makes the reading of a piece of fiction an aesthetic experience is that it is theoretically impossible to form a total consistency. On the basis of the insight that readers can develop only partial consistency, different critiques offer various ways of approaching the problem: (1) totalizing the partial consistency by eliminating or disregarding all the inconvenient elements; (2) abandoning our quest for unity and enjoying our mental strength in facing nothingness; (3) realising the possibility that texts do contain several incompatible unifying patterns. Although I think the time has come to say goodbye to the requirement of unity, at the end of the paper I will raise the question of whether a dialogic approach to literature is able to manage a model based on the co-existence of several incompatible entities within a non-unitary text?

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Abstract  

Aristotle's Poetics has a special prestige. Its statements are rarely rejected, but usually reinterpreted to harmonize with recent views. It is, however, not at all insignificant how just or justifiable the strategies are one uses in one's argumentation. After discussing shortly Frye's concepts of dianoia, melos, and opsis as an example rather easy to catch of manipulating with Aristotle's authority, I will analyse Ricoeur's comments on metaphor and Genette's critique of the theory of literary genres. Both of them base their criticism of rival theories on the criticism of their reading of Aristotle, as if disproving the reading meant also disproving the theory behind it by showing that the theory has no continuous existence from the very beginning. They do not, however, simply refute the argument of authority, but attempt to take over the supreme authority. Ricoeur operates with the implications against Aristotle's explicit definitions, which seems to be a strange method of analysis, especially when its aim is not the critique of the conception, but its apology. Genette's method is based on the argumentatio e silentio. Elements of the explicit definitions which play no role in the following analysis he regards as being retrospectively excluded from the conception. It is hard to admit that argumentatio e silentio, which is a dubious argumentative method in general, can be applied to the modification of an inclusive system based on rigorous logical principles.

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A new translation of Aristotle's Poetics was recently published with an extensive commentary. The translator and the commentator are not the same person, therefore they can have different views on the meaning of the text. The paper discusses some passages from the translation, especially highlighting the method of quoting after certain words the original Greek word in parentheses. This method calls attention to the original identity of different words. The method, however was not applied consistently. The same Greek word in some places appears in parentheses after its Hungarian version; in other places it does not. There are too many misprints in the book, but the commentary helps the reader, since it sometimes refers to better versions of the translation than the actually printed ones. The commentary must have been written to a previous version of the translation, which did not yet contain the misprints. After the discussion of some problematic passages of the commentary the last part of the paper contains some remarks on the section headings the commentator supplied. They can help orient the reader, but they are not distinguished from the body of the text clearly enough. On the other hand, a section heading determines a reading strategy for the following passage, and a reader can hardly avoid this influence.

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The paper approaches to Mikszáth's novel as a dialogic structure, a kind of double plot novel. The plots of the first and second chapter with different setting and personage meet in the third chapter and start coalescing. But these different plots represent two different worlds where also the workings of time is different and the human activity has different dynamics. The paper discusses in some detail the possibility of the analysis of time in fiction, since the scholarly discourse on the topic seems to deny the possibility that time can work in different ways in fictional worlds and describes the specialities of fictional time as anomalies of narration. The encounter of the worlds in Mikszáth's novel is represented as a fight with no real winner, which can be regarded as a sort of dialogue.

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The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy’s military missions on the Balkans can provide the only experience in Hungarian history that can be connected with a notion of colonization. The paper scrutinises some Hungarian writers’ responses to that experience. Kálmán Mikszáth as a journalist shows a shift in attitude; he strongly criticized the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but eventually he proudly advertised a colonizing discourse. The most important monument of the 40-year connection with Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Hungarian culture was János Asbóth’s monography in two volumes entitled Bosnia and Herzegovina . In that work the celebration of modernisation, westernisation, the development of economy and infrastructure does not imply racism and religious intolerance. The short stories by István Tömörkény that describe the military life in the sanjak Novi Bazar offer a careful analysis of the cultural and linguistic aspects of the experience of otherness in the multicultural Balkan environment.

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Abstract  

A quotation in literary history is usually situated in a frame that directs the reader’s attention and defines the possibilities of their interpretations in advance. A literary historian keeps quotations under control and breaks the literary text’s impetus of meaning making. Although literature seems to have the opportunity to sound its own voice in a quotation with the possible ambiguities and endless potentials, the literary historical frame, which introduces and then usually explains the quotations, suspends ambiguities and tries to stop the free play of the signifiers. First of all it fixes a viewpoint from where the text should be looked at, and then explains what is its sense and significance.

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Abstract  

József Lengyel (1896–1975), a Hungarian short story writer, could compare European and other landscapes based on personal experience, since he had to spend 18 years in Siberia in Stalin’s Gulag. He wrote a short story cycle, in which the relation of man and nature, the experience of an extreme climate, and the peculiarities of the Siberian landscape are central themes. What people were doing there, was a struggle, partly for survival, partly for the transformation of nature into something “useful” to man, or at least suitable for human life. This authentic representation of a non-European environment, which is unique in Hungarian literature, will be compared in this paper with the short stories by István Tömörkény (1866–1917), who in some hundreds of ethnographic short stories described the life of miserable peasants on the Great Hungarian Plain, i.e., activities that Lengyel described as “beautifying the land.” In both oeuvres nature tends to appear as an enemy, which is sometimes indomitable, sometimes to be defeated by all means. The representation of indomitable nature performs the environmental sublime, while fighting nature appears as an attitude, which is highly problematic in retrospect. The ethos of environmental devastation makes such literature uncomfortable reading in an age of possible global environmental catastrophes; but the continuous fight with nature means a continuous coexistence with nature at the same time, i.e., a continuous realization of the dependence of human existence on the environment, a realization that can be useful now, when human beings try to live in the illusion of a possible separation from nature.

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Abstract  

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a text read by completely different groups of readers, and therefore it may be a tempting medium for research on interpretive communities. The paper analyses the possible strategies of elite and popular interpretations. For a typical elite strategy it uses the myth of Prometheus as interpretive subtext of the novel, while as an example of typical popular interpretation it makes use of Kenneth Branagh’s film-adaptation. The differences can be regarded as the result of loss of meaning, since the sophisticated connections that can be elaborated in a professional reading simply disappear in a popular one; but a popular reading involves not only loss, since new meanings appear through an intertextual process of popular interpretation that adapts the text to horror genre conventions more closely. Features that seem adequate to the popular genre tend to be highly emphasised, while, as a negative correlate of this very same process, features that are unfamiliar with the popular genre are simply omitted.

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Abstract  

A secret in a literary text initiates a delicate interplay between narrators and readers, since the latter must be informed of existence, or even of the content of the secret. The paper analyses various samples from this viewpoint, starting with Euripides’ Hippolytus and Ion, where-due to the absence of any narrator-the interplay of secrecy develops between the agents, the chorus, the gods and the audience. The subsequent samples are taken from European novels (Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond, Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Jókai’s Friedrich Trenck and Franz Trenck). Secrecy functions many times as a hint at a secret order or a hidden entity that guarantees order. The order, or rather the impression of arrangement, may function as a suggestion of a secret sense. The meaning can be described as the secret of literary texts, which is always present in the form of a promise.

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