Central European path to worldliness or world literature from the point of view of so-called small literatures

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Anna Zelenková
Agnieszka Janiec-Nyitrai


In the current discussions on world literature (E. Apter, P. Casanova, D. Damrosch, M. Juvan, F. Moretti, H. Soussy, etc.) it is often pointed out that world literature, resp. the text that endeavours for this designation, is directly related to the signifi­cance (size) of the country and to the universal spread of the generally accepted language, i.e. especially to economic, not purely aesthetic factors. Despite the unquestionable dominance of these factors, works from so-called small literatures also become part of the world literature. They establish their "worldliness" on the particularism of the "regional" or "local", not on the power of extraliterary moments, but on the ability to constitute the world using the aestheticization of national images. In our study, we will try to characterize four literary-historical examples (K. Čapek, W. Gombrowicz, I. Horváth, S. Márai) to refer successful or less successful attempts to become a world author through their "Central Europeanism" and also depict "structural" mechanisms, how to achieve this ideal goal. If Čapek attracts with his universality of his humanistic ideas expressing fears of the threat of modern civilization, the Slavic Proust Gombrowicz speaks to the contemporary reader using an intuitive anticipation of postmodern grotesque. Similarly, Márai embodies the nostalgic feeling of a Central European intellectual longing for the once powerful Habsburg Empire, and Horváth seeks artistic inspiration for his dream visions in French culture. Despite the genre and thematic differences, these authors are connected by their inclination towards the West. At the same time, they all demonstrate the thesis that in this distinctive and indigenous (in terms of values) "interspace" between the West and the East, there is no "pure" national literature that does not synthesize a diverse foreign element. It is obvious that the way of this aestheticization of local "peripherality" implies their possible paths to "worldliness".

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Minor Literature, Small Literatures, Literature in Small Nations