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    STUDIA PHILOLOGIA - Issue no. 3 / 2022  

  Abstract:  DOI: 10.24193/subbphilo.2022.3.12

Available online: 20 September 2022; Available print: 30 September 2022
pp. 75-78



Q: Literary history, be it national, local, or regional, is perhaps the most conservative form of literary study, with many claiming that the method is outmoded. What can literary histories do to overcome both the risk of obsolescence and their inherent conservatism?

A: If by “literary history” we refer to the traditional—and hence somewhat canonical—form of literary historiography as genre, i.e., the study of literature from an evolutionary, teleological, and ethnocentric standpoint, for which works authored between 1830 and 1945 serve as models (from, let’s say, Georg Gottfried Gervinus to Albert Thibaudet), then this form has undoubtedly been one of the most conservative in the entire history of modern literary criticism, considering the fact that it has almost entirely refused to alter its goals, methodology, and rhetoric for over a century. But I do not consider this to hold true for the literary histories published after the Second World War as well. On the contrary, following a “crisis” lasting for nearly half a century, during which all its theoretical building blocks have been scrutinized and questioned, literary history seems to have made a powerful comeback in the past decades, both as discipline and as genre. Moreover, I tend to believe that it currently represents the most innovative segment in literary studies—, that it is in any case more innovative than individual articles, or monographs, the main source of critical innovation in the second half of the 20th century. And this fact is quite understandable: the very skepticism that had plagued it for decades on end made it so that literary history became one of the most experimental genres within literary studies after the year 2000. Past the threshold of the new millennium, it tested not only its object of study (extending the very definition of “literature” and offering numerous alternatives to the insistent predilection for the “national”) and its methodology beyond every conceivable limit (going through all contemporary theories, frameworks, and analytical procedures, from computational criticism and intermedial studies to feminism and postcolonial studies), but also what seemed to be its core determinant: the factor of time (thereby replacing chronology with other ways of arranging its material, such as the geographic/ spatial one). Therefore, in the 21st century, literary history is nothing short of a revolutionary genre—and this seems to be the most convincing retort the old discipline could have made to her detractors.
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