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Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek

Comparative Literature
Theory, Method, Application

Vol. 18 of Textxet: Studies in Comparative Literature
Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi.
ISBN 90-420-0534-3. 299 pages, Bibliography, Index.
Available in December 1998, Hfl. 90.00 / US$ 49.50
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Chapter One
A New Comparative Literature as Theory and Method

The purpose of this book is to offer a theoretical and methodological alternative to frameworks presently in place and available in the discipline of Comparative Literature, and subsequently to demonstrate with examples the applicability of the proposed framework. Concurrently and parallel to my proposal, I also argue that my framework and methodology may be advantageous in general for the study of literature.

In principle, the discipline of Comparative Literature is in toto a method in the study of literature in at least two ways. First, Comparative Literatures means the knowledge of more than one national language and literature, and/or it means the knowledge and application of other disciplines in and for the study of literature and second, Comparative Literature has an ideology of inclusion of the Other, be that a marginal literature in its several meanings of marginality, a genre, various text types, etc. Historically, it is true that Comparative Literature demonstrated a focus on European literatures and later on European and American literature, and thus the current criticism of the discipline's Eurocentrism makes sense to a point (see Bernheimer). At the same time, however, the discipline paid more attention to "Other" literatures than any of the national literatures. Comparative Literature has intrinsically a content and form which facilitate the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary study of literature and it has a history that substantiated this content and form. Predicated on the borrowing of methods from other disciplines and on the application of the appropriated method to areas of study single-language literary study more often than tends to neglect, the discipline is difficult to define because thus it is fragmented and pluralistic. But it is a discipline with a distinguished history (see my recent bibliography in 1998b) and promise. In addition, the comparative perspective and method has proven itself indispensable in other disciplines such as "comparative physiology" or history, where, as we learn recently, the comparative perspective

give[s] us a good opportunity for assessing how comparative history can contribute to modern knowledge ... in The Comparative Imagination , Fredrickson welcomes the increasing tendency of historians of the United States to write from a "comparative perspective," by using foreign examples to explain what is distinctive about American society. (Thompson 48)

And what more justification can we, comparatists of literature (and culture), put forward than the assertion that Comparative Literature contributes to "modern knowledge"? In recent debates in/about Comparative Literature, innovation is also a matter of great interest (and necessity). It is thus that for the purpose of my way and manner of doing Comparative Literature, and, as a way of doing in some aspects a "New" Comparative Literature, I will propose an outline of Comparative Literature in the form of a Manifesto. The form of the Manifesto is for the reason that I believe in the advantage of a terminologically clear and "hard hitting" position statement about the discipline instead of the usual problematization resulting in tentatives and hypotheses. The problematization of my proposal specifically and of the discipline in general lies, instead, in the application of my theoretical framework, an application which follows my introduction of a New Comparative Literature. My concomitant objective here is to introduce The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture, a framework and methodology I believe to be a theoretically innovative and methodologically precise approach to study literature and culture. And third, I will demonstrate the applicability of the framework combination -- that is, Comparative Literature and the Systemic and Empirical approach -- to various areas, texts, and problems of and in literature. The latter part of the work is of particular importance: while my applications do not represent a thematically cohesive whole, they show instead the wide variety where my proposed approach in Comparative Literature can be applied successfully and covering many possible areas of research in literature and culture. This is also important because in the general context of the study of literature and culture, it is the application of a theoretical framework where the essence of any approach proves and legitimizes or disproves itself. I should like to add here that while my sets of application in the present book are all with regard to modern and contemporary literature or problems of literature, the proposed framework can be applied to other periods and genres, and I have demonstrated this with studies on literary texts in the nineteenth century (e.g., Tötösy 1991, 1993a) while scholars using the approach published a large corpus with regard to periods and genres across the board (see my bibliographies 1995-, 1997b).

Considering the history and the current situation of Comparative Literature, it appears that there is a consensus about its problematic nature and in some aspects, this problematic situation appears to be very acute again. Susan Bassnett, in her influential 1993 Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction states that "Today, comparative literature in one sense is dead" (47). While Bassnett may be right that Comparative Literature in the traditional centres -- France, Germany, the United States -- is undergoing both intellectual and institutional changes and a certain loss of position owing to factors such as the takeover of theory by English, the impact of cultural studies, the diminishing number of Comparative Literature professorships, etc., this loss of presence is occurring in the centres of the discipline and with regard to its own natural context of Eurocentrism and Euro-American centre. Clearly, Bassnett's pronouncement of the death of Comparative Literature is exactly from that Eurocentrism she otherwise is attempting to subvert and oppose in her book. And thus, curiously, Bassnett pays no attention to the strong development of the discipline and the promise its holds outside of the discipline's traditional centres: In the last two decades Comparative Literature has shown much promise in some countries and cultures where the discipline has not been very strong or, in some cases, in existence at all before. Interestingly, while the traditional centres of the discipline -- the ménage-à-trois of France, Germany, and the United States -- are at best able to maintain a status quo of the discipline, in China (Mainland), Taiwan, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, universities in the states of the former East Germany, etc., the discipline is emerging and developing strongly and this can be gauged by the emergence of new Comparative Literature journals, new chairs in Comparative Literature, a marked increase in publications, etc.

In view of the well-known and much discussed intellectual insecurity and institutional liabilities of the discipline of Comparative Literature, the questioning of and an attempt to redefine the discipline -- in whatever context -- is a valid as well as timely exercise. Comparative Literature remains an embattled approach and discipline of the study of literature. Yet, it produces that meaningful dialogue between cultures and literatures that is its mark theoretically, in application, and in basic as well as higher level education. It will continue to have supporters, students, and disciples who value Comparative Literature's insistence on the knowledge about as well as the inclusion of the Other in the widest definition of the concept and its realities, its global and international nature, its interdisciplinarity, its flexibility, and its objective as well as ability to translate one culture into another by the exercise and love of dialogue between cultures. The following Manifesto is structured in such a manner that it includes principles as well as obstacles:

The First General Principle of Comparative Literature is the postulate that in and of the study, pedagogy, and research of literature it is not the "what" but rather the "how" that is of importance. This means that it is method that is of crucial importance in Comparative Literature in particular and, consequently, in the study of literature and culture as a whole.

The Second General Principle of Comparative Literature is the theoretical as well as methodological postulate to move and to dialogue between cultures, languages, literatures, and disciplines. However, this basic attitude and ideology represents one of the primary obstacles Comparative Literature faces with regard to its self-sustenance and self-promotion. Comparative Literature -- since its inception in the nineteenth century -- faces the claim of emotional and intellectual primacy and subsequent institutional power of national languages and cultures. In turn, the built-in notions of exclusion and self-referentiality of single language and literature study and their result of rigidly defined disciplinary boundaries are notions against which Comparative Literature offers an alternative as well as a parallel field of study.

The Third General Principle of Comparative Literature is the necessity for the Comparatist to acquire in-depth grounding in several languages and literatures as well as other disciplines before further in-depth study of theory and methodology. However, this principle creates structural and administrative problems on the institutional and pedagogical levels. For instance, how does one allow for development -- intellectually as well as institutionally -- from a focus on one national literature (exclusionary) towards the inclusionary and interdisciplinary principles of Comparative Literature? The solution of designating Comparative Literature as a postgraduate discipline only is problematic and counter-productive. Instead, the solution is the allowance for a parallelism in intellectual approach, institutional structure, and administrative practice.

The Fourth General Principle of Comparative Literature is its interest to study literature in relation to other forms of artistic expression (the visual arts, music, film, etc.) and in relation to other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (history, sociology, psychology, etc.). The obstacle here is that the attention to other fields of expression and other disciplines of study results in the lack of a clearly definable, recognizable, single-focussed, and major theoretical and methodological framework of Comparative Literature. There is a problem of naming and designation exactly because of the multiple approach and parallelism. In turn, this lack of recognized and recognizable products results in the discipline's difficulties of marketing itself within the intermechanisms of intellectual recognition and institutional power. Consequently and regrettably, and viewed in a global context, institutional representation of Comparative Literature in university departments is minimal when compared with national language and literature representation and power.

The Fifth General Principle of Comparative Literature is its parallel recognition and study of single languages and literatures in the context of the comparative conceptual approach and function but so with a special focus on English. This is a composite principle of approach and methodology. The focus on English as a means of communication and access to information should not be taken as Euro-American-centricity. In the Western hemisphere and in Europe but also in many other cultural (hemi)spheres, English has become the lingua franca of communication, scholarship, technology, business, industry, etc. This new global situation prescribes and inscribes that English gain increasing importance in scholarship and pedagogy, including the study of literature. The composite and parallel method here is that because Comparative Literature is not self-referential and exclusionary; rather, the parallel use of English is effectively converted into a tool for and of communication in the study, pedagogy, and scholarship of literature. Thus, in Comparative Literature the use of English should not represent any form of colonialism -- and if it does, one disregards it or fights it with English rather than by opposing English -- as follows from principles One to Three. And it should also be obvious that is the English speaker who is, in particular, in need of other languages.

The Sixth General Principle of Comparative Literature is its focus on literature within the context of culture. This insistence of focus on literature -- highbrow, popular, or any other type of literature -- is far from being self-evident. Rather, it is of importance with regard to the current prominence of cultural/culture studies which, on the institutional level, more often than not is with focus on aspects of culture where literature is not a primary factor. Here, the obstacle is not in approach or method when compared with Comparative Literature. Rather, the obstacle lies in the institutional location of cultural studies and its marginalizing effect on the study of literature.

The Seventh General Principle of Comparative Literature is its theoretical, methodological as well as ideological and political approach of inclusion. This inclusion extends to all Other, all marginal, minority, and peripheral and it encompasses both form and substance. While this ideology is a factor in many current theories of culture and literature, Comparative Literature is proposed here with the postulate to employ explicit methodologies as follows in the Eight principle.

The Eighth General Principle of Comparative Literature is its attention and insistence on methodology in interdisciplinary study (an umbrella term), with three main types of methodological precision: intra-disciplinarity (analysis and research within the disciplines in the humanities), multi-disciplinarity (analysis and research by one scholar employing any other discipline), and pluri-disciplinarity (analysis and research by team-work with participants from several disciplines). In the latter case, an obstacle is the general reluctance of literary scholars to employ team-work for the study of literature.

The Ninth General Principle of Comparative Literature is its content against the contemporary paradox of globalization versus localization. There is a paradoxical development in place with regard to both global movements and intellectual approaches and their institutional representation. On the one hand, the globalization of technology, industry, and communication is actively pursued and implemented. But on the other hand the forces of exclusion as represented by local, racial, national, gender, disciplinary, etc., interests prevail in (too) many aspects. This localization can be seen in the institutional parameters of Comparative Literature itself. Professors in Comparative Literature -- the intellectual as well as institutional carriers of the discipline -- appear to be appointed based on scholarship in a single area where the candidate can claim (at best) concurrent interest in and/or knowledge of Comparative Literature. Bona fide Comparatists in the context of the above outlined general principles are increasingly a rare commodity. This obstacle, therefore, is one that has major intellectual as well as pedagogic and institutional implications. Thus, the Ninth Principle represents the notion of working against the stream by promoting Comparative Literature as a global and inclusive discipline of international humanities with focus on literature.

The Tenth General Principle of Comparative Literature is its claim on the vocational commitment of its practitioners. In other words, why study and work in Comparative Literature? The reasons are the intellectual as well as pedagogical values this approach and discipline offers in order to implement the recognition and inclusion of the Other with and by commitment to the in-depth knowledge of several languages and literatures as basic parameters. In consequence, the discipline of Comparative Literature as proposed advances our knowledge by a multi-facetted approach based on scholarly rigour and multi-layered knowledge with precise methodology.

Parallel to the troubled intellectual and institutional situation of the discipline of Comparative Literature, there is also the general problem of the humanities and the study of literature. We know that the humanities in general experience serious and debilitating institutional -- and, depending on one's stand, also intellectual -- difficulties and because of this the study of literature in the general social and public discourse is becoming more and more marginalized, not the least by its own doing. The pervasive questioning of scholarship in the humanities can be inferred from the current debate about tenure, for example. In an article entitled "A New Approach to Tenure and Scholarship," Hymie Rubenstein and Rodney Clifton state that "If the many studies of research productivity at American universities can be generalized to Canada ... then ... more than 50 percent of Canadian academics publish the equivalent of a single book and less than a dozen scholarly articles over their entire career " (23; my emphasis). Clearly, this level of productivity in output is hard to justify or to explain and it is doubtlessly one of the reasons of the general public's low opinion of the humanities -- and the authors of the article have not even begun to discuss aspects of the quality of the scholarship they are referring to or aspects of pedagogy such as excellence in teaching, etc. Interestingly and perhaps showing a new direction to remedy the situation, however, their suggestions include, among others, the development and implementation of team and group work -- one of the basic premises of the Systemic and Empirical approach as I will explain further on.

My basic premise is that in the current situation an approach that promises innovation and where the results of study may have an opportunity to persuade the taxpayer, the politician, indeed, the general public -- not to speak of university administration -- to recognize the importance of the study of literature as a socially constructive and necessary educational and life force should be paid serious attention to. It is generally accepted by most that culture in general and literature in particular is an activity that defines humanity individually, socially, politically, and even economically, albeit of a second order. As a scholar who is committed to the study of literature and culture, I find the current marginalization of the humanities -- apparent on a global scale -- alarming, so from my personal and self-serving point of view and in the context of my argument for the social relevance of the study of literature. (It is a related concern that I am speaking about the importance and legitimization of the study of literature and not about the social relevance of literature per se. It often happens that scholars of literature, let alone the general public, confuse the two and argue for the social relevance of literature when in fact they mean -- or should mean -- the relevance of the study of literature.) It is a fact that governments, politicians, and taxpayers strive to cut national debts, following neo-conservative views, often, although not always responding to fiscal realities. Thus it comes that the area of education experiences serious financial stringency everywhere. While the natural sciences and professional schools also experience severe financial stringency and in some areas very serious ones, it is the humanities that suffers the deepest cuts.

Scholarship in the humanities has had an accepted place in university tradition, but the output has never been as prolific as in the last twenty years or so. In Western Europe and in North America in the period after the Second World War unprecedented material wealth allowed for a massive influx of funding for the humanities anywhere from the founding of new universities to the funding of research and scholarship. After this period of flourish, with the resurgence of neo-conservativism in last two decades, the abundance of funding began to dissipate. This situation should have struck an alarm with scholars in the humanities (for an example of the institutional situation of the humanities and the study of literature in the US, see Cohen 1993; in Europe, see Müller-Solger). And it did, but only rhetorically. While deans, university presidents, and scholars speak and write about the social relevance of the study of literature and culture, and hence, they argue, the necessity of continuing funding, in reality this relevance has not materialized. True, in some areas such as feminist theory and criticism, multiculturalism, or gay and lesbian studies scholars have demonstrated how socially relevant their work can be. However, such areas of research and their output continue to be doubly marginalized: within the academe and scholarship, and in the general view and perception of society.

The implication of the above brief description is that literary scholars ought to recognize that current literary scholarship is seriously flawed and that it has become a self-referential field that is important only to itself and that the "real" world out there does have a legitimate point in its criticisms. Here is one example with regard to methodology in the context of the empirical which, in turn, underlines my argument:

Other book historians -- whether or not they teach in history departments -- have been less inclined to pull their punches. "Cultural theory is still too reductive, and repetitive, in its schematism and in its polemic, and on occasions cavalier in its logic and its treatment of evidence" wrote Ian Willison in 1991 (106). Nicolas Barker characterized Jane Tompkins's essay "The Reader in History" as unhistorical and jejune . Other recent studies by Cathy Davidson and Janice Radway show an equal absence of any feeling for the documents of contemporary or subsequent response.... It is difficult not to regard the theorizing, the controversy, the construction of elaborate models of response, as activities detached from the texts to which they have been applied" (Barker 199). And when Barbara Herrnstein Smith asserted that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare were valueless to readers who had not received an orthodox Western education, one historian shot back that Smith was inclined to "dogmatize enormously about the sociology of reading without bothering to study actual readers. [She] really [does] not know what functions Homer, Book-of-the-Month Club selections, comic books, or any other verbal artifacts perform for their respective audiences" ("Rereading the English Common Reader" 53). My graduate students, I should warn you, have even less patience with theorists who do not do their homework. They bluntly asked why I was wasting their time with Michel Foucault's "What Is an Author?" It was apparent to them that the idea of the author as we know it, far from being invented in the eighteenth century, was very much present in ancient Rome. Even Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change , which struck me as well documented, did not satisfy these students: Where is her evidence? they kept asking. One student wrote a term paper on the reception of Jane Eyre , and concluded that Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar seriously misread the reviews of that book. It was not Jane's feminism that shocked Victorian readers, it was her class resentments -- remember, the novel was published as the Chartist agitation approached its climax. So be advised: the coming generation of book historians are not intimidated by anyone, and they will check your footnotes. (Rose 220)

Jonathan Rose's above contention about the uninformed state of literary criticism -- as demonstrated -- is to the point. And what he says holds not only for the scholars mentioned -- who, incidently, are representatives of the crème de la crème of literary scholars on the North American landscape -- but it holds for the full landscape of literary study with few exceptions. The question raised is, how can literary scholarship make itself socially relevant by producing relevant, outstanding, and replicable work for both its own immediate field and the general public? I am sure that there are several possibilities; but I am more certain that the approach I am introducing in this book -- and its application -- would be one with a very high level of possible success. Generally and introductorily speaking, my argument is that it is the neglect and lack of rational, inclusive, methodologically precise attention in operationality and functionality that results in flaws which in turn create -- over several turns and twists -- the marginalization of the study of literature. As it will become clear later on, operationality and functionality are integral and basic elements of The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture and thus systems (and empirical) thinking may be one possible response to the situation:

In systems thinking, increases in understanding are believed to be obtainable by expanding the systems to be understood, not by reducing them to their elements. Understanding proceeds from the whole to its parts, not from the parts to the whole as knowledge does. If the behavior of a system is to be explained by referring to its containing system (the suprasystem), how is the behavior of the suprasystem to be explained? The answer is obvious: by reference to a more inclusive system, one that contains the suprasystem. (Ackoff 19)

In the study of literature -- especially on the North American landscape of literary scholarship, although the situation is much the same from a global perspective pending cultural differences and historical precedents -- these flaws include the insistence on "intuition," the insistence on metaphorical narrative and essayistic description, the resistance to real inter-, intra-, and multi-disciplinarity and team-work (i.e., the insistence on solitary scholarship), the lack of precise taxonomy and clarity (while jargon abounds, clarity is lacking precisely because of the implicit demands of metaphorical, intuitive, and essayistic description), and, most importantly, the dissonance between doing "high" science in research and publishing such studies for the general public for the popularization of the said "high" science. For example, Sander L. Gilman, representing the Modern Language Association of America -- the largest single organization of literary scholars of the world with about 30,000 members, although mainly with members in the USA -- argues as follows: "Write accessibly ... Many great scholars and theorists ... have provided models for approaching a topic as well as solid and substantial content that is useful for all scholars. And their works are especially readable. A respected colleague recently insisted to me that scholarly books must be readable books, and I agree" (4). I beg to differ. While it is true that the results of literary study should be made accessible to the general public, this approach is only half of the work that needs to be done and then as a second and/or parallel step. First, scholarship should be performed in the form and content of "high" science and only after that should popularization occur. By analogy: If we were to suggest to a biochemist to write and publish his/her research understandable to the general reader, he/she would not be able to construct a science-based argument in the context of the scientific advancement of his/her research object. There is "popular science" and such is necessary. But scholarly books and work should not be written for the general public neither in the natural (basic) and medical sciences nor in the humanities and literary study. I would like to add that my suggestions should not be understood as a thoughtless importation of the paradigms used in the scholarship of the natural and medical sciences. I am fully aware that "twentieth-century science has been eminently successful in its pursuit of scire . Cognitively, however, mathematical formulations are, by themselves, incomplete. The narrative aspects of science, the concepts and meanings to which the computations point, have been neglected" (Pribram 143). But while the natural and medical sciences are in need of the narrative practices used in the humanities, in turn the humanities are in need to adopt some of the methods, exactitude, replicability, and objectivity -- as questionable and difficult that may be -- used in the natural sciences.

That the study of literature and the social relevance of the study and teaching of literature are in need of legitimization and are in need of relevant approaches and methods is widely recognized. For instance, the Modern Language Association of America bulletin, Profession , devotes its issues concerning the professional aspects of the field, and in its 1995 and 1996 issues there are more specific signs that a more operational and functional approach in both study and teaching would meet with interest (see Franklin; Profession 1996 ). Whether such approaches as the Systemic and Empirical framework would attract a proportionally and statistically significant mass of scholars remains to be seen (I doubt it). Proposals for functionalism and social relevance of the study of literature as, for example, in the The Politics of Teaching Literature , do not satisfy my concerns and will not do so those of the taxpayer or politician either. Neither do arguments put forward -- to cite yet another example from the North American landscape of scholarship -- who argue that a response to the need for change in literary study toward a rational approach ignores "its unrationalized object of analysis" (O'Hara 45). On the other hand, it should be mentioned that rationality and objectivity -- even if without explicit methodology -- are again emerging, witness, for example -- from the general mass of works emanating from the humanities and independent from systemic and empirical work -- Mas'ud Zavarzadeh and Donald Morton's Theory, (Post)Modernity, Opposition: An "Other" Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory (1991), Satya P. Mohanty's Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, Multicultural Politics (1997), or David Halliburton's The Fateful Discourse of Wordly Things (1997).

Based on the troubled and precarious situation of literary study in general and Comparative Literature in particular, I follow with a proposal of theoretical frameworks and methodologies which in my opinion have the potential to respond to at least some of the criticism I mentioned. Although collectively these approaches can be designated as "systemic," there are significant differences among them and this will be evident in my discussion. Further, there is the problem of naming and terminology: since 1993 I have designated the previously known Empirische Literaturwissenschaft (Empirical Study of Literature, Empirical Theory of Literature, or Empirical Science of Literature) as The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture. While neither previous designations nor my own gained wide acceptance in English (see Andringa 1997), it has begun to be noticed and to be accepted and this can be seen in works where the designation is referred to or where certain aspects of the framework or its applications are cited. My designation of The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture as well as my theoretical and methodological developments of the original framework emanate and draw heavily on Siegfried J. Schmidt's and his colleagues' Empirische Literaturwissenschaft . However, at the same time -- in particular in my applications to literary texts and aspects of literature -- I also draw on other and compatible frameworks such as the polysystem theory, the theory of the literary institution ( l'institution littéraire ), the système de l'écrit theory, and others and the overall approach is then placed in Comparative Literature.

My designation focuses on the two main aspects of these compatible frameworks, namely on the "systemic" and the "empirical." These two theoretical and methodological elements and principles are enlarged by and merged with the framework of Comparative Literature I suggested with my Manifesto of Comparative Literature which, in all, result in my proposed New Comparative Literature. Thus, the proposed type of Comparative Literature and the chiefly methodological framework of The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture result in a combination where there is mutual enrichment of compatibility in theory and, as I will demonstrate, in application. Historically, in the study of literature the origins of the systemic approach can be traced to structuralism, the sociology of literature, and Russian Formalism. Structuralism in particular has influenced, via Saussure and the Russian Formalists, a variety of disciplines such as philosophy, ethnology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and sociology, etc. (see Bourdieu; Culler; Wilpert). The specific relationship between structuralism and the systemic approaches in general is often not clear. However, structuralism via the Russian Formalists and the Prague School has been a confessed departure for the polysystem theory (see Dimi_; Even-Zohar). In the development of similar systemic theoretical frameworks such as the Empirische Literaturwissenschaft (Siegfried J. Schmidt; for a documentary history of the approach see Viehoff 1991), the theory of the l'institution littéraire (Jacques Dubois), the champ littéraire concept of Pierre Bourdieu (for a recent encyclopaedia entry on Bourdieu and his work, see Vulpe), the literature as system approach (Niklas Luhmann; for a bibliography of Luhmann's impact in literary studies, see De Berg 1995b), or Robert Estivals's and his colleagues' système de l'écrit (see Estivals et al.) this is much more indirect, and other disciplines, such as the sociology of literature and theories of communication and media studies, predominate as conceptual sources.

I hasten to point out that "systemic" does not mean "systematic" and "empirical" does not mean "empiricist" in any context of "empiricism" (see, for example, Schmidt 1994a, 135, 1994c; see also throughout the corpus of The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture in Tötösy 1995c, 1997b). Generally speaking, systemic and institutional theories of literature, although borrowing from a range of disciplines such as mathematics, biology, and physics, and other theories from the humanities and social sciences, as well as other frameworks for the study of literature, emanate mainly from sociology -- in particular from Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann -- that is, in the more specific form of the the sociology of literature as well as theories of communication (see, for example, Corner and Hawthorne; Schmidt 1993b, 1994a). In this context, it should be noted that the systemic approach to literature, in general, refers to a microstructure although it could also be understood in the context of literature as a macrostructure. The latter can be seen as the systemic approach to "national literatures" in the works of, for example, Dion_z _uri_in or I.G. Neupokoeva. Overall, and as I am arguing throughout my book in particular with examples of application, systems theory for the study of literature is, perhaps, "the most productive way of integrating artistic/nonartistic elements" (Zubarev 12).

In order to offer a more detailed taxonomy of the notion "literature as system," definitions by the originator of the polysystem theory, Itamar Even-Zohar, are relevant. But first, I would like to draw attention to the notion that Even-Zohar's and similar definitions are clearly located within an a priori notion of literature while they are applicable to culture in general as well. Even-Zohar writes that "if by `system' one is prepared to understand both the idea of a closed set-of-relations, in which the members receive their values through their respective oppositions, and the idea of an open structure consisting of several such concurrent nets-of-relations, then the term "system" is appropriate and quite adequate" (12). This definition is, then, consolidated by Even-Zohar to "the network of relations that is hypothesized to obtain between a number of activities called `literary,' and consequently these activities themselves observed via that network," and "the complex of activities, or any section thereof, for which systemic relations can be hypothesized to support the option of considering them `literary'" (28). Also Russell L. Ackoff's definition of systems thinking -- although not specifically in relation to literature and culture (Note 1) -- is helpful to illustrate how systems theory can be applied in the study of literature and culture:

the difference between Systems-Age and Machine-Age thinking derives not from the fact that one synthesizes and the other analyzes, but from the fact that systems thinking combines the two in a new way. ... In the systems approach there are also three steps: 1) identify a containing whole (system) of which the thing to be explained is a part; 2) explain the behavior or properties of the containing whole; and 3) then explain the behavior or properties of the thing to be explained in terms of its role(s) or function(s) within its containing whole. (16)

Siegfried J. Schmidt has developed, from philosophy such as Constructivism and Radical Constructivism (Note 2) since the late 1970s and early 1980s -- although Ackoff's thinking in 1981 (the time of the publication of his definition above) is remarkably "constructivist" -- and from general systems theory an even more carefully delineated description of the literary system, specifically, within the pre-postulates of literary communication and social interaction:

As a system of communicative interaction, literary communication must meet the conditions for systems: it must be delimited by a relatively stable borderline between it and other systems; it must manifest an internal structure; and it must be accepted by society and fulfil a social function not fulfilled by any other system. The delimiting borderline is provided by the aesthetic convention. The structure of the system is determined by the distribution of the roles of action stabilized in social expectations: producer, mediator, receiver, and post-production processor. (1982, 74).

In the English taxonomical designation of Schmidt's framework, because in English-language literary studies the terms "empirical" and "science" have particularly negative connotations, the term "science" from the more usual designation of "Empirical Science of Literature" has been first replaced with "theory," as in the "Empirical Theory of Literature" (Barsch 1991). As I mentioned previously, first, my designation of "The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature" has been accepted by Schmidt and his colleagues at the University of Siegen, and since 1993 I further extended the designation and name of the framework and approach to "The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture." While German (e.g., Barsch 1992; Wilpert) and Dutch (Van Gorp) dictionary and encyclopedia entries resulted in a wider recognition of the framework, English-language dictionary entries are recent (Andringa 1994; Tötösy 1993b). Elsewhere, for instance in Mainland China, the approach may make inroads and the impact of my work in Chinese translation in a book with the title Wen hsüeh yen chiu ti ho fa hua ( Legitimizing the Study of Literature , translated by Ma Jui-ch'i), with a substantial chapter on Constructivism (Tötösy 1997a), remains to be seen.

Empirische Literaturwissenschaft originally attracted proponents particularly in the areas of reception and audience studies such as Norbert Groeben or Peter Vorderer (Note 3) and in cognitive psychology when it is concerned with questions of reading (e.g., Cupchik; Graesser). In these two areas research and studies based on the framework are steadily growing (see Segers). In communication studies the notion of system is clearly established (see Corner and Hawthorn 13). It is also worth noting that a number of researchers in cognitive science and artificial intelligence have been attempting to articulate frameworks for the study of text, particularly those interested in narrative who employ methods of story grammars (e.g., Mandler) and think-aloud protocol (e.g., Trabasso). Despite the mentioned lack of the framework's recognition in literary scholarship in general, it is clear that there is a significant growth of works employing the framework and that it has also begun to attract the interest of scholars working in cultural studies (see, e.g., Tschernokoshewa). In other words, on the one hand the Systemic and Empirical approach concerns primarily literature as in its study, on the other hand "literature" itself is understood as a subsystem of culture that in turn is another subsystem of the system of communication:

Hypothesis about the system of literary communicative interaction: There exists in our society a system of communicative interaction with the following properties: a) communicative interactions are thematically directed toward linguistic aesthetic communicative texts; b) the actions of text producers and receivers follow the conventions of aestheticity and polyvalence, and those of mediators and post-production processors must be compatible with those conventions; c) the system reveals an inner structure, is delimited from other systems, is accepted by society, and fulfils functions not performed by another system. (Schmidt 1982, 103)

While criticism of the systemic approach to literature is endemic and strong among literary scholars, in my opinion most discussions demonstrate unfamiliarity with both the basic points of departure of systems theory and the large secondary literature as well as the epistemological bases of the approach. As I mentioned earlier, in North America there is established and continuous objection to systems theory for the study of literature, probably owing to its history -- and now in literary theory wide-spread negation -- of British and American pragmatism: a good example is the review of my book on the preface to nineteenth-century English- and French-Canadian novels (1993a). In the book review, the reviewer closes an otherwise more or less favourable opinion by saying that the book "is an awkward and perplexing study, at least to scholars unfamiliar with ETL [Empirical Theory of Literature] ideology [ sic ] and methodology. However, even scholars such as myself who are handicapped in this way should be able to recognize the potential value of this study as a starting point for further research" (Rundle 173). With regard to Germany, the negative response is also frequent and here is one recent example. In a book review of Dietrich Schwanitz' novel, Der Campus , the reviewer wrote: "This sense of morals is surprising [in the novel] because the author is otherwise associated with the systems theory school at Bielefeld whose rigidity manifests itself clearly in a marked absence of questions concerning ethical dimensions" (Lütkehaus). Unfortunately, here too as elsewhere, the problem is in misunderstanding or unfamiliarity with the tenets of the approach. One only needs to read Schmidt's "Nachwort zur Taschenausgabe" in the new edition of his Grundriß der Empirischen Literaturwissenschaft of 1980-82 (1991b) or, some years earlier, Anatol Rapaport's statements about systems theory and society to recognize that such statements as Lütkehaus' are perverse.

The system-oriented approach of "literature as an institution" was first been authored theoretically for the study of literature by Jacques Dubois in 1978 (see also 1981, 1984 for elaborations). The systemic and institutional approaches are, however, conceptually related and the analogy may be explained from a basic point of departure: institutions (or subsystems) are components of a system when literature is viewed as a system of subsystems. Most basically, this conceptual and taxonomical postulate can be drawn, for instance, from works such as Melvin G. Blase's Institution Building: A Source Book . Blase's definition of institution is that "institutions are variables within the economic domain that respond to the dynamics of economic growth.... [This system] views institutions as providers of goods and services within the economic system" (395). This definition is applicable to literature. In the sense of the French definition of l'institution , sociologists of culture generally employ the concept to cover the entire range of factors involved in the production, transmission, and consumption of "artifacts" of literature, the visual arts, cinema, music, and other cultural activities. These factors include both institutions in a narrow sense (i.e., publishing houses, the media, schools and universities, etc.) and in its wider, "systemic" sense (i.e., the system of subsystems in which they participate, dynamically, operationally, and functionally). A similar definition of the concept of "institution," applicable again to the notion of the "literary institution," is as follows: "[An institution] thus concentrates itself to combine functionally the above discussed phenomena, to present them as combinations of basic resolutions of systems which regulate society empirically" (Lipp 1013).

The main elements of the compatibility of the polysystem theory, the Empirische Literaturwissenschaft , the theory of the l'institution littéraire , the système de l'écrit , the champ littéraire , and the literature as system frameworks -- as I suggested: here understood collectively as systemic-institutional frameworks and methodologies for the study of literature -- are a similar range of phenomena considered as interrelated and therefore designated for description and interpretation (i.e., the whole field of "literary life" or of "the literary -- socially interactive communication situation"), heuristic models indebted to semiotics and socio-semiotics, the sociology of literature, and communication theories, based in dynamic, operational, functional, and open (self-referential) system theories, and a strong preference for observation and verification instead of intuition, speculation, and metaphorical description. In other words, the theoretical and methodological proposition is that the study of literature should focus on the "how" of literature, not the "what." Among other perspectives, this postulate can also be formulated with the notion of "what people do with literature" (Andringa 1994, 2266). However, it is important to note that the mentioned approaches do not exclude close-text studies either, as many systems studies by scholars amply demonstrate this and as the large number of such studies in my bibliography shows (Tötösy 1995c, 1997b). On the side of knowledge transfer and the corpus of literary theory it is noteworthy -- unfortunately so -- that to date apart from my own theoretical designation of "theory approximation" to relate these frameworks in theory and application (see my notion of "theory approximation" in Chapter Six), there exists, to my knowledge, one single similar study, a 1994 article by Montserrat Iglesias Santos in Darío Villanueva's edited volume, Avances en... Teoría Literatura. Estética de la Recepción, Pragmática, Teoría Empírica y Teoría de los Polisistemas . Interestingly and importantly. Also, Villanueva not only approximates systemic and pragmatics oriented theories of literature, he argues that systemic and empirical approaches would be particularly advantageous for the discipline of Comparative Literature (18).

Because intuition is an overriding concept in the study of literature and literary scholars often contend that this is not so in the natural sciences, it should be noted that intuition is not dispensed with in systemic and empirical frameworks. To the contrary, intuition is in the natural sciences or in such as the statistical sciences and physics, for instance, too, a fundamental and necessary component in and of research (see "On Being a Scientist") and this recognition remains an integral element in systemic and empirical approaches to literature. What is of importance, rather, is the point of entry of intuition when analysing what has been observed, usually in the context of second order observation.

The elements in the basic concepts of systemic and institutional theories allow in particular from a comparative point of view to study literature, that is, "literature" in its widest definition. The basic definition of Comparative Literature includes -- apart from the traditional and historical approach to "compare" literary texts from different languages and cultures -- the study of the literary text in/as its relationship with extra-literary areas (e.g., sociology, history, economics, the publishing industry, the history of the book, geography, biology, medicine, etc.), the other arts, etc. But most importantly -- and here the discipline has played traditionally a significant role -- Comparative Literature means the recognition of and the engagement with the Other, may that be a "non-canonical" text (popular literature, for instance) or the literary and cultural aspects of another race, gender, nation, etc. -- as I am suggesting above with my Manifesto for Comparative Literature. To me, this historical enacting of a basic principle of Comparative Literature is implicitly systemic. Also, with regard to Comparative Literature and cultural studies, while cultural studies is concerned with literature as one of many cultural activities and cultural production (see, for example, Bernheimer; Gunew), Comparative Literature maintains a focus on literature proper although in the widest possible definition of "literature." This, in my opinion, is a significant, more, crucial difference which satisfies my insistence that the study of literature as a distinct field of study is a legitimate and needed -- socially relevant, if performed in the context of my arguments -- scholarly undertaking. However, as I will illustrate further on, while Comparative Literature has the systemic approach built in in its theory and practice, it lacks methodology, that is, the operational and functional postulates the Systemic and Empirical approach offers. And the study of literature, generally practised as the study of "national" literatures, lacks the systemic as well as the above mentioned notions of recognizance and engagement.

It is not surprising, then, that the notion of system -- although here not yet related to the empirical and still without precise methodology -- is put forward in many cases by comparatists (see, for example, Angenot et al.; Chevrel; Fokkema 1982; Guillén 1993; Ibsch 1991; Moisan; Vajda; Zima; Zima and Strutz; for the perhaps earliest comparatist work of the systemic approach see Claudio Guillén's 1971 Literature as System and Earl Miner's 1978 article, "On the Genesis and Development of Literary Systems"). Although, as said, the systemic/institutional approach has not attracted, in a very general sense, the interest of literary scholars -- as opposed to comparatists in the above sense; or, if it did, then with implicit and theoretically and taxonomically unspecified and unclarified ways -- there are theoretical frameworks and applications which take an at least similar view. However, the problem is that when the systemic and/or empirical approach appears in a study, more often than not the approach is intuitively followed (see, for instance, Benett; LeClair; McGann; White). Frequently, the authors of the scholarly study appear to be uninformed or disregard the large corpus of systemic approaches both in theory and in application. Other examples demonstrate more familiarity with systemic thinking although again, they refrain from references to or an intellectual engagement with works in the Systemic and Empirical approach. For instance, Stephen Greenblatt's and his colleagues' framework, New Historicism, comes, in part, remarkably close in concept, if not in methodological precision to the Systemic and Empirical approach; and the same can be said about Edward Said's treatment of Derrida's and Foucault's thought in his chapter "Criticism between Culture and System," in his book, The World, the Text, and the Critic . And cultural studies in its most general notion is another framework, that, as divergent theories and methodologies it employs, often manifests systemic approaches. J. Hillis Miller's postulates for the question "What are Cultural Studies?," for instance, demonstrate systemic thinking (13-19), or in Anthony Easthope's Literary into Cultural Studies , too, the systemic approach is clearly evident. Easthope's book elucidates the scope of cultural studies and understands literature similarly to Schmidt, who proposes the notion of media studies (1991a, 1993b, 1994a). Easthope's new paradigm for literary alias cultural analysis consists of the areas of sign system, ideology, gender, identification and subject position, the other, institution, readership and audience, and pedagogy (129-39). These areas are analogous to the tenets of the systemic frameworks and theories in question. Interestingly, an implicit systemic view based on Roland Barthes's or Jacques Derrida's notions of "network" -- the obvious suggestion here is that "network" is an analogue to "soft system" -- is also evident in the novel concept of reading and literary research resulting from computer technology (see Landow). This trend toward systemic approaches in its conceptual and/or intuitive dimension in the study of literature is indeed strong. Another example is Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's Mille Plateaux where the critic's response to the book reveals a systemic context (see Hofmann). And Michel de Certeau, whose work concerns mainly the notion of alterité , is increasingly recognized as a "systemic" scholar: "The metaphorical system which he [Certeau] held dear -- crossroads, networks, places of transit, limit markers -- has more than simply a descriptive value. It has a heuristic function: it spatializes and dynamizes the operation of knowledge" (Ahearne 26). The notion of system is also becoming more evident in recent works about deconstruction on both sides of the Atlantic. This is evident in, for example, Christopher Johnson's System and Writing in the Philosophy of Jacques Derrida , although here, too, focus is given more to the concept of system rather than to the function and operation of the literary system.

That North American scholars have began to pay attention to the importance of system and observation (i.e., the empirical), and the pragmatism of literary studies -- albeit, again, the lack of operationality and functionality is apparent in these studies -- is evident in such volumes as the previously mentioned work of Mohanty, Halliburton, Zavarzadeh and Morton, or Charles W. Anderson's Prescribing the Life of the Mind: An Essay on the Purpose of the University, the Aims of Liberal Education, the Competence of Citizens, and the Cultivation of Practical Reason (1996), the collected volume Rhetoric, Sophistry, Pragmatism (Ed. Steven Mailloux, 1996), or William H. Thornton's Cultural Prosaics (1998), where he argues for objectivity via Bakhtin and dialogism (see also Tötösy 1995b for a discussion of systemic thinking in North American theory).

Returning to the relationship between Comparative Literature and the Systemic and Empirical approach, within literary study, the discipline of Comparative Literature appears to be under considerable pressure in recent years -- particularly in North America -- and more so than ever before. Generally speaking, this discipline has never been successfully institutionalized, apart from the United States, either in Continental Europe, in England, or elsewhere. However, as I already mentioned, in contrast to the discipline's intellectual and institutional dismantling in the United States, in South America and in the "peripheral" European countries (e.g., Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, etc.) in recent years there has been a marked development of Comparative Literature as a discipline both intellectually and institutionally, and in the Far East (Japan and Mainland China) Comparative Literature is one of the strongest disciplines in the humanities along English (for a recent description of the Chinese landscape of the discipline see Chen; see also Tötösy 1997c). While the United States can still show, numerically and proportionally speaking, institutional strength in Comparative Literature, in recent years the fields of cultural studies, the adoption (and appropriation) of literary theory by departments of English, and communication and media studies appear to successfully compete away Comparative Literature (see Bernheimer; Gunew; Shohat and Stam). Yet, as far as scholarship in the humanities is concerned, Comparative Literature has always shown innovation and has combined those elements of scholarly investigation which have resulted in insights, which -- to take a Canadian example representing the paradigmatic status of the discipline -- "comparative literature scholars have contributed significantly to making more apparent that cohesion of the humanities which single author studies tend to bypass" (Rajan 152). The implication here is that single language and literature departments and scholars -- in other words, the "national literature" approach -- manifest scholarly deficiencies which Comparative Literature can successfully correct by focussing on literature as opposed to other themes and objects of study in cultural studies, for instance.

However, in many works of Comparative Literature with a systemic perspective, the notion of system is conceptual and less operational and functional in its framework and methodology. Instead, following the Systemic and Empirical framework, from the notion of "system" one should proceed to the operational, i.e., methodological, question of "how" does one do Comparative Literature, or, indeed, the study of literature in general. To cite an early example, Douwe Fokkema's article, "Comparative Literature and the New Paradigm," contains the following formulations: "The new paradigm is made up of a) a new conception of the object of literary scholarship, b) the introduction of new methods, c) a new vision of the scientific relevance of the study of literature, and d) a new vision of the social justification of the study of literature" (1982, 13-14; for later developments of systems theory and literature, see, for example, 1989, 1991; Lefevere 1989, 1992; Van Gorp, Masschelein, De Geest, and Geldof). Of importance here is that comparatists such as Chevrel, Fokkema, and Lefevere as their work attests, are in principle sympathetic toward the Systemic and Empirical approach. It is thus, then, that my approach to employ the methodologically fully developed framework of The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Literature and Culture and merged with the proposed tenets of Comparative Literature provides us with a New Comparative Literature, an alternative that may aid us against the previously discussed situation of marginalization -- and Eurocentrism -- and would advance my contention that the study of literature ought to be socially relevant. And here, I would like to add, the epistemological background of the Systemic and Empirical approach, namely Constructivism (see Riegler), is a basic point of departure for the social relevance of the study of literature.

In order to underline my theoretical introduction and to provide a useful tool, I present below -- some of them for the first time in English translation -- dictionary definitions of the frameworks mentioned:

Theory of the Empirical Study of Literature
(Empirische Literaturwissenschaft)

Recent movement within the study of literature concerned with the study of literature as a social system of (inter)actions. The main question is what happens to literature and how: it is written, published, distributed, read, censored, imitated, etc. The empirical study of literature originated as a reaction to, and an attempt at, solving the basic problem of hermeneutics; that is, how the validation of literary interpretation can be demonstrated. From reception theory it had already become clear that interpretations are not only tied to the text, but also, and even to a greater extent, to the reader -- both in terms of the individual and of social conventions. This led to the theory of Radical (cognitive) Constructivism, based on the thesis that the subject largely construes its empirical world itself. The logical consequence of all this, to be seen in the work of Siegfried J. Schmidt, is the separation of interpretation and the strictly scientific study of literature based on radical constructivism. The literary system of actions is observed from the outside -- not experienced -- and roughly characterized as depending on two conventions (hypotheses) that are tested continually. These conventions are the aesthetic convention (as opposed to the convention of facts in the daily language of reference) and the polyvalence convention (as opposed to the monovalency in the daily empirical world). Thus, the object of study of the empirical study of literature is not only the text in itself, but roles of action within the literary system, namely, the production, distribution, reception, and the processing of texts. The methods used are primarily taken from the social sciences, reception theory, cognitive science, psychology, etc. In general, the steps to be taken in empirical research are the formation of a hypothesis, putting it into practice, testing, and evaluation. More concretely, for the study of reader response a wide array of techniques are used, ranging from protocol techniques and thinking aloud protocol to pre-structured techniques, such as the semantic seven point scale (C. Osgood) and the classification technique (card sorting), and forms of content analysis, discourse analysis, association techniques, etc. Some objections often raised to the empirical study of literature are the triviality of many of its research results, such as confirmation of what was already known or suspected, or its reductionism (artificiality of the framework and set-up, and limitation to reader response instead of the study of the text). It is clear, however, that the empirical study of literature by its specific approach and its focus on methodology is an outstanding way to explore the socio-cultural aspects of the literary system. It makes an irreplaceable contribution to the development of a more rational, scientific, and socially relevant study of literature. (Trans. A. Tadema. Hendrik van Gorp, R. Ghesquiere, D. Delabastita, and J. Flamend, "Empirische literatuurwetenschap." Lexicon van literaire termen: stromingen en genres, theoretische begrippen, retorische procédés en stiljfiguren . By Hendrik van Gorp, R. Ghesquiere, D. Delabastita, and J. Flamend. 5th ed. Leuven: Wolters, 1991. 116-17.)

Theory of the Literary Institution (l'institution littéraire)

The literary institution is the field in which all literary experience is realized. It encompasses two inseparable practices that work together to create a tension in literary modes of production. At one pole, the organizing practices bring together all the materials of the technical and organizational infrastructure of the institution. Here, technologies of reproduction and distribution include the oral, print, electronic, and various other media. The economics of the institution encompass systems of government subsidies as well as the various cultural industries that ascribe an exchange value to the products of the institution. In turn, techniques of reproduction determine possible menus of criticism that bestow value on the literary products. This process is carried out through a vast variety of literary promotions that includes literary criticism itself as well as the more formal rituals of the art such as literary prizes, book festivals, publishers' conventions, and the like. In this way the organizing practices of the literary institution help establish critical acclaim and bestow legitimacy on the products of the institution. At the other pole, the imaginative or creative practices bring together all the materials of the aesthetic event that are handed down across the millennia -- all the codes, norms, genres, themes, narrative styles, and all those artistic forms that give expression to literary content. Assuming that the author, reader and literary critic are co-creative participants already "inserted" in the literary work, it follows that the creative practice also in part influences the possibilities of reception and criticism. Themes and narrative styles carry a horizon of expectation that help form the way in which a story is experienced by a reader; a particular genre may be more familiar to readers of a certain age, national origin, social class or gender; and codes and norms of writing change from one epoch to another. None of the creative practices can be explained by reducing them to the organizing practices, but at the same time the two practices work together, sometimes in conflict, sometimes in harmony, but always within the same frame of reference. (Greg Marc Nielsen, "Literary Institution." Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory: Approaches, Scholars, Terms. Ed. Irena R. Makaryk. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1993. 580-81.)

The Polysystem Theory

Theory that attempts to interpret literature within a semiotic frame of reference, on the basis of a general operation of laws in a communication system. Since the 1970s, the term has become familiar through the work of scholars such as Itamar Even-Zohar and Gideon Toury at the Porter Institute of Poetics at Tel Aviv University. According to the polysystem theory, literature is a complex whole of systems -- concepts of literature on both a practical and theoretical levels -- which mutually influence each other and which constantly stand in new and changing relations as a function of scales of values (norms) and models that dominate in given circumstances. This theory radically elaborates the work of the Russian Formalist Yuri Tynyanov, who repeatedly wrote in the 1920s that literature must not be studied in terms of essences but in terms of relations. The principle of dominant norms and models confers a relative, historical value upon all theoretical positions, whereas the study of literature is charged with the examination of the norms and models according to which writers, texts, and readers function. The polysystem theory also radically elaborates the principle of historical reception: all literary texts are historically determined, whether indeed they belong to dominant or dominating systems. The notion of system is an open, historical, and interpretive concept; it points to the principle of a hierarchical order of literary concepts within a complex whole such that systems and subsystems can be distinguished; the subsystems share fixed norms and models with larger wholes. The polysystem theory thus leads to new insights relative to the description of national literatures and the description of relations between national literary systems, whereby delimitation on the basis of political and linguistic frontiers becomes relativitized -- within a particular literature it is possible that, for example, popular genres function within international networks, while higher literature develops more along national lines. Thus, the central function that literary translation can fulfil becomes clear as a key to relations (interferences) between more national or regional literary systems. Also, the basic mechanisms of literary contacts are studied in greater detail by the application of this theory. Because the polysystem theory attempts to take up the interpretation of literary phenomena on a fundamental level, it formulates hypotheses that could work for other forms of communication (such as cinema, social behaviour, cultural systems in general, etc.). The theory, considered literary in the first instance, evolves, following the problematics of interference, in the direction of transfer theory and general systems theory. However, the descriptive research that polysystem theory tries to test out until now has situated itself in a provisional manner in translation studies and, generally, in literary research. The polysystem approach to literature as a "scientific" method is to be situated in the comprehensive, theoretical paradigms of systems theory. In disciplines other than the study of literature, for example in thermodynamics, biology, sociology, psychology, such concepts as self-regulating, transforming, and interfering systems are operative. From the systemic perspective, Ludwig von Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory (1968) is an important work that examines thinking in various disciplines from their common points of departure. (Trans. A. Tadema. Hendrik van Gorp, R. Ghesquiere, D. Delabastita, and J. Flamend, "Polysysteem(theorie)." Lexicon van literaire termen: stromingen en genres, theoretische begrippen, retorische procédés en stiljfiguren . By Hendrik van Gorp, R. Ghesquiere, D. Delabastita, and J. Flamend. 5th ed. Leuven: Wolters, 1991. 312-13.)

Theory of the System of Written Text (système de l'écrit)

The concept of the système de l'écrit includes aspects of both methodology and interpretation. Thus, the approach consists of aspects of methodology and interpretation with reference to agents of production (authors, editors, publishers), of distribution (book clubs, bookstores and other locations of book sale, etc.), and of communication and conservation (libraries, archives, etc.). These agents constitute a functional interrelationship of phenomena that satisfies the demands of written communication for readers; agents which, in turn, are themselves determined by cultural and socio-political circumstances and practices. The système de l'écrit theory is performed best by methodologies available in the science de bibliologie . In principle, the système de l'écrit theory is an application of Ludwig von Bertalanffy's general systems theory which influenced and is used by a number of disciplines such as artificial intelligence and cognitive science. The système de l'écrit theory replaces the linear approach of author and reader and postulates a descriptive method: the necessity and applicability of not only to explain the function of existing structures but also to diagnose aspects of systemic dysfunction and exceptional circumstances and situations in order to propose action for the re-establishment of systemic equilibrium. The science de bibliologie as a descriptive method is able to provide the système de l'écrit theory with the ability to explicate and to describe as well as to perform the application of the framework. Further, the theory allows for a typology of subsystems of writing such manuscripts, other than registered publications, documents, audio-visual media, the internet and cyberspace, etc., and it operates on the background of international cultural and socio-political realities of systems. On the level of application, the theory allows, for example, the study of editorial methodologies, the acquisition practices of libraries, etc. (Trans. S. Tötösy (Note 4). Robert Estivals, "Système de l'écrit." Les Sciences de l'écrit. Encyclopédie Internationale de Bibliologie . Ed. Robert Estivals, Jean Meyriat, and François Richaudeau. Paris: Retz, 1993. 511.)

Theory of the Literary Field (champ littéraire)

The most basic mediation is the literary field, provided that, as Pierre Bourdieu has emphasized, we define the term in the strict sense and strictly limit the concept, reducing neither the term nor the concept to the traditional ideas of "social context" or "literary milieu." The term should be understood to refer to the relatively autonomous social space formed by the group of actors, works, and phenomena comprising literary praxis, a space whose structures are defined by the system of forces active within it and by the conflicts among these forces. Bourdieu defines the literary field as "a field of forces acting on all those who enter this space and differently according to the position that they occupy there, at the same time as a field of struggle aiming to transform this field of forces." This analytic model should be utilized only for the periods and situations for which it is relevant; thus in France one can speak of the literary field only since the classical period. Finally, the concept should be used only with the awareness that mediation does not work in a single direction. The field is not only the mediation through which the social determinations acting upon literature pass but is also the space where literature takes form according to the logic of the mediations belonging to this space. If indeed, literature acts on the other spheres of social practice in accordance with the same mediation. Whoever analyses the literary field finds two series of givens functioning in a narrow and permanent relationship. On the one hand, literary space can be understood only through analysis of its situation with respect to other social fields. Specifically, it is essential to situate the literary field at the various moments of its history within the intellectual field and among the powers it shares as the locus of a fraction of symbolic power. The effect of the transformations that the literary field induces correlates with its degree of autonomy and its position in the hierarchy of cultural values. On the other hand, mediations are also linked to the structures of the field, which are the "cumulative product of its own history" -- hierarchies and internal rules, its division (in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) into two distinct spheres, the accepted or contested hegemony of a particular school or movement, the greater or lesser prestige accorded to each genre, the authority and limits of an institution. The analysis of literary works in terms of positions taken (a narrow construction of the sociology of texts that some critics propound) must be linked to an analysis of the objective positions held by the actors taking part in the literary event (authors, readers, publishers). Phenomena that traditional literary history ascribes to individual talent (for example, the everlasting parallel between Corneille and Racine) the appear for what they are: effects of the field. (Alain Viala, "Prismatic Effects." Trans. Paula Wissing. Literature and Social Practice . Ed. Philippe Desan, Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, and Wendy Griswold. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. 259-60.)

Theory of Literature as System

After a hesitant start in the late 1980s, Niklas Luhmann's systems approach to society and communication has now emerged as one of the most influential sociological theories in German-language literary studies. There are clear signs that it is gaining ground in English-language literary and cultural theory as well. Originally conceived as a critique and extension of Talcott Parsons's systems theory, Luhmann's approach quickly developed into a highly original, if fairly abstract and perhaps at times conceptually over-elaborate, theory of society. The first phase of Luhmann's career (ca. 1960-80) was characterised by a radical critique of systems thinking's structuralist bent and its over-socialised conception of man, and of the utopianism inherent in social theories such as those of Jürgen Habermas (Luhmann 1982). Retaining the central tenets of the first phase, Luhmann's later work is nonetheless markedly different in its focus on communication instead of on social action, its use of the concept of autopoiesis (borrowed from the biologist Humberto R. Maturana) to describe a system's autonomy, and its emphasis on epistemological questions. In this later work the various functional areas of society such as the economy, politics, science, etc. are seen as self-referential ("autopoietic") social systems: as communicative processes, each of which possesses its own dynamics that cannot be steered by any of the other social systems or the people involved (Luhmann 1995a, 1997). Art, including literature, is viewed as one of these systems (Luhmann 1995b). The application of systems theory in literary studies has focussed on the way in which, according to Luhmann, each social system self-referentially propels itself forward towards ever-increasing complexity, thereby making the environment of all the other social systems more complex which in turn enhances the need for systems to become even more complex. In this way, literary evolution can be seen as an autonomous process which is nevertheless correlated to a more general social development (Werber 1995). Thus, the systemic study of literature picks up where Yuri Tynyanov and other Russian Formalists left off, but with two important innovations. Firstly, where Russian Formalism had left the environment of the literary system theoretically unconceptualised, Luhmann offers a full-fledged theory of society. Secondly, whereas Tynjanov's idea of the differential quality of literature and literary works remained largely on the level of intuition, Luhmann provides an explicit difference-orientated theory of communication (De Berg 1995a). The influence of Luhmann on the various branches of the conceptually related approach of the Empirical Study of Literature has been limited, his ideas being seen as too philosophical for genuine empirical research. There are, however, attempts by Siegfried J. Schmidt and some of his colleagues to use a modified form of Luhmann's systems theory to analyse the origins of the structure and organization of contemporary literary life (Schmidt 1989, 1990), and as a key component of an empirically orientated theory of culture (Schmidt 1994). The perspectives opened up by the application of systems theory in literary and cultural studies and the problems it involves can be gleaned in English from special issues of the Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 24.1 (1997), Modern Language Notes 111.3 (1996), New German Critique 61 (1994), and Theory, Culture & Society 11.2 (1994). (This definition has been written and published here the first time by Henk De Berg, University of Sheffield)

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In the following Chapters I will apply the above proposed Systemic and Empirical framework and methodology to various texts, problems, and questions of literature and culture. The structure of the Chapters is such that they are divided into various areas of Comparative Literature. As it will be seen, these applications range from the textual to the contextual and some applications are more systemic while others are more empirical, but all following and implementing the proposed theoretical configuration of a New Comparative Literature with the method of The Systemic and Empirical Approach to Litrature and Culture. Depending on the nature of the question I am dealing with, I apply a specific aspect of the methodology or develop a framework from already established postulates. For example, I use postulates of the Polysystem Theory for a framework of "inbetween peripherality" for the study of East Central European literature or I use tenets of the Empirische Literaturwissenschaft for the study of readership and develop the notion of "catacaustics," etc.


  1. An innovative application of systems theory in literature -- based on Russell A. Ackoff and others such as Aron Katsenelinboigen and Jamshed Gharajedaghi, all from the field of organiza-tional theory and economics, but not using any of the more obvious frameworks such as by Schmidt, Luhmann, Parsons, Estivals, or Even-Zohar -- in American literary scholarship is to be found in Vera Zubarev's 1997 A Systems Approach to Literature: Mythopoetics of Chekhov's Four Major Plays. To my knowledge, Zubarev's book is the single other book-length work in North America where systems theory is explicitly and methodologically applied to literary texts, that is, apart from my own The Social Dimensions of Fiction (1993). (Back)

  2. Here is one working definition: "The metatheory known as constructivism , which has been developing over the years, has become particularly influential in the latter half of the twentieth century. What distinguishes constructivists from people with other orientations is an emphasis on the generative, organizational, and selective nature of human perception, understanding, and memory -- the theoretical `building' metaphor guiding thought and inquiries. Constructivists view people as constructive agents and view the phenomenon of interest (meaning or knowledge) as built instead of passively "received" by people whose ways of knowing, seeing, understanding, and valuing influence what is known, seen, understood, and valued. Attention goes to how these ways are acquired and manifested. Constructivism takes different forms, which include cognitive-developmental constructivism or constructionism, personal construct theory, radical constructivism, social constructivism and collaborative constructivism. These forms cut across various areas of inquiry: psychological studies (social psychology, cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, and developmental psychology), history, educational studies, rhetorical and literary studies, and sociocultural studies in anthropology and sociology" (Spivey 3-4). From the large corpus of constructivism, see Barsch, Rusch, Viehoff; Gehrke; Glasersfeld; Groeben 1994; Kramaschki; Rusch and Schmidt 1992, 1994, 1995; Schmidt 1992a, 1994b; for a hypertextual World Wide Web site see Alex Riegler's Radical Constructivism at (Back)

  3. It is a curious approach, however, where scholars who study audience response to film, often employ reader-response theories and methodologies and narratology and make no differentiation between responses to literature (the written text) and film (a visual matter). Clearly, response to film will be different and predicated on different parameters than response to written material. For an example of this non-differentiated approach, see Vorderer, Cupchik, and Oatley. (Back)

  4. Unless indicated otherwise, texts from other languages throughout the book are translations of my own. (Back)