Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Interliterariness as a Concept in Comparative Literature by Marian Galik – An Overview

Literariness and Interliterariness

Interliterariness is a relatively new concept that began in Central European literary studies though the notion was helped on by Russian formalists and Czech structuralists. Literariness was a forerunner of this concept and was first propounded by Roman Jakobson in 1921 when he said “The object of literary scholarship is not literature but literariness, i.e. which makes a given work a literary one.
Rene Welleck too presents a similar view of literariness by stating: “literary scholarship will not make any progress methodologically, unless it determines to study literature as subject distinct from other activities and procedures of man. Hence we must face the problem of ‘literariness’, the central issue of aesthetics, the nature of art and literature.” Aesthetics here means values that are aesthetic that are found in literary works. What makes a work of art literature is the quality of literariness it has, this means literariness is a property of a text.

Dionyz Durisin calls literariness a “basic and essential quality” in literature which embodies all relations within literature in context of intensity, amount, manner and conditionality within the framework of a variety of individual literatures. When this intensity, variability, affinities and mutual relations go beyond the boundary of individual literatures then literariness is transformed in ‘interliterariness’. This means that interliterariness too is a basic and essential quality of literature but it is in an international and inter-ethnic context and ontological determination. The highest embodiment of this will of course be world literature.
Therefore, for Durisin the concept of interliterariness constitutes the main notion for a theory of interliterary process within comparative literature. Ontologically looked at interliterariness comes after literariness and so, though interliterariness may comprise of literariness the reverse may not ring true always.

Literary development
“One of the most important features of interliterariness is its implied or implicit processual character, a systematic series of related literary facts within the ethnic or national framework presupposing the temporal and spatial changes in the course of their literary development.” Literatures are mostly found to be in a state of flux during their construction or coming to be due to inside and outside influences as can be seen from ancient languages like Sumerian and Egyptian to the recent ones.

Interliterariness consists of studying literature beyond the boundaries of tradition and culture which makes it comparative in this sense. ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ when studied through its various translations beginning with its first version by G. Smith in 1872 and the numerous transaltions like those of L. Matous in Czech 1975 can help us understand the interliterary changes that creep in due to culture in the Sumerian, Accadian, Assyrian and Hittite versions.
These different versions show the difference in literary development and also the socio-political and ideological frameworks that affect a text’s translation. Even the different attitudes towards gods change the potential of the text. Beowulf for instance, is given a more Christian colouring by the monks that transcribed it. The interliterary unity within Gilgamesh can be seen in the similarity of epithets , similes and  common themes like the abduction of a woman found in the Ramayana in Sita’s case or in the Iliad with Helen and Briseis. The seduction of a woman can be seen in the Mahabharata in Draupadi and Penelope in Odyssey while the hero dreaming of the future or a heavenly messenger arriving to prophesy is instanced in the case of Hermes in the Odessey and Impaluri in the Hittite Song on Ullikumi. There is also a similar use of narrative within narrative seen most abundantly in the Mahabharata but to a lesser extent in the Iliad and Odyssey. 

What concerns Interliterariness
Interliterariness moves beyond culture and ethnic backgrounds and goes beyond individual qualities and focuses instead on trans-national, trans-ethnic and geo-literary development of a text. It involves itself with the impact and also reception of texts through the geo literary aspect is a recent acquisition in the nineteenth century. We find interliterariness more prevalent in genetic-contact relations and also influence and response along with contact between literatures. External contacts do not impart deeper traces in the receiving structure’s literature while internal contacts are deeper.

We see traces of this in the new literatures of Asia and Africa though internal influences must have been active in preabtique time. This is what has lead to the form of the poetry in the Bible. Due to the genetic contacts the bible was acknowledged as a book of books in the Western perspective as the Old Testament was translated into Greek (Septuagint) which influenced the style of the New Testament and consequently on the Christian world. However, in the case of developed cultures; genetic interliterariness does not seem so potent.
As far as the Chinese meets European or to be more general; European, Greco Roman meets Oriental or West, East and South Asia the interliterarary development is merged with interartistic symbiosis along with religion, a plurality of cultures, translation and a sort of polylinguism  akin to the mythic tower of Babel in which Sanskrit was given prime imporatance. In the case of structural-typological parallels or affinities the interliterariness prevalent is more dominant in the history and development of the individual literatures.

Influence and reception studies on the other hand, help illuminate the problems prevalent in “the genesis of works in their continuity within the dialectical tensions that are found with tradition in ethnic and national literatures and new methods of innovation that crop in. The aforementioned structural and typological realm explores analogies of the interliterary process of different literatures in the same time slot or period so that new forms of interliterariness may be discovered.

Interliterary poetics
It is one of the objects that form a comparative methodology but unfortunately is still embryonic in nature as the scope of study is vast for genres, traditions, customs of Sanskrit, post-Sanskrit and Arabic works along with other literatures will have to be studied in detail and a common expression found. According to Earl Miner, the author of ‘Comparative Poetics: An Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature; literatures should be studied from Latin American and Africa as well as other regions as even Durisin notes how interliterariness as a quality is not confined by national, ethnic or individual boundaries.

In the case of literatures in contact there are interliterary connections formed between cultures that are not perceived in ordinary genetic contact relations and these are met in two opposing ways. Either the foreign impulses will be accepted and integrated tot eh structure while the other consists of filtering out the received stimuli to select only its convenient elements.
Theoretically speaking the maximum amount of interliterariness is found in the concept of world literature when applied correctly as then literary history and evolution is brought to the forefront in the interliterary perspective. Thus, world literature is ‘summa litterarum universarum’ not maybe in quantity but through the mutual relationships present and the complex structure of the interliterary process between these works of literature.

Considering the vast number of languages present their variety and complexity is in itself is a type of interliterariness. The concept of world literature as a summa of all literary works produced in different literatures in the course of their evolution is a broader conception than that of Weltliteratur which is merely a totality of masterpieces; nor can literature be solely Euro-centric or based after a particular century. Like Horst Steinmetz for instance suggests that only works produced after the nineteenth century should be considered. In order to have a better and deeper understanding, a broad and comparative stance is required when applying the theory of interliterariness.


  1. This might just help me pass today's exam. Thank you. This is brilliant.

  2. Very well written. What I like most about it is the avoidance of unnecessary esoteric jargon.