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Viola ?apková, Biljana Doj?inovi?, Henriette Partzsch

Reflections about the theoretical framework


In this contribution we will discuss the way in which our collaborative research into the reception of women’s writing, using a shared online tool, relates and contributes to recent theoretical reflections on the historiography of literature. Our objective is to advance the main aim of the Action, i.e. to lay the groundwork for a new history of European women’s participation in the literary field of the centuries before 1900 (cf. the Action’s Memorandum of Understanding.

The questioning of theories and methodologies has accompanied the Action from its very beginning; it suffices to consult the Memorandum of Understanding, or to think back to the very first workshop, which focused on the use of quantitative methods in cultural history and counted Franco Moretti among its participants (The Hague, November 2009). The multinational nature of the research network – our Action now comprises members in over 20 countries – has provided us with a unique opportunity to test and question the understanding of literary history, for instance concerning the tensions between national, international and transnational perspectives, an aspect that has been widely discussed in recent years. The flexibility of the online tool, inasmuch as it allows researchers to correlate texts, authors, places and spaces in different configurations, makes it also an ideal instrument for studying the implications of different views on the history of literature.

This relational approach to literature parallels aspects of Even-Zohar’s poly-system theory, which will be a productive reference for our future research. His scheme of the factors operating in culture will help systematise the description of networks and hence enhance their comparability, while his model of cultural interference and transfer can contribute to the contextualisation of the participation of women in European literary culture.

Pointing to the dynamic understanding of system, in difference to static ones, Even-Zohar coined the term poly-system in order to escape possible misunderstandings. His ideas are important for the research of women’s writing and the use of a digital database as a tool, for a number of reasons. For instance, the very idea of system, as different from mere data gathering, enables prediction of certain phenomena. This is of the utmost importance for the idea of women writers’ networks and for the research of the cooperation, reception and production, where many names, works and connections might be lost from sight. The very dynamic image of system allows envisioning the forces which govern the literary scene, and thus enables us to think beyond one canon, or beyond one static canon, which seems to be more fruitful for understanding the position of women’s writing in relation to mainstream than divisions such as hypercanon, countercanon, shadow canon.

This theory also insists on taking into account complete literary phenomena, and rejects the idea of «elitism», which is also very helpful for positioning women's writing. Drawing heavily on the heritage of Russian Formalism, it may pave the way for taking back into discussion issues such as the «literariness» of a literary work, and seeing it from different points of view.

Regarding the WomenWriters database, as the tool for the research of European women's writing, this theory prompts us to think beyond static relations, to take into account the time dimension and also the constant changes in the literary field, in particular concerning the position of women writers for example. It agrees very well with the idea of multidimensional literary networks created by women, yet also with the in-depth understanding of categories we use to describe it.

For instance, the next version of the WomenWriters database will allow more detailed distinguishing between genres and between sub-genres. A work may be described not only as a novel, but also as a Bildungsroman which is defined primarily as part of mainstream, which is – malestream in literary history. And, being written by a woman, such a novel might have certain traits which are different from the mainstream (earlier thought of as – general) Bildungsroman.

The second part of this presentation will therefore focus on the relations between three Bildungsromane :

We will focus on the two female novels – the similarities in genre, outcome of the action and topoi, as well as the differences in geopolitical background. The connection to mainstream literature and main sources of influence will be presented via Joyce's novel, illustrating possibilities that will be created soon, thanks to further developing of the online tool.

SvD, 26 May 2013

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