Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boundless World of Literature

Science (and cultural consciousness) of the nineteenth century singled out only a miniature world (and we have narrowed it even more) from the boundless world of literature. This miniature world included almost nothing from the East. The world of culture and literature is essentially as boundless as the universe. We are speaking not about its geographical breadth (this is limited), but about its semantic depths, which are as bottomless as the depths of matter. The infinite diversity of interpretations, images, figurative semantic combinations, materials and their interpretations, and so forth. We have narrowed it terribly by selecting and by modernizing what we have selected. We impoverish the past and do not enrich ourselves. We are suffocating in the captivity of narrow and homogeneous interpretations.

The main lines of the development of literature that have prepared one writer or another, one work or another, throughout the centuries (and in various nations). But we know only the writer, his world view, and his times. Eugene Onegin was created during the course of seven years. But the way was being prepared for it and it was becoming possible through hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of years. Such great realities of literature as genres are completely underestimated.

(M.M. Bakhtin, "From Notes Made in 1970-71," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays)

One of the things I appreciate about Bakhtin is his facility with literature off the beaten path to delineate such millennia of preparation (e.g., his preference for Hellenistic rather than Classical Greek literature), the ease with which he moves from "canonical" to "non-canonical" works. His breadth and depth of knowledge of wide ranges of literatures puts most of us to shame.

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