TOWARD THE MEDIAN CONTEXT: COMPARATIVE APPROACHES TO CENTRAL EUROPEAN LITERATURE
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Despite the growing interest in world literature beyond the Western canon, the nations of post-socialist Central Europe remain a blind spot in Western literary criticism and theory. While Franz Kafka inspired Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of “minor literature,” their distinction between “minor” and “major” leaves intact the prevalent assumption that “small literatures” are inherently “national,” while the literatures and languages of the larger world powers are essentially universal. Yet the multicultural terrain of Central Europe offers an ideal context for comparative cultural criticism, since these literatures were forced to negotiate at every stage of their development with neighbouring cultures. This makes Central Europe an exemplary site of cultural translation, a concept originally derived from anthropological research, which is not only about making connections but also about asserting difference and finding a balance between assimilation and resistance. Milan Kundera’s insistence on the need for a “median context” in world literature emphasizes the importance of studying Central European writers in a regional rather than national setting. One case study introduced here is a comparison of two writers who fall between Slovak and Hungarian literature: Sandor Márai and Gejza Vámoš. Both Márai and Vámoš were native Hungarian speakers, but Vámoš was born in present-day Hungary and chose to write in Slovak, while Márai was a native of today’s Slovakia and became a major Hungarian modernist author. Both of these authors evoke the mixed cultures and languages of pre-war Central Europe, but Márai affirms his essentially Hungarian identity, while Vámoš embraces the multilingualism of the region. Such a comparative approach to the median context of Central European fiction by specialists in the region may increase its visibility within world literature studies.
29 – 38
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