Current Position :Home > News > Articels recommended > Do “Minor Literatures” Still Exist?

Do “Minor Literatures” Still Exist?

  Galin Tihanov

  Department of Comparative Literature, University of London

  20 Claremont Grove, Woodford Green, Essex IG8 7HS, U. K.

  Email: [email protected]

   Abstract My paper addresses both Bulgarian (more widely, East-European)literature (especially in the first two parts) and developments that bear on the largerframework in which literary history operates today. I revisit the notion of "minorliteratures" and show it to be an historical construct with a specific lifespan. Ialso examine the ambiguity of the project of "minor literatures," poised as it haslately been between an understanding of "minor" as a potential social and politicalenergy that originates in the writing of a minority within a dominant majority("minoritare Literatur"), and an evaluative notion that sees "minor literatures"as small ("kleine Literatur"), derivative, deprived of originality when measuredby the yardstick of "mainstream literatures." The first of these two perspectivesis sustained in Deleuze and Guattari's classic book Kafka: Towards a MinorLiterature; the second one has a longer pedigree that goes back to the intricatehistory of Eurocentrism since the 18`"century.Key words "minor literature"; world literature; Balkan literatures; literary canon;Eurocentrism; centre and peripheryAuthor Galin Tihanov is the George Steiner Professor of ComparativeLiterature at Queen Mary, University of London. He was previously Professor ofComparative Literature and Intellectual History and founding co-director of theResearch Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures at the University of Manchester. Hismost recent research has been on cosmopolitanism, exile, and transnationalism.His publications include four books and nine (co)edited volumes. Tihanov iswinner, with Evgeny Dobrenko, of the Efim Etkind Prize for Best Book on RussianCulture (2012), awarded for their co-edited A History of Russian Literary Theoryand Criticism: The Soviet Age and Beyond (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).He is Honorary President of the ICLA Committee on Literary Theory and electedmember of Academia Europaea; he is also member of the Advisory Board of theInstitute for World Literature (IWL) at Harvard. In 2012, he delivered the MihalyBabits Lectures. Tihanov held visiting professorships at Yale University (2007), St.Gallen University (2012), University of Sao Paulo (2013), and Peking University(2014).My paper addresses both Bulgarian (more widely, East-European) literature(especially in the first two parts) and developments that bear on the largerframework in which literary history operates today. I demonstrate the dependenceof the idea of "minor literatures" on the broader dynamics of literary history,offering sufficient proof that the very concept of "minor literatures" is anhistorical construct with a specific (limited) life-span. What are the implicationsthe reconsideration of the notion of "minor literatures" might in turn have for thechanging conceptual apparatus of literary history is a question I should like to puton the agenda in another essay; here I address this issue only in a very provisionaland rather inchoate manner.

  I revisit the notion of "minor literatures" by examining the ambiguity of theproject, poised as it has lately been between an understanding of "minor" as apotential for social and political energy that originates in the writing of a minoritywithin a dominant majority ("minoritare Literatur"), and an evaluative notionthat sees "minor literatures" as small ("kleine Literatur"), derivative, deprived oforiginality when measured by the yardstick of "mainstream literatures." The first ofthese two perspectives is sustained in Deleuze and Guatarri's classic book KafkaTowards a Minor Literature and amplified and radicalized in their later A ThousandPlateaus, where Deleuze and Guattari make it abundantly clear that the major andminor modes are two different treatments of the (same) language of the majority(e.g. German in Germany, Hungarian in Hungary). One of these treatments "consistsin extracting constants from it, the other in placing it in continuous variation";in other words, the "minor" is the force that questions and varies the major fromwithin.` The second perspective一“minor" as "small" and "derivative”一has alonger pedigree that goes back to the intricate history of Eurocentrism since the 18`"c entury.Bulgarian literature does not seem to be particularly amenable to a study groundedin Deleuze and Guattari's notion of deterritorialisation of language as the hallmarkof a "minor literature" produced at the margins of an established language. Deleuzeand Guattari assume a linguistic framework that presupposes alrea勿institutionallystable national languages, and thus also a provisional canon to which a "minor"writer relates his or her own writing. This approach, however, would end upbracketing out the arguably most interesting century of Bulgarian literary culture,the time from the 1760s to the 1860s when the literature of the so called "nationalrevival" displayed the linguistically unregulated existence of a body of writing inbecoming, without a firm canon and without prescriptive expectations of regularityand beauty. If anything, this is the time when it is still possible for writers tocreate works in other languages, which are then nonetheless adopted as part of theBulgarian literary corpus: Liuben Karavelov and Grigor Purlichev spring to mind.

   On the other hand, a Deleuzian approach strictu senso might nonetheless beapplied in earnest to Bulgarian literature一but not just yet, it would seem on firstglance. We simply lack the knowledge base that would allow us to do so. We knowvirtually nothing about writing in Bulgarian in traditional Bulgarian communitiesabroad, where Bulgarian is more than the language of isolated emigre intellectuals;nor do we know enough about the interaction of Bulgarian writers with the oralpoetry tradition of the Ottoman Empire.

  Yet if we heed Deleuze's call that, as suggested above, "minor literatures"should be possible even where ethnic difference is not necessarily at stake, solong as language follows, in his words, the "lines of flight" made available by adeliberate strategy of self-exclusion on the writer's part, then we would indeedbe able to see Bulgarian literature, especially that of the two or three decades,in a different lightCwo poems by Ani Ilkov, arguably the most powerful andsophisticated voice in Bulgarian poetry since the late 1980s, could furnish evidencefor this process of intentional minoritisation of the major. Ilkov performs a gestureof voluntary exile from translatability by mobilizing archaic layers of Bulgarianright at the heart of his poetic language:Or even more inventively, with a deliberate (and pseudo-macaronic) mixture ofCartesian Latin, English, and a pervasive host of obsolete forms imitating (as theyalso do in the lines above) the language of Bulgarian literature from the middle ofthe 19`" centuryRemarkably, and not unexpectedly, this subversively ironic linguistic audacity wastaking place in the context, and in a sense as a supplement to, Ilkov's heightenedsocial and political activism during the early and mid-1990s. Although thismoment of his career as a poet and public intellectual merits a much more detailedconsideration, I here wish to spell out only that which seems to me to be the mostessential feature of this activism: Ilkov was perhaps the most talented representativeof that brand of ferocious Eastern European anticommunism that was in favourof democracy and a multiparty system but, as turned out in time, against the ruleof the market. The bifocal vision of these intellectuals was bound to perceive, inBulgaria but also elsewhere, the rise of the market and its domination over publiclife as a vulgar byproduct一rather than a logical consequence一of the politicaltransition they had otherwise welcomed and supported.

  But let me now move to the other, better established and still widely resonantmeaning of "minor literature”一that of "small, derivative, deprived of originality,benighted, lagging behind," a literature that is worth reading only in orderto corroborate or amplify already available superior examples of Europeancivilization. The roots of this evaluative paradigm lie back in the Enlightenmentphilosophy of history. At the same time as the French philosopher discoveredprogress as the supposedly uncontested trajectory of humanity, they also discoveredthat different communities will arrive at that implied pinnacle of history at differenttimes. Apparently the direction was only one, but the circumstances and the speedwere calling for a more pluralistic picture. The very concept of civilization wasinvented as a tool of locating the provisional point occupied by all these differentcommunities on the axis of progress. It is far from accidental that the Bulgariansmade their first prominent appearance on the large stage of world literatureprecisely in the book of a French Enlightenment philosophe, in Voltaire's Candide(but then, again, only as a substitute designation of the Prussians); all this tookplace in 1759,4 three years before Paissii of Khilendar professed his pride ofbelonging to the glorious tribe of the Bulgarians.

  The anthropological curiosity that flourished during the Enlightenment waslifting entire ethnic communities from the obscurity of mere exoticism to that ofbenign cultural insignificance within the emerging framework of shared Europeanvalues. If we trace the history of the entrance of Bulgarian culture into Europe, wenotice that it begins with the translation of folklore. This is true of the Slavoniclanguages (the earliest example being an 1823 translation of a Bulgarian folksonginto Czech), as well as of translations into English, French, and German.5 Folklore,however, is all about an asynchronic adoption, where cultural forms long goneare domesticated once again as a manifestation of anonymous (and thus alreadysoftened) exoticism; folklore reveals a previous archaic stage of cultural evolutionthat cannot be sustained, or indeed, recommended any longer in the West. Mostof the time it remains an alien body in the discursive tissue of Western culture andserves as an awkward reminder一despite Herder's and his Romantic followers'noble ideas一that the universal powers of humans to create fictional worlds hadnot always been employed in the most sophisticated fashion.

  The true history of "minor literatures," in the sense of small and poor relativesof the mainstream European literatures commences only with the end of the "exoticphase" and the arrival of the more or less synchronized literary movements ofthe fin-du-siecle and later the avant-garde, the many isms (Symbolism being oneof the most recognizable such phenomena) which begin to coordinate the map ofliterary Europe and entangle the smaller literatures of the Balkans (and of East-Central Europe) into a larger landscape of shared conventions and styles. TeodorTrayanov, Nikolai Liliev, and a whole string of other Bulgarian modernists, justas Khristo Smirnenski, Geo Milev, Chavdar Mutafov, and other representativesof the Bulgarian post-symbolism and avant-garde, are一from this somewhatnarrower but epistemologically more rigorous perspective一the only conceivableexponents of "minor literature" Bulgarian culture had furnished before 1945.In a similar position, one could venture, were also dozens of writers after 1945,who were participants in the national version of a concomitant socialist-realistliterature produced in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. In this regard (asin many others), socialist realism was only an extension of modernity and of itsvarious coordinated isms which bound together the literary space of Europe (andthe world beyond) through their mandatory conventions and through an experienceof typological proximity even where the experience of simultaneity was notimmediately available.

  With the demise of the isms一these smaller contributory narratives that madeup the great European narrative of literary succession and progression一the veryfoundation of the axiological juxtaposition between minor and major has becomemuch more problematic. We live in a time when the only possible distinction thatcould still render such a juxtaposition meaningful is the distinction based on themode of existence and functioning of language: the great languages that havespread across continents, nurturing their own diasporic writing, and the small, or`minor' languages, whose literatures have largely remained trapped in the physicalbody of the respective nation state, or have一at best一inhabited, sometimeseven legitimized, its (often hotly) disputed territorial extensions (e.g. Hungarian inTransylvania and Slovakia).

   "Minor literatures" is thus a construct of literary history that experiencestoday significant difficulties conditioned by changes in the way we understandand write literary and cultural history. The first and most consequential amongthese is the arrival and consolidation of transnationalism, an epistemic paradigmthat has always professed a value-neutral approach to the phenomena it seeks toanalyse, thus relaxing palpably, indeed almost altogether dispensing with, thedivision between "minor" and "major" cultures and literatures. Transnationalism,in the modern and currently well established sense of the term, was first employedas a theoretical paradigm in the early 1970s, by political scientists who sought tounderstand the impact on American foreign policy of a new and previously under-conceptualised interaction between political agents who were not identical withthe nation-states: various NGOs, international interest and pressure groups, etc.Later on, transnationalism drew on a twofold discontent: with the undifferentiated,blanket concept of globalisation and with what social scientists termed in the1990s "methodological nationalism". Although it was only in the 1990s thatrecognition of the importance of transnationalism became prominent in the socialsciences, gradually making its way into the humanities as well, the impulses for aconceptualisation of literature beyond, above, or below the level of the nation stateare historically much older. Before I proceed to examine the current situation ofstrong relativisation of the value-charged opposition between "minor" and "major"literatures and the factors that shape it, let me offer a brief historical excursusinto the ambivalent self-positioning of the field of Slavic literary studies in thelong process of methodological re-scaling beyond the constraints of the national."Methodological nationalism" is not, of course, a panacea; it comes with its ownlimitations;6 but it is a powerful and much-needed antidote to the increasinglyembarrassing一yet still vociferous一mantras of national literary historiograp.

  Slavic Philology, the disowned older relative of today's "Russian and EastEuropean Studies," seemed well-placed some two centuries ago, at the time of itsfirst steps, to contribute to this celebration of cultural production beyond borders.Most of the literatures it wanted to explore were after all the literatures of societieswithout their own nation states. What is more, they were produced in the contextof bi- or multi-lingual empires, an environment that today attracts the attention ofanthropologists and sociologists embracing the transnational research paradigm. YetSlavic Philology, like most other European branches of philology (but in the endfor longer than most), followed a different course; it became a voluntary instrumentof national revivals and rivalries, often working with entities and labels larger thanthe nation, only to reaffirm and enhance its一the nation's一priority. The ideaof Slavdom, for example, was employed by many of the Russian Slavophiles andpochvenniki as an imperial weapon of hegemony, or, in its Polish version, as ajustification and embodiment of messianic dreams. Ironically, the first outlines ofthe idea of Slavdom were actually written in non-Slavic languages: the Dominicanmonk Vinko Priboevich published in Venice in 1532 his De origine successibusqueSlavorum, followed by Mauro Urbini's Il regno de gli Slavi (1601), a key-text forthe first Bulgarian history written in 1762, which signaled the onset of Bulgariannationalism.

   The dynamics of this process is more complex than a brief survey couldsuggest. Towards the end of the 19`" century, with the Slavic nation-states in theBalkans feeling more confident after successful completion of their long strugglesfor independence and unification, the paradigm of kinship and superiority fuelledby the notion of a Christian Slavdom began to compete with regional opticsallowing for cultural and religious variety, and even conflict. A good example ofthis new perspective, insisting on diversity, was the growth of Balkan Studies. IfViktor Zhirmunskii is correct, Balkan Studies ("balkanistika," "Balkanistik") madeits entrance as a discipline only in the late 1890s (more precisely, 1896-1898, inVols. 13 and 15 of Sbornik za narodni umotvoreniia, nauka i knizhnina, whereIvan Shishmanov's well-known study on The Song about the Dead Brother in thePoetry of the Balkan Peoples was published).' An adherent of the migration schoolin the study of Folklore, Shishmanov believed in a freely floating body of motifsthat recognised no state borders. Although he never posed the crucial questionof subjectivity and agency一in the primeval anonymity of folklore, the rupture,asymmetry, and estrangement accompanying the act of border-crossing was not anissue一Shishmanov and the many scholars who followed in his steps refused toassert the (by then customary) axiological distinction between "small" and "greatliteratures." Not by accident were these scholars more interested in folklore thanin literature per se, understood in the modern sense produced and implied by theevaluative discriminations already in place by the late 19`" century.

  But this healthy preoccupation did not last. Local differences of intensity andpace aside, after World War One and throughout the Soviet age, to some extenteven during the transition to the free market (in this respect, political caesurae didnot necessarily amount to paradigmatic shifts) writing literary history under theumbrella of the nation state一even when this was done within the larger domainof a communist commonwealth一became once again, in Bulgaria and in mostother Eastern European countries, a safe recipe for projecting one's own literatureas suspiciously unique一which, in fact, was little else than the other side of"minor," "derivative," "obscure," "small." Claiming a stake in European culturemeant claiming a well-guarded corner, a little patch of exclusive, unmatched andunmatchable literary experience. The dislodgment of "minor" literature as anevaluative paradigm could thus not occur before the gradual downfall of literaryhistory as a discourse sponsored by the nation state.The receding significance of the nation state and the ensuing relativisationof the distinction between "small" and "large" literatures are today driven bymodifications of the wider framework in which the practice of literary history takesplace. Understanding these modifications seems to me an essential first step. Inaddition to the nation state (on which I dwell at more considerable length), belowI concentrate on two more factors (the media and the evolution of society and ofthe idea and institutions of university education under the pressure of demographicchanges), and seek to elucidate and weigh their importance for the gradual waningof the axiological matrix anchored in the opposition of "minor" and "major."8

  The origins of literary history as an institutionalized discourse are closelyinterwoven with the fortunes of nationalism and the nation state after the FrenchRevolution. Although the first chairs of literature were conceived to teach andprofess the letters without particular national restrictions, the post-Napoleonicperiod marked by the rise of nationalism in Europe saw a gradual transition towardsa nationally focused research and teaching agenda. Literature itself was seen as aninstrument of preserving and glorifying "those great national memories that arein the dim past of a national history" (Schlegel 15)一and so was literary history.As Corms-Pope and Neubauer have recently argued,9 the study of literature and itshistory was first institutionalized in societies that were concerned to cultivate a clearnational identity and gain state sovereignty (Germany, Italy, Central and EasternEurope)一although it would be true to say that in England, where statehood andnational identity had been established very early on, literary historiography tookoff ahead of any such attempts in the countries mentioned above (Thomas Wartonpublished between 1774 and 1781 three volumes of his unfinished literary history,only making it to the time of the Reformation).`0 In Germany, the first literaryhistory appeared long before the unification of the country under Bismarck in 1871:between 1835 and 1842, Georg Gervinus published a five-volume Geschichteder poetischen Nationalliteratur der Deutschen (the title was later changed toGeschichte der deutschen Dichtung); this was half a century earlier than the firstgreat history of French literature by Gustave Lanson which appeared in 1895.In Italy, De Sanctis published a two-volume history of Italian literature in 1870-71, after the unification of the country, but still twenty years ahead of Lanson.Even though Gervinus did not agree with the politics by which Bismarck soughtto achieve the unification of Germany, his history was a powerful instrument inconstructing an awareness of German cultural homogeneity.

   The future of this pattern that has enjoyed unquestioned domination for overa century is now highly uncertain. There are several reasons for this. To startwith, Eurocentrism itself has been losing ground ever since World War I, andwith it also the European model of nation-centred literary history. This processwas exacerbated by the arrival of globalisation on the crest of revolutionarydiscoveries in information technology in the 1950s, which coincided with the swiftdismantling of the colonial system. The ensuing growth of diasporic cultures,on the one hand, and the process of European integration in the context of aglobalised economy, on the other, gave rise to occurrences best described as thegradual "hollowing-out" of the nation state in the West. A single unified canon, onwhich to base literary history, became increasingly untenable. Within the nation-state, there emerged a string of parallel canons called upon to rectify the socialinjustices of the past. For those willing to see it, there is at present a very strongsignal heralding the move away from national (literary) histories: the talk now,especially in Germany, where Goethe had dreamt of a "world literature," is of howto construct a representative European canon, which would stimulate and draw onthe writing of regional histories or, ideally, of a history of European literature atlarge. A joint French-German history textbook, written with the intention of beingused in schools in both countries was introduced to the public in 2007. Nor is thispastime of the rich alone. Concerned with security and determined to see an ever-expanding market, the European Union and various NGOs compete in the Balkansin sponsoring textbooks that are meant to teach the younger generations that theyall have a shared political and cultural history." Thus we face two developments,none of which is hospitable to the traditional literary history commissioned bythe nation state (itself further enfeebled today by the drive to surrender ever morepower to enable Brussels to fire-fight the raging crisis of sovereign debt): eitherregional, and even "pan-European" histories, serving a different set of politicalgoals from those so familiar from the recent past, or transnational, often alsotranscontinental, narratives heeding not the monolithic projects of the nation statebut rather, as Stephen Greenblatt demands, the postcolonial processes of "exile,emigration, wandering, contamination, and unexpected consequences, alongwith the fierce compulsions of greed, longing, and restlessness, for一Greenblattcontinues一it is these disruptive forces that principally shape the history anddiffusion of languages, and not a rooted sense of cultural legitimacy.`Z Needless tosay, Greenblatt's message also carries the connotation of skepticism toward, andcritique of, the power aspects of conquest, mobility, and the hybrid proliferationof national languages. But it asserts in no uncertain terms the superior viability ofcultural production based on such developments: moving beyond the straightjacketof the nation-state, freeing up the potential of language to change as it wandersacross continents and social strata, letting language coin its own forms of existencein exile, transition, and miscegenation.

  As traditional national literary history takes pains to remain in business, itseeks to accommodate these new developments. A fresh example provides thenew Oxford English Literary History in 13 volumes, which will dedicate twovolumes to the post-World War II period, both designed to compete with, andqualify, each other in the way they interpret Englishness: the volume 1960-2000The Last of England, written by Randall Stevenson, described as a "Scotsman whobelieves that the idea of `English literature' is no longer a possibility," and anothervolume, 1948-2000: The Internationalisation of English Literature, written bythe Canadian Bruce King who celebrates multiculturalism not as the end but asa revival of this idea `4 (Note also that these two volumes interpret differently thelower chronological boundary of the period they explore.) The new Oxford historyis thus seeking to transpose一without canceling一the largely exhausted nationalnarrative into the tonality of multicultural globalism.

  With reference to Eastern Europe, it is only during the last twenty yearsthat we came to witness the manifestations (still sometimes ruptured, as I notedearlier, by a resilient mentality of uniqueness and exclusivity) of a momentousmethodological superimposition, leading away from the postulates of a language-centred "methodological nationalism": Slavic Philology began to share territoryand prestige with "Russian and East European Studies," the latter being essentiallyan area studies paradigm determined to reduce the specific weight of languagevariety一and thus of literature as well一in the way the cultural production ofthe post-Soviet era is studied and taught. Thus, historically, looking at Bulgarianliterature in particular, we can identify the succession (at times also the overlap)of three particular optics: the Slavic ("slavistika"/"slavianska filologiia;""Slavistik"/"Slavische Philologie;" "Slavonic Studies"/ "Slavic Philology"), theBalkan ("balkanistika"/"balkanski frlologii;" "Balkanologie;" "Balkan Studies"),and the East-European, or post-communist, paradigm ("Russian and East EuropeanStudies"/ "South-East European Studies"). As one can readily see, the philologicalelement is on the wane; while the first, partly also the second, link of the chainaccommodate the philological component as fully expressive of the whole, thethird one no longer does. The trend observed in this succession is that of an evermore overt political interest that attends to the literary aspects of literature only tothe extent to which they are representative of larger patterns of social and politicalevolution. Evaluative judgments are more often than not demobilsed and suspendedin the process.

  The MediaMarshall McLuhan's assertion according to which the medium is the message(23-36) regains resonance today as we try to chart the fortunes of literary historyand the impact on the previously entrenched but currently ever more shakydistinction between "minor" and "major" literatures.

   The business of literary history has changed dramatically over the last 60years in large measure due to the changing media of its appropriation. Thereare several aspects to this change. First of all, the pattern of the consumption ofliterature underwent a significant alteration. Film adaptations of the national canonsabound, making it easy to delude oneself that watching Sense and Sensibilityexempts one from reading Jane Austin. The accessibility of the classics throughlow-budget television versions gradually came to bridge the gap between highand popular literature that the discipline of literary history has depended on allalong. To be sure, it was literary history in the first place that instituted the divisionbetween "high" and "low," and conjured works initially serialized in newspapersfor the entertainment (also for the edification, needless to say) of the wider readingpublic into masterpieces of high culture. Many of the 19`" century novels, includingthose of Dostoevsky and Balzac, among others, were subject to such metamorphicrefashioning at the hands of academic literary historians in the decades followingtheir first publication. Now the table has been turned on the literary historian: theplethora of films, radio adaptations, comics etc. has plunged the profession into aworld where the previous security furnished by the canon has all but vanished. Thesupposedly unique act of the silent reading has been brutally ousted by the massconsumption of visual surrogates perceived to be better at emphasizing the plot andthe costumes rather than the supposedly great philosophical message of the literarywork of art. Thus literary historians have been left wandering without a compassin the thicket of a culture that is neither high nor low but subsists instead on thereproducibility of the sacred in a myriad of everyday instances of overlappingperformance, profanation, and epiphany.

  The second aspect is induced by the all一too-powerful presence of thenew electronic media. Ever since Baudrillard,`5 we have learned to questionthe boundary between fact and fiction in the workings of the electronic press.Not only has literature ceased to be, in Hillis Miller's nostalgic words, the solepurveyor of virtual reality;`6 moreover, modern media, in particular the interactivetechnologies, have brought about an unprecedented openness of the text tosimultaneous modification by the recipient. Thus the status of the text has changedbeyond the comfortable manageability on which traditional literary history rests.The disobedient text that emerges in the process of the electronic interaction isopen-ended, mobile as never before, and truly boundless; not even the conceptualarmament of intertextuality is any longer capable of domesticating it. An ever-fluid hypertext renders the customary articulation of semantic entities obsolete andunreliable. The result is an archive of semantically dynamic deposits, which canbe added to or subtracted from at liberty at any time. The author/reader boundaryis totally erased, and so are the foundations of reception theory and the traditionalliterary history with its rigid value distinctions.

   Finally, the global network creates a vast electronic library, where nationaltraditions and loyalties are quickly destabilized. Fragmentary in its foundations,the experience of the Internet-driven reader contributes to a new paradigm ofinterpretation where reference and comparison no longer originate with compellinglogic from a historically verifiable pool of national writing. To make sense of astory or a poem, both teachers and students of literature now often depend onsupport from the global bank of plots and images that feeds the mind withoutasking questions about the historical or national appropriateness of the materialsupplied. The electronic media and the Internet thus confront literary history withthe challenges of simultaneity and deracination; they usher in a new age of aglobal market of fragmented and repackaged cultural products that no longer comelabeled as "minor" or "major," "great" or "inferior." In this market, the nation-stateincreasingly loses its power of canon-formation; moreover, the power of educatingand molding its own citizens in a fashion and through means that are controlled bythe nation-state also slips away.


   Habermas, among others, has recently asked the incommodious (to put itmildly) question of "the future of human nature."" He placed this question in thebedrock of modern genetics and the inevitable一and as yet unforeseeable一changes that are to follow from the arrival of cloning and the genetic modificationof human material. From my standpoint, there are two interconnected issues atstake here: longevity and memory. Both plunge the commentator into previouslyunexplored depths. With an ever growing life expectancy and the correspondingattempts at managing it through various economic and administrative techniques,how is memory to be distributed socially? In the wake of the alterations dormant inthe management of longevity, how will the perception change of what constitutesthe formative experiences and segments of human life: childhood and adolescence?Three of the essential cornerstones of literary history一indeed of any history一will be heading for dramatic transformation. One is the concept of generation;the other one is the notion of period; and the last one一the notion of novelness(what constitutes novelty in the literary and ideological life of society), and thusalso the notion of value. Traditional literary history has been reliant on theseconcepts to provide a meaningful centre of interpretation. It will not be enough torealize that periods in literary and intellectual history are discursive ideologicalconstructs; so much is known even now. The real issue at stake is the changinglifespan of generations, and with this the changing rhythms of the production ofmeaning. Public consent over key events underlying the narrative of the historianis likely to be reached in an ever more complicated and mediated fashion, becausethe constitutive voices of the generational ensemble will each have a temporality,duration, and therefore force, different from those informing the practice of(literary) historiography at present. Whether microhistory or any other toolsfavoured by modern historiography will be able to respond to these challengesis far from certain. I do not wish to sound as the purveyor of mythology: it isthe realities of progress in genetics and the impending growth in longevity on apreviously unprecedented scale that urge us to rethink the foundations of (literary)history in the future.

  It is apposite here一and of a more immediate relevance for our study of thefading opposition between "large" and "small," "major" and "minor" literatures一to stress that literary history has always been largely sustained by the generallysecure, at least in Europe, market of university and school education; without thismarket, it is difficult to assume that literary history would be a viable enterprisetoday. But what we see in recent years, precisely as part of the economic and socialtechniques of demographic control, is the introduction of a totally new concept ofeducation. The so-called "continuing education," or "life-long education," which isnow part of the educational landscape throughout Europe and America, slowly butsecurely redefines the philosophy of education, leaving behind the dogma of clear-cut disciplinarity. The pick-and-mix approach of the Western-style educationalsupermarket is there to stay and to be employed in regular sequences throughoutthe life of the individual. Having to serve this ever growing market, as well as themodular system of undergraduate education, is already impacting on the scope ofresearch undertaken in the modern university. Thus we are witnessing a new cycleof education and employment, which no longer separates the two, and a new socialtask for education to live up to. All this contributes to a new climate of learning andscholarship, in which authoritative knowledge and the guarding cult for particularsubjects and their inherent hierarchies of values and quality look increasinglyinadequate. Let me recapitulate my argument so far. The origins of literary history as aninstitutionalized discourse are closely interwoven with the fortunes of nationalismand the nation state after the French Revolution. However, Eurocentrism itselfhas been losing ground since World War I, and with it also the European modelof nation一centred literary history. As the global economy undergoes today apainful readjustment and, more importantly, a slow but seemingly unstoppablerebalancing towards the new power-houses of growth in the Far East, on theIndian Sub-Continent, and in Latin America, the very idea of a binding Euro-North American literary canon, within which established notions of centre andperiphery remain meaningful, grows weaker and less tenable. Today we witness atransition to either regional, and even "pan-European," histories, serving a differentset of political goals from those so familiar from the recent past, or transnationalnarratives heeding not the monolithic projects of the nation state, of which earlierliterary histories across Europe were representative, but rather the processes ofexile, emigration, creolisation, and the hybridization of languages.`9 Regionalliterary history, in particular, is beginning to occupy an ever more prominentplace, as it endeavours to heed and reveal the "ambiguities and overlaps" (Gellner)in situations of plurilingualism and ethnic border-crossing concealed by thecentralized nation-state?

  The business of literary history has been transformed dramatically also bythe changing media of appropriating and consuming literature. First of all, thepattern of the consumption of literature underwent a significant alteration, placingthe texts of the canon within easy reach through numerous visual adaptations,thus destabilizing their very nature as canonic works of literature and erasing theboundary between "high" and "popular." Moreover, modern media, in particularthe interactive technologies, have brought about an unprecedented openness ofthe text to simultaneous modification by the recipient. The status of the text haschanged beyond the comfortable manageability on which traditional literary historyrests. The disobedient text that emerges from the process of electronic interactionis open-ended, mobile as never before, and truly boundless. Literature thus movesfreely between centre and periphery, enfeebling the conceptual framework positedby these two notions. Not only from the point of view of transnational border-crossing, migration, and exile, but also from that of media theory has a cleardistinction between centre and periphery, between "minor" and "major" literarytexts become highly suspect. In the age of incessant transnational information flowsliterature no longer has fixed abode or audience (in Ottmar Ette's words, literaturehas lost its "permanent address"Z`), nor does it any longer come with secure valuemarkers attached to it.

  Crucially, all the factors I have discussed in this article, including thedramatically changing ideas and practices of education, which put the sustainabilityof the old disciplinary knowledge under such enormous strain, along with thedwindling power of the nation-state to guard and inculcate the values of thetraditional canons, or to form new ones, seem to be pointing in the same direction:the axiological discrimination between "small" and "great," "minor" and "major"literatures becomes increasingly untenable. As a matter of fact, this very distinction,as I essayed to demonstrate, is itself a historical product with一as any othertime-bound product一a limited life-span: the distinction between "major" and"minor" literatures was the outcome of an era of thriving national traditions andstrong nation states, but also一equally important一of a complacent Eurocentricframework populated and propped by the contributory narratives of various artisticisms, which, in their totality, constituted the coordinated space of the "republic ofletters," apparently homogenous but below the surface built on cultural hierarchiesand ridden by conflicts, revolts, and struggles for international domination andsignificance." To describe its map, the categories of centre and periphery, canonand deviation, focus and margin were meaningfully employed. This conceptualapparatus now looks increasingly challenged and enfeebled by the encounterwith a newly constituted transnational cultural process, in which evaluativediscriminations are ever more difficult to uphold. Instead, we are entering theregime of a complex (and constant) marginocentricity,23 in which centre andperiphery become fluid, mobile, and provisional, prone to swapping their placesand exchanging cultural valences.

   This is not to say that inequalities disappear; as a matter of fact, globalizationdoes create and reveal new sets of inequalities. But we need to begin toacknowledge that, in the same breath, it renders the opposition between centreand periphery less meaningful, as it moves away from the idea of a shared (Euro-North American) canon that underpins this distinction in the first place. Rather,we are witnessing a new regime of relevance where difference一drawn not leastfrom what we used to call the zones of cultural marginality一is commodified andhomogenized into a single, globally marketed cultural product;24 the defiant spiritof marginality and "minor literatures" is processed away, leaving us with a newstock of goods that change hands smoothly一at airports and, virtually, in a myriadof chat-rooms.

  Of course, it remains important to uncover the traces of that lost potentiality,of the activist marginality that globalization tends to obliterate so insidiously. Atthe same time we might be well-advised to admit that one of the most unpalatableeffects of globalization has indeed been to confront us with the reality of the minornow functioning as a "fixed" feature, a reterritorialized appellation, a commoditylabel. Alas, this new, static condition of ready-to-consume "minority" has very littleto do with the productive and challenging "becoming" that extracts "continuousvariation," to recall Deleuze and Guattari's later imperative. Instead, we are in thegrip of a regime of relevance that suspends the process of "becoming" and "installsa new constant,"ZS in which major and minor, canonical and marginal have onlylimited conceptual validity.

Recommended article: