Literature and Media

After 1989

by Maryla Hopfinger (Author)
©2020 Monographs 308 Pages
Open Access
Series: Cross-Roads, Volume 23


This book discusses the direction of changes in contemporary culture at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries in Poland on the example of mutual relationships between literature and the media, such as film, radio, TV and the Internet. The interdisciplinary approach adopted by the author combines literary and media studies with the perspectives of social communication, anthropology and sociology of culture.
The book focuses on topics such as reconfiguration of culture, expansion of the media, situation of literature and the central place of audio-visual parallels (auteur film, TV series, PC games). The author notes that both literature and the media are situated between art and communication today and both share the meta-cultural role of natural languages.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of contents
  • From the author
  • Post scriptum
  • Part one. Contemporary cultural context. After two decades
  • 1 Situation of literature: A change of place?
  • New carriers
  • New areas
  • New participants
  • Literary culture today
  • 2 The situation of media: A change of culture?
  • Polish realities
  • Audiovisual infrastructure before the political transformation
  • Audiovisual media after 1989
  • From the perspective of the twentieth-century media changes51
  • Features of contemporary media
  • Platform of communicatiovn
  • Disputes about culture
  • Reconfiguration of social communication
  • 3 A common language
  • Metacultural function of natural language
  • Formation of general language
  • The general literary language and the language of belles-lettres
  • Language in the new and the newest media
  • Part two. Forms of literature. A literary book today
  • 4 Printed literature
  • The situation of a book after the breakthrough events of 1989
  • Offers of the book market
  • Methods of promotion
  • Questions about readership
  • Print and the meaning of literary work
  • Typographic “spacing” – from Mallarme to visual concretists
  • The violation of graphemic practices in prose
  • Traditional printing and the vision of the world
  • 5 Audio literature
  • It began in the radio
  • Audio-sphere
  • The radio after 1989
  • Audiobooks
  • A song
  • A case of Bob Dylan
  • 6 Electronic literature
  • Electronic script. Secondary literacy
  • Hyper-fiction. Literary hypertext
  • Blogosphere
  • The literary life on the Net
  • Part three. Audiovisual parallels
  • 7 Auteur cinema
  • A new medium: Cinema
  • Screen and literature
  • The ennoblement of the cinema
  • Honorary doctorate for the film auteur
  • The future of auteur cinema
  • 8 TV series
  • The first episodes of TV series
  • The decade of TV series
  • Besides the feature TV series
  • The series outside of television
  • 9 Computer games
  • The ludic dimension of culture
  • The evolution of games and the culture of participation
  • The role-playing games
  • The Witcher
  • Lara Croft
  • The Sims
  • Second Life
  • Real/fictional
  • List of illustrations
  • Bibliographic note
  • Index
  • Series Index

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From the author

I am interested in contemporary culture, the becoming, the direction of transformations, the mechanisms of continuity and change. A special insight into this problem can be provided by the observation of two areas of culture: literature and media.

Literature as the art of word has a very long tradition; from the invention of script, and later of print, it has taken the leading position not only on the Parnassus, but also in the entire culture, it has performed model-forming functions both for its readers and for other fields of culture.

Media – from film and radio to television and the Internet – illustrate well the mechanisms of transformation from silent film to audiovisual television, from analogue to digital techniques.

Mutual relations between literature and subsequent media create an important area of transformations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These are the issues I address in the first part of the book titled “Contemporary Cultural Context.” On the basis of the reconstruction of the current situation of literature and the media, I formulate questions about the change of the place of literature in culture, and I formulate a thesis on the reconfiguration of social communication and the entire culture. In the second part of the book titled “Varieties of Literature”, I analyse these consequences of changes on the platform of communication which leads to the emergence of new forms of literature – audial literature and electronic literature – and to transformations of printed literature. In the third part of the book titled “Audiovisual Parallels”, I discuss the most characteristic, as I think, examples of relations between literature and the media: auteur cinema, the closest to literature, narrations in TV series, and role-playing video games. These examples also show the development of contemporary audiovisual narratives.

Cinema used experiences and achievements of literature for its own cultural and artistic advancement. Literature, besides being a model for film, became a still-valid reference system and a repository of stories for television, and the latest media. Yet, at the same time literature infiltrates media, joins them, and changes itself thanks to their presence and impact. Cinema, imitating literature, would often become the Tenth Muse1. Television was mainly the domain of ←13 | 14→communication. Similarly, the Internet. Today, literature and media are situated between art and communication.

We move through these and other areas of culture thanks to language, which plays a metacultural role as a unique system enabling interpretive operations and the primary common platform allowing inter-semiotic translation. The thesis about the contemporary reconfiguration of social communication and the entire culture includes the suggestion of a new, common platform – the digital one – developing in front of us.

The contemporary reconfiguration had two phases. It began in the nineteenth century with the invention of photography and sound recordings. Its climax has been shaped by analogue media: sound film and television which have transformed the verbal type of culture into the audiovisual culture. The second phase of this audiovisual reconfiguration is associated with digitization processes. They form a new, common platform on which all previously known ways of expression meet and the new ones come into being.

Contemporary transformations of the entire culture are of a great importance and cause significant consequences. Braudel’s perspective of longue durée suggests a comparison with the only such fundamental transformation that took place in the distant past and over many centuries caused the transition from orality to the culture of writing and then printing. The foundation of this change was the invention of the phonetic alphabet. The second phase of the current change is based on digitization. While working on this book, I was becoming aware of this direction of changes.

However, I am focusing on the twenty-year period that began after the 1989 breakthrough. I derive my empirical material mainly from these two decades. For us it was a time of great change. The launched mechanisms, the exposed processes provide arguments for the main point and at the same time illustrate our changes. Hence the title: Literature and Media. After 1989.

1 Ed. note: the Tenth Muse is a popular synonym of film in Poland due to the fact that Karol Irzykowski’s book X Muza. Zagadnienia estetyczne kina (The Tenth Muse: Aesthetic Problems of Cinema) published for the first time in 1924 was the most important achievement of Polish film theory before World War II. Its following editions appeared after the war, establishing it a classic collection of essays on film in Poland.

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Post scriptum

I am honoured to be able to present this book to English-speaking readers. It was originally published eight years ago, yet my views on the changes of culture in Poland after the 1989 breakthrough have not changed since then. What has changed for the last three years, however, is the officially controlled style of culture. I did not foresee the dismantling of the democratic foundations of the political system and the drastic division of the communication platform into the faction associated with the Law and Justice Party, the Catholic church, using nationalistic and clerical rhetoric, and supporting authoritarian style of government on one hand and the faction supporting pluralistic, civic, pro-democratic, and pro-European positions on the other hand. At the same time, from today’s perspective, the direction of changes in the whole culture persists and strengthens – we are still a part of global modernity. Thus today I would have removed the cautious question marks put in the Polish edition of the book where I was discussing a changing place of literature and the change of the entire culture.

The audiovisual analogue culture is becoming more and more a digital culture. The role of the Internet as an arena of cultural institutions and various dimensions of life – including literary life – has been confirmed and is increasing. The virtual and digital space is more and more interwoven with the real space. New technologies generate new phenomena (for example, streaming services) and new communication tools (for example, smartphones). The digital environment shapes its own communication patterns, and ways of distributing contents – assuming communication activity of the users. It is conductive to creation of printed literary works that benefit from the lessons learned from the Internet and use online platforms for their practices. In the Web, electronic literature – genuinely digital, and redefining the properties of signs and literary texts – has been created for thirty years. This form of literature, different from the print and audio form, became the object of thorough analyses of the researchers.

Printed literature not only changes its place on the shared communication platform where it coexists with other significant ways of expression. It also changes itself: from art to communication, from uniqueness to everyday life, from fiction to non-fiction, and from contemplative to performative reception. And on the publishing market, it still remains popular and takes up unevenly more space than its digital or audial form. What is more, the growing popularity of non-fiction literature means that “paper is back” and publishers are looking ←15 | 16→for faster printing lines. Moreover, literary works that favoured the artistic ennoblement of many films and were the basis of numerous TV series, are now still chosen for adaptation by gigantic streaming platforms. The output of literature also today is an inspiration for the media. And the literature uses the media experience in its own peculiar way.

For me, literature and media after 1989 remain an area of intriguing questions2.

Warsaw, Fall of 2018

2 Ed. note: Maryla Hopfinger’s book was published in Poland in 2010. It is an original proposal to look at the relations of literature and media in Polish culture after the fall of communism, when Poland regained its independence and entered the path towards full democratization of social life. The volume can also be read as a testimony of the reception not only of Polish but also of foreign literature on the media, which has been translated into Polish, and shaped the discussion about the role of the media in Polish culture between 1989 and 2009.

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Part one. Contemporary cultural context. After two decades

The breakthrough events of 1989 opened to the Poles the path to freedom and democracy. Transformation of the political system, acceleration of processes of civilizational advance, as well as social and economic transformations triggered hopes and fostered delusions that led both to inevitable disillusionments and undisputed successes. The latter include the rapid growth of technological infrastructure and the development of higher education. The modernized technological infrastructure expanded and intensified the base and access to social communication, while the enlargement of educational institutions contributed to the increase of abilities of participants of culture. The achievements of the two decades after the 1989 breakthrough certainly did not meet many expectations. However, changes caused by the breakthrough have had enormous consequences for the entire culture and for its various domains, especially since the political transformation made it possible to remove barriers separating Poland from the rest of the world. The new opening, apart from the macroscale transformations, changed our way of experiencing culture.

I have always treated the category of culture as an integrative concept. In such a view, “culture” constitutes a comprehensive complex of areas, phenomena, practices and behaviours, aspects and dimensions, patterns and symbols. It connects everything what we call material culture and spiritual culture, individual culture and collective culture, mass culture and elite culture, high culture and low culture, humanistic culture and technical culture, symbolic culture and popular culture, traditional, as well as modern and postmodern culture. All these distinctions co-create our present day. This integrative approach has been chosen deliberately to let us avoid early assessment and selection of particular components/texts of culture. It allows to incorporate into culture anything that is meaningful for a given segment of society, what is considered valuable; only in such a constructed entity particular elements can become a subject of evaluation. Assessments and choices resulting from them establish hierarchies of values and decide on styles of culture, yet not on what can be considered a culture.

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This integrative concept of culture refers to the tradition of classical anthropology that I have long been interested in: the classical European and American anthropology, in particular works of Franz Boas, James Frazer, Bronisław Malinowski, Edward Sapir, and Ruth Benedict. Anthropology, born of the desire to know and understand different cultures, became an important source of knowledge, but also of self-knowledge. In his essay Looking for the Barbarians, Leszek Kołakowski identified a specific feature of the European culture which was conducive to the rise of anthropology, namely the ability to self-challenge, to look at oneself through the eyes of others, to be interested in the others, and to be able to suspend one’s own perspective of understanding the world while observing them3. In the twentieth century, anthropology turned the researchers’ attention to foreign cultures and differently organized societies. It opened Europe to other continents, other social worlds, other repertoires, and hierarchies of values. It learned to overcome ethnocentric approaches, attitudes, and conventions of its own societies. As much as possible, it intentionally suspended its own perceptive, mental, moral, and aesthetic habits. It strived for a description and analysis based on a view free from normative, evaluating assumptions; it aspired to understanding deprived (if possible) of its own projections. Anthropologists, going beyond the circle of their own culture, were able to see patterns of the foreign culture and consciously reflect on its foundations and mechanisms of its functioning. At the same time, they realized the need to distance themselves from their own culture, and justified the adoption of an observer’s attitude in their own society. It supported meta-reflection4.

At the same time, classical anthropological reflection emphasized the integral character of particular cultures, and consequently diagnosed their peculiar distinctiveness. It exposed cultural differences, and combined them with the concept of national societies. After two decades of opening our culture to the world, such an attitude, narrowing rather than broadening the view, seems absolutely insufficient. Problems and tensions caused by multiculturalism are becoming ←18 | 19→ours. Profound modification of the role of space, distance, and time; intensification of flows of information, patterns, and images; increasing human mobility; and real local consequences of global events – positive and negative alike: all these aspects have brought us closer to other cultures, and have transformed our aspirations and experiences. Opening to the world does not cancel differences and diversities, yet it extends and transforms cognitive horizons, and introduces new components and values. With them, new areas of conflict and tensions, new opportunities, and new threats invade our world. Elements of distant cultures now are mixed up like never before5.

Theoretical issues of classic anthropology have become real practical dilemmas for people living today. Various hierarchies of values turn out to be difficult to adjust, differences may be impossible to overcome, and they lead to fundamental conflicts. Sometimes it seems that instead of approximation of cultures we face their collision – especially if we recall images of the events of September 11, 2001, which in contemporary imagination became a symbol of a particularly extreme manifestation of the conflict of different hierarchies of values in today’s globalized world6. For all these reasons, I think that the gained experiences and the lost illusions of classical anthropology turn out to be an indispensable reference system in thinking about the cultural contemporariness of the late twentieth and early twentieth century.

They also help in the problematization of situation of our own culture in the aftermath of the breakthrough events of 1989. The transformation of the political system made possible to articulate deep differences, and to establish pluralism as a permanent, though not easy, feature of this time. For over two decades after the breakthrough, in the period of building democracy, various options – followed by various repertoires and various hierarchies of values – would come to the fore and clash. The breakthrough disclosed many inner social diversities; experiences of classical anthropology allow us to see them not only as an obvious ←19 | 20→implementation of the democratic postulate of pluralism, but also as a polarization of options being in a permanent conflict, and hampering the acceptance of a dialogue and a compromise, necessary for social life.

So how to study Polish culture that opened to the world after 1989? In the study of those highly complicated contemporary times, after Stefan Żołkiewski7 I distinguish the category of style of culture and the category of type of culture. The category of style culture is a configuration of repertoires and hierarchies of values corresponding to the real system of social forces. It is dynamic, its components are subject to fluctuations, and they are more or less permanent. They can be and they are subject to disputes and arguments. This is how it has happened for two decades since memorable 1989. The category of style, rooted in the sphere of attitudes, views, and behaviours, is one of the basic means of problematization of culture in the Żołkiewski’s concept, which, in my opinion, is extremely important. However, it is not the style of culture that is the main subject of this work.

I am focused mainly on issues related to the other category distinguished by Żołkiewski: the category of type of culture. It refers to technological infrastructure, to material facilities of culture permanently affecting participants of culture and the way they perceive the surrounding world. The types of cultures go through stages of development and transformations; they have their periods of climax, stagnation, and decline. Their cultural impact and results are subject to conflicting opinions and fierce debates. However, they cannot be socially negotiated, and directions of their transformations are caused by the force of cultural coercion: for example, there is little sense in persuading people not to use television or the Internet, although it is necessary to discuss how the media works and how they are used. Critical view on evolution of culture – that may result (and usually does result) from conservative beliefs and hierarchies of values – cannot change a dominant type of culture, albeit it is able to enforce prolonged existence of anachronistic styles. As examples of distant and closer past has proved, a dominant type of culture can be changed by new social practices, by conversions of human societies, and by factors related to technology and communication. In short, such a shift is caused by real transformations, and not by their ←20 | 21→interpretations, although the latter give meaning to changes, or at least participate in creating and maintaining preferred hierarchies of values. The mutual relations between much more stable types of culture and diverse and volatile styles of culture are complex and complicated, and they need to be analysed separately. It seems certain that the category of type integrates culture in the long run, while the category of style is associated with differentiation and changing preferences of values and their hierarchy.

How to describe the main tensions of contemporary type of culture? How to recognize the direction of changes?

My question refers to the areas selected for this purpose: literature and media. Literature represents a very well established domain of culture. History of media is completely different. Cinema, the oldest of them, celebrated its centenary not far ago, radio has been operating for over eighty years, television began in Poland a little over half a century ago, while PCs, the Internet, and mobile telephones have been in use for about twenty years. During this time, the material dimension of the entire platform of communication has developed and transformed thoroughly. Both “old” and “new” media have been clearly modernized, and social communication has been located in the centre of culture.

The audiovisual type of culture, emerging in the twentieth century in the paradigm of verbal culture, consisted in taking the leading position by social practices based on the joint registration and reproduction of visual and auditory dimensions of reality. In comparison with literature, the new narrative practices, which in the first place show demeanour of people in various life situations and contexts, change the ways of presenting a human being and his/her relationship with others, with the world of objects and with the world of nature. They reveal a complex syntax of behaviours and interactions. They give importance to aspects and areas that were unnoticed or underestimated. They redefine the anthropological situation approaching the fulfilment of human dreams of repeating and stopping reality. The audiovisual type of culture establishes its own criteria and hierarchies, principles, and preferences. It evokes anthropological effects shaping a new way of perception: the audiovisual one. In this type of culture, new techniques are constantly sought. Their task is to connect pictorial matter with verbal one, with sound, and with motion, which evoke and inhere reality. The character of audiovisual signs – including those intrinsically containing spoken or written words – differs fundamentally from the character of abstract, arbitrary linguistic signs present in verbal messages. A special relationship with reality, consolidated by similarity of representations and everyday experience, is the foundation of audiovisual messages, both the analogue (image and sound connected with photography) and the digital (coupled with simulation, but most ←21 | 22→often, so far, also referring to the principle of similarity). Reading out the similarity merely initiates understanding of audiovisual texts, the sense of which is more complex because of semantic complexity of the present images-sounds, as well as because of various complications of narration.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2020 (March)
Audio-visual narratives Contemporary changes in culture Analogue/digital Varieties of literary book Real/virtual Natural language Codes of culture
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 308 S., 58 s/w Abb.

Biographical notes

Maryla Hopfinger (Author)

Maryla Hopfinger is a theorist of culture, social communication and literature, and media expert. She is a professor in the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She lectured at the University of Warsaw and in the Graduate School for Social Research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences.


Title: Literature and Media
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310 pages