This book examines how a long line of imaginative writers, starting from Rabelais and continuing over Cervantes and Sterne down to such modernists as Proust, Mann, Joyce, and Barth, has reaffirmed the picture of an enduring Western civilization despite repeated crises and transformations. The humanist capacity to recapture a sense of European greatness as exhibited in Antiquity was paralleled by and continued in the guise of newer vernacular works, achievements regarded as vital forms of a shared cultural rebirth. This was amplified most notably in the tradition of the ironic encyclopedic novel which surveyed the state of successive phases of culture. The evolving heritage and revitalization of the arts constituted main subject matters in the series of major self-conscious epochal movements, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Modernism, which Postmodernism reflexively now struggles to supersede.
Chapter 6: Peripheral Echoes: “Old” And “New” Worlds as Reciprocal Literary Mirrorings
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Peripheral Echoes: “Old” And “New” Worlds as Reciprocal Literary Mirrorings
Efforts by the élites of many European states and populaces to collaborate ever more closely in recent decades have called forth waves of commentary on the possible kinds of union they may achieve or fail to maintain. This complex question stimulates philosophers of history and culture to offer advice and venture predictions. Literary sociologists have taken the lead in thinking about the plethora of discourses and forces at issue. An early example is the work of the contributors to a special issue of the journal SPIEL (Segers). They confront a heady mixture of factors: among them, the ways cultural identities are formed; the relative power of religious codes and ideologies; the evolution of legal systems; local, regional, and national configurations; the specific inroads of globalization; ethnic and linguistic diversity inside state borders; the cross-border phenomena of minorities and immigrants; and historically grounded and sometimes crisscrossing cultural fault lines.
What comparative literary studies can contribute is a sense of how very complex a task it is to synthesize a picture of living culture, especially at the difficult level of multiple interactions. And to that end we have no better resource than the works of literary artists who from time to time have reflected on the character of Europe or a large part thereof. Their various attempts to address such an enormous subject have been instrumental in...
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