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Literature and Weak Thought

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Andrzej Zawadzki

This book is a reconstruction and presentation of the fundamental assumptions of the so-called weak thought, as elaborated mainly by the Italian hermeneutical philosopher Gianni Vattimo and the Romanian philosopher Constantin Noica in his ontology. Both Noica and Vattimo focus on all that is existentially fragile, deficient, crippled or defective. The way in which weak being manifests itself can be best expressed by using the concept of the trace. Some motifs of weak thought serve to reinterpret certain fundamental concepts of poetics, firstly, the concept of mimesis, treated here as a kind of tracing, and secondly, the concept of the textual subject as a trace. The book also describes these tendencies in modern literature in which the intuition of weak being has most fully expressed itself. In general terms, this intuition is that of a reality that has lost its substantiality and essentiality. This intuition is most frequently expressed by the motif of the trace in its various different meanings: as the imprint, the remnant, the sign-message.

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II. THE WEAK ONTOLOGY OF THE LITERARY WORK

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Introduction The specter of “weakness” – in the figurative sense – has been circulating in literary theory for some time. This metaphor has been used here in two basic contexts: 1) the ontology of the literary work itself, and 2) ways of knowing and describing it. Ryszard Nycz has used the term in the first context.187 In his understanding, the “weakness” of form of the modern (and especially postmodern) literary work is based on a loosening of its generic markers and, in particular, on a strong intertextualization that serves to weaken the traditional markers of the work itself, such as coherence, wholeness, and completion. Intertextuality takes on particular meaning in this context. On the one hand, it locates the literary work within the space of tradition (contrary to the avant-garde postulate of absolute novelty) and restores a historical dimension. On the other hand, it bases the work-tradition relation not on the classical trope of imitation of a model, but rather on diverse practices of copying, parodying and pastiching – close to the concept of Verwindung as understood by Heidegger and Vattimo. Anna Burzyńska, meanwhile, distinguishes strong theories based on modern epistemology from weak theories, which she claims are closer to pragmatism: “The questioning of epistemological fundamentalism – in this case in literary knowledge the rejection of the parameters of modern theory (universality, objectivity, cognitive neutrality and metalinguistics) – also brought to literary studies very clear pragmatist tendencies and resulted particularly in ‘weak’ theories of reading (the plural here is, of course, not without significance)...

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