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Models, gradations, experiments


Edward Balcerzan

The deepest crises cannot destroy the universal model of literariness. It maintains its appeal for participants in literary communication as a «contradictory» model. This thought recurs in many epochs. Literariness involves suspending the formal or logical norms of contradiction ( lex contraditionis). In everyday speech, it is not permissible for «A» to simultaneously be «not-A»; in literary structures this is the norm. This is both in the ideas, and in the tensions between the artificiality and naturalness of speech, the structure and the chaos of the plot, experimentation and revitalization of tradition, objective observation and a biased vision of the world, its visibility and invisibility, expressibility and inexpressibility, and a realistic and an imaginative focus. Executions of this model are gradative.
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Point of Departure: Literary Impulses


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Point of Departure: Literary Impulses

Immediately after joining the Project I began studying linguistics, because it seemed essential. I swiftly fell into a profound astonishment, as I saw that, when it came to the originary and most fundamental concepts, there was nary a trace of agreement in this allegedly exact, this reportedly mathematical and physicalistic branch of knowledge. Thus, the experts cannot reach an agreement in such fundamental and, as it were, basic issues, as what morphemes and phonemes precisely are.

The world depicted in Stanisław Lem’s science-fiction novel attempts to authenticate this biting reflection1 through the narrator’s education in mathematics, which coincides with his expectations toward scholarship. If, among those enlisted for the Project (created to read a signal from outer space), there had been a literary theorist, the state of our own discipline would have received an equally harsh summary from the caustic mathematics professor. At any rate, the crackpots and eccentrics who populate The Voice of the Lord could well have convinced Central Station that the interstellar “voice” bore all the hallmarks of an artistic composition. The annals of literary theory are strewn with quarrels over fundamental questions. These concern the names of the basic terms of artistic communication (text, metaphor), the definitions of large “sets” (genre names, literary movements), and the most capacious term of all: literature.

The participants in and observers of literary culture have, for centuries, been guided by four impulses, which have...

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