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A View from Charles Bridge

Lubomír Doležel

Slavic and Comparative Literature, Toronto

Abstract In this article poststructuralism is treated as a bundle of trends in intellec- tual history united by a common endeavor to revise structuralist assumptions, theo- ries, and methods, and to cultivate themata the structuralists neglected. Four trends are considered: deconstruction, interactional pragmatics, empirical study of litera- ture (empirische Literaturwissenschaft), and Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics. Poststructural- ism is commonly contrasted with its immediate predecessor, French structuralism of the s. This article examines the theoretical parallels between poststructural- ist trends and the first system of structuralism, the pre–World War II system of the Prague school, an examination that indicates the contrast between poststructuralism and structuralism has to be considerably mitigated. Many of the theoretical ideas and methods of analysis advanced in the poststructuralist period were introduced in the structuralist thought of the Prague school.

Poetics, the core of literary theory, shows a remarkable continuity since it was founded by Aristotle. In the twentieth century, this continuity is estab- lished by two definitions of poetics, separated by several decades, but very close in content: ‘‘Poetics is the science concerned with poetry as art’’ (Žir- munskij : ), and ‘‘poetics is the systematic study of literature as lit- erature’’ (Hrushovski : xv). Based on the twin assumptions of scientific or systematic method and the focus on the specificity of literature (poetry), poetics has survived many critical challenges.The latest of them was issued by poststructuralist literary theory. I treat poststructuralism as a bundle of trends in intellectual history, some compatible, some contradictory, which

Poetics Today : (Winter ). Copyright ©  by the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics.

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are unified by a common interest: revising structuralist assumptions, theo- ries, and analytical results and cultivating themata neglected by the struc- turalists. This concept identifies poststructuralism with a certain period in Western intellectual history rather than with a particular ontological or epistemological stance. In the minds of many Western theorists, structuralism is associated with French structuralism; therefore, poststructuralism is commonly understood as a theoretical challenge to French structuralism. But the identification of structuralism with its French manifestation is a distortion of twentieth- century intellectual history.The term structuralism was coined when the con- cept of structuralism was formulated in Prague in the late twenties. French structuralists ignored this legacy. A prominent figure of the Parisian scene, Tzvetan Todorov, surveying the rise and development of ‘‘academic liter- ary theory’’ in the twentieth century, writes, ‘‘In the first two decades of this century, the country of renewal is Russia, where a current of ideas known as Formalism is constituted. Between the wars, the center of gravity shifts to Germany; literary theory then divides into several tendencies, some linked to stylistics, others to a ‘morphological’ approach. In the thirties and forties, various currents of formal criticism and literary theory develop in England and the United States, of which the most celebrated is the so-called New Criticism’’ (: xxvi). 1 Seen from Paris, Prague disappeared from the map of twentieth-century poetics; historians and interpreters of modern struc- turalism generally followthe Parisian example. Typical in this respect is Fredric Jameson’s book (); its subtitle promises ‘‘a critical account of structuralism and Russian Formalism,’’ but from the Prague school concep- tual system the author mentions only ‘‘foregrounding.’’ Jonathan Culler’s well-known work () refers to Jan Mukařovský once, but his ‘‘structural- ist poetics’’ is strictly French in origin. In the same vein, Ann Jefferson’s (: ) reconstruction identifies French structuralism with structuralism simpliciter; thus, the French structuralists’ ‘‘decentering of the subject’’ is claimed to be a general principle of structuralist theory. Terence Hawkes’s popular introduction () finds space for a brief account of the Prague school theory of poetic language, but ignores all other achievements. Per- haps most telling is J. G. Merquior’s (: ) attempt to move from Prague to Paris: he acknowledges that ‘‘the foundations of structuralism in criticism and aesthetics were laid down in Eastern Europe [sic],’’ but treats the Prague school as a mere ‘‘strategic background’’; ‘‘the real location of the story is

. In his introduction to the English translation of Todorov’s work, Peter Brooks (: vii)

states that ‘‘Todorov

of the Prague Linguistic Circle.’’ But ironically, the only references to the Prague school and

commands the Slavic tradition, Russian Formalism and the work

Jan Mukarovsky [sic] are in Brooks’s introduction.

Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


the haute culture milieu of modern Paris’’ (ibid.: x). He states, correctly, that Mukařovský’s ideas ‘‘had no discernible influence on structuralist lit- erary theory of the s’’ (ibid.: ). Only a fewWestern histories of mod- ern poetics, such as Broekman  and Fokkema and Kunne-Ibsch , do not ignore Prague school structuralism. But no matter howstructuralist historians regard the Prague school, the fact remains that there is no histori- cal continuity between Prague and French structuralism. 2 Russian formal- ism in aesthetics and poetics and the Copenhagen school in linguistics are the intellectual roots of French structuralism (see Todorov ; Greimas ). 3 In other words, there is no straight road leading from Russia to the

centers of structuralist aesthetics and poetics; rather, there is a forked road, with one branch leading to prewar Prague, the other to postwar Paris. So what is the relation between poststructuralism and Prague school structuralism and, especially, howdoes the poststructuralist challenge apply to Prague school poetics and aesthetics? I ask this to initiate a broader exploration of the theoretical relationships between poststructuralist trends and their structuralist antecedents. I believe that such a framework will give

a better understanding of the continuities, conflicts, and confusions which characterize the intellectual history of the twentieth century.


Whenever poststructuralism is mentioned, the first trend that comes to mind is deconstruction. Much dust has been stirred up about this topic and opinions are sharply divided. I hope, however, that when the dust settles,

a differentiation will be made between deconstruction as an epistemologi-

cal position and deconstruction as a practice of poetological and aesthetic analysis.The general epistemology of deconstruction comes from a critique of logocentrism. According to Culler (who is very useful in explaining the often obtuse discourse of deconstructionist philosophy), the ‘‘basic project’’ of logocentrism is that of determining ‘‘the nature of truth, reason, being, and of distinguishing the essential from the contingent, the well-grounded from the factitious’’ (Culler : ). It is not difficult to recognize that logocentrism is the epistemology of science and, consequently, it is science

. To be sure, Roman Jakobson was a hero of the French structuralists, but he was seen as a direct link between Russian Formalism and French structuralism. Only a few of his papers originating in his Prague school years appeared in French and then only in Textes des formalistes russes. . For a summary of the theoretical differences between the Prague school and Russian for- malism, see Mukařovský . Skalička – provides a useful comparison between the linguistic structuralism of Prague and Copenhagen.

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that is questioned by deconstructionist philosophy. 4 Yet, curiously, the dis- missal of scientific epistemology has had an impact only on those discursive practices which are epistemologically weak in the first place, such as literary criticism. It has had no effect on the practicing scientist. Deconstruction as aesthetic theory makes similarly radical claims, 5 but its poetological practice does not (and perhaps cannot) fully comply with the proclaimed epistemology.This bifurcation is especially apparent in the work of J. Hillis Miller, who is both a theorist and practitioner of decon- structive criticism. As a theorist, Miller states what the deconstructive critic should do; as a practitioner, he demonstrates what this critic actually does.

Miller’s theoretical program posits a sharp contrast between poststruc- turalism and structuralism. The structuralists are ‘‘Socratic, theoretical or canny critics,’’ ‘‘lulled by the promise of a rational ordering of literary study on the basis of solid advances in scientific knowledge about language.’’ The poststructuralist critics are ‘‘rigorously sane and rational,’’ but also aware

into regions which are alogical, absurd.

that ‘‘the thread of logic leads

In fact the moment when logic fails in their work is the moment of their deepest penetration into the actual nature of literary language, or of lan- guage as such’’ (Miller : –; cf. Culler : ). Clearly, Miller (–: , ) distances himself from the structuralists on epistemo- logical grounds; this motivation becomes more evident in his polemical engagement with one of them, Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan:

is reasoned, more or less abstract, given to diagrams and tables.

It is written from within an international community of researchers sharing the same goals, the same norms and procedures, and speaking the same language of analysis. [It is incorporated] within a larger domain of linguistics and other


‘‘human sciences,’’ those in turn within a larger domain including the social and physical sciences, as part of a world-wide collective enterprise of technicaliza-

The goal of ‘‘deconstruction’’ is very different

tion and scientific

. The epistemological foundations and consequences of deconstruction have been critically analyzed by many older and younger scholars (see, among others, Abrams ; Savan ; Rose ; Freundlieb ; Ellis ; Pavel ). But Christopher Norris might be right when he claims that in many passages of his writings, ‘‘Derrida says just the opposite’’ and that ‘‘his recent essays have laid increasing stress on this need to conserve what is specific to philosophy, namely its engagement with ethical, political and epistemological issues that cannot be reduced tout court to the level of an undifferentiated textual ‘freeplay’ ’’ (: ). . As Pavel (: ) points out, the epistemology of deconstruction implies that ‘‘the de- bate is concluded and the file has been closed.’’ This is not the first time that rational inquiry into poetic art has been declared finished. Referring to German aesthetic idealism of the be- ginning of the nineteenth century, Boethius (: ) proclaimed without blushing: ‘‘The history of poetology is hereby brought to its end, even though it seems to continue an arm- chair existence in the theories of literary scholars harking back again and again to the claims of the Enlightenment.’’

Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


from this. The system of assumptions defining the collective enterprise of scien- tific mastery is one of the things it wants to put in question by disarticulating it or by showing that it disarticulates itself. This means showing that it contains contradictions and aporias making its enterprise impossible.

This is a rather long quote, but useful in that it sets out the contrary positions clearly and uncompromisingly. In another context, when Miller contrasts poststructuralism with NewCriticism, he maintains that the NewCritics strive for ‘‘organic unity,’’ for ‘‘total and totalizable significance’’ of literary texts; in contrast, the deconstructivists claim that literary texts are ‘‘unread- able’’: ‘‘Unreadability is the generation by the text itself of a desire for the possession of the logos, while at the same time the text frustrates this desire, in a torsion of undecidability which is intrinsic to language’’ (: , ). But howdoes an ‘‘uncanny’’ critic go about analyzing ‘‘unreadable’’ texts, and what can the critic say about them? Following Miller’s engagement withThomas Hardy’s poem ‘‘In Front of the Landscape,’’ we see him switch- ing back and forth between two analytical techniques or levels. On the

first level, he painstakingly explains the meanings of obscure and polysemic words and phrases to produce a prosaic paraphrase of the poem, a summary of its ‘‘content,’’ or, as he calls it, its ‘‘tropography’’: ‘‘There is a lot of guilt around somewhere. It is guilt born of betrayal of trust. Both the speaker and the ghosts are suffering intensely for it. Exactly what betrayal is in question for each of the ghosts the reader is not told. He knows only that they were once fair and happy and that the speaker ‘fellowed’ with them. Later they were betrayed by him or by others, or thought they were betrayed’’ (:

). On the second level, Miller sees the poem not as paraphrasable content, but as a ‘‘complex act of translation’’: ‘‘The ghosts and the scenes, objects,

are transposed not just into words, but into words architectur-


ally or musically ordered’’ (ibid.: ). To reveal the architecture and music of the poem, Miller reconstructs its wavelike rhythmic and rhyming pat- tern and its ‘‘tropography’’; that is, its dominant poetic (rhetorical) device:

prosopopoeia overlapping with catachresis (ibid.: –, –). 6 Thus, the second analytical move of the deconstructionist critic dismantles the para- phrase, penetrating beyond the prosaic content to the aesthetic form. In Miller’s poetological practice, deconstruction is a displacement of the pro- saic transcription of poetic texts. As such, it is a challenge to the traditional interpretive practice that strips the poetic work of its aesthetic features to

. Catachresis is Miller’s (: ) archfigure, a manifestation of the workings of meaning in language: ‘‘All words are initially catachreses. The distinction between literal and figura- tive is an alogical deduction or bifurcation from that primal misnaming.’’ Ironically, Miller thus arrives at a ‘‘unified totality’’ (Rimmon-Kenan –: ) much grander than the structuralist totalization that he criticized.

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find its message. Miller is doing exactly what all who closely analyze poetic texts, including Prague school poetics, have always done: describing the poetic text as an aesthetic (artistic) phenomenon, but he avoids linguistic or text theoretic conceptualization and resorts to metaphoric terminology or, in the best case, to the traditional vocabulary of rhetoric. 7 The similarity between deconstructionist poetological praxis and Prague school poetics is not accidental; it has hidden roots in a common perception of what constitutes the basic features of poetic language. Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of language grows out of the assumption that linguistic signs mean only in différance, in an infinite regress of contrastive linking of sig- nifiant to signifiant. Already in  (albeit with question marks) Derrida

(: ) staked out the claim of this semantics: ‘‘And what if the meaning of meaning (in the general sense, not in the sense of signification) is an infinite inference? An indefinite referral of a signified to a signified? What if its force is a certain pure and infinite ambiguity that allows no respite, no rest to the signified meaning, engaging it, in its own economy, to make sign again and to differ?’’ [‘‘Et si le sens du sens {au sens général et non de signification}, c’est l’implication infinie? Le renvoi indéfini de signifiant à signifiant? Si sa force est une certaine équivocité pure et infinie ne laissant aucun répit, aucun repos au sens signifié, l’engageant, en sa propre économie, à faire signe encore et à différer?’’] When the question marks are deleted, Derrida constructs a language with radically indeterminate meaning. In such a language refer- ence cannot be fixed, and, therefore, standard (Tarskian) truth-conditions do not apply. It is impossible to conduct science, philosophy, historiogra- phy, and other cognitive activities in Derridean language. But if we ignore the universalist claim of Derrida’s philosophy of language and treat it as a theory of poetic language, then the connection with Prague school poetics becomes apparent. We knowthat Mukařovský assigned two fundamental features to poetic language: first, poetic language transforms ‘‘communica- tive language,’’ the ‘‘material’’ of literature, into an aesthetic structure by procedures of organized deformation; second, in poetic language the ques- tion of truthfulness does not arise (see Doležel a: , ). Peter Nessel- roth (: ) says of the link between Mukařovský’s ‘‘deformation’’ and

Derrida’s ‘‘de-automatization’’ that ‘‘Deconstructive reading


. ‘‘Rhetoric,’’ Miller (: ) explains, ‘‘means in this case the investigation of figures of speech rather than the study of the art of persuasion.’’ Rhetorical terminology is widely used in deconstructive criticism; see, for example, Christopher Norris (: ) on Paul de Man: ‘‘One needs theory to avoid reading stupidly, accepting language at face value, which is always the value placed on it by commonsense belief or ideology. In de Man this takes the form of a heightened attention to rhetoric and the way that rhetorical tropes can undermine the logic or the grammar of straightforward assertion.’’

Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


on the systematic and perpetual de-automatization of all possible meanings in words and expressions, whether they be spoken or written.’’ In summary, as a theory of poetic language and a practice of poeto- logical analysis, deconstruction shows significant common features with Prague school structuralism. But there is a fundamental difference. Prague school linguists and poeticians posited a polyfunctional language, which is adapted to the diverse communicative needs of modern society. 8 Linguis- tic polyfunctionality makes the writing of poetry possible because poetic discourse is independent of scientific, legal, philosophical, and economic discourses. On the other hand, it makes these discourses possible because it does not submit them to the model of poetic language. Derridean lan- guage is monofunctional. In a Derridean world all social communication has to be conducted in a language that is poetic. 9 The diverse, often contra- dictory, purposes, aims, and truth-conditions of language transactions are reduced to the principles, goals, and truth-conditions of poetic language. Howa society could function and survive with such a language is anybody’s guess.


Deconstruction is perhaps the dominant, but not the sole manifestation, of poststructuralist thought. It would be fruitful to explore the connections of Prague structuralism to poststructuralist projects that do not deny the logocentric basis of human cognition and acting in the world, but strive to overcome, transcend, or supplement what they perceive as limitations of structuralism. Pragmatics is the most vocal of these trends. Pragmatics is believed to be a theory of the links between signs and their environment—social, cultural, historical, biological, and so forth. Explor- ing the relation between pragmatics and Prague structuralism leads to three types of pragmatics: () indexical, () interactive, and () ideological. Struc- turalism of the Prague school relates differently to each type. Indexical pragmatics is the classical pragmatics of Karl Bühler () and Charles Morris (). It relates verbal messages and signs to their users or interpreters. Bühler’s and Morris’s users are fixed points in the spatio- temporal matrix, staking out the situation of the utterance.This pragmatic factor is especially important in the case of indexical expressions such as

. Elmar Holenstein () has recognized that polyfunctionalism is one of the most impor- tant achievements of Prague school thinking about language. . ‘‘All language and not just literary language, is informed by the play of différance. If we take literary to mean something more than merely ‘decorative’, then, in a sense, all language may be seen as literary’’ (Jefferson : ).

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pronouns or deictic adverbials: their meaning is relative, changing, ‘‘shift- ing’’ according to the situation. As far as indexical pragmatics is concerned, there is no break between structuralist and poststructuralist research. In- dexical pragmatics links Bühler’s ‘‘Organonmodell,’’ Otto Jespersen’s, Ro- man Jakobson’s, and Emile Benveniste’s ‘‘shifters,’’ and Catherine Kerbrat- Orecchioni’s () ‘‘discourse subjectivity.’’ 10 In contrast, ideological pragmatics and structuralism have remained in the irreconcilable opposition in which we find them in the thirties. Now and then, ideological pragmatics subsumes literature under extraliterary con- ceptual systems which claim to have a universal interpretive power. Now as then ideologues accuse structuralism of the same sins. Thus the poststruc- turalist Terry Eagleton (: , , , ) criticizes structuralism on the same grounds as the Czech Marxists of the thirties criticized the Prague

school: structuralism is ‘‘hair-raisingly unhistorical,’’ it views the literary

text ‘‘as a closed system’’ or as ‘‘just a ‘copy’ of

of all, it has become ‘‘in some ways complicit with the aims and procedures’’ of late capitalist society. 11 With his aversion to structuralism, the ideological pragmatist forms a paradoxical alliance with the deconstructionist when it comes to the basic epistemological issue of literary study: Just as Miller frowned at structuralism because of its scientific aspirations, so Eagleton claims that structuralism was a ‘‘modern religion of science,’’ ‘‘the dupe of an alienated theory of scientific practice’’ (: ). Eagleton’s attack is quite understandable: what an ideologue has to fear most is not an ideo- logue of a different stripe—ultimately, all ideologies are isomorphic—it is scientific method which contests ideology’s universalist claim. Prague school scholars strongly criticized the pragmatic determinism of art and literature (see Doležel a: –).This is why they were silenced when ideologues assumed total power. But the forced and temporary silenc- ing did not invalidate the structuralist critique of deterministic ideological pragmatics. In fact, the more it demonstrates its interpretive practice, the more it reveals its theoretical vacuity. Strictly speaking, ideological inter- pretation of literary works is a tautological trick.The ideologue first repre- sents the world in terms and categories of a certain, usually authoritative, ideological system; then the ideologue interprets the literary work in those same terms and categories. It should come as no surprise that ideological

deep structure,’’ and worst

. Indexical pragmatics entered poetics in the study of the literary work’s discursive subjec- tivity, as it pertains to the lyrical subject and to narrative discourses (narrative modes, direct, indirect, and represented discourse), and so on. . As should be expected from a dogmatic ideologue, all these critiques are hurled at struc- turalism without reference to sources and with the tone and discernment of a provincial populist politician.

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interpretation is always ‘‘correct’’ because the transcription of the literary work and representation of the world are derived from one and the same totalizing conceptual frame. Although the relationship between Prague structuralism and poststruc- turalist indexical and ideological pragmatics is relatively straightforward, in the domain of interactive pragmatics, the situation is more complex and, therefore, more interesting. I call interactive pragmatics a research which relates communicative practices to humans in action and interaction. For interactive pragmatics the users of signs are not fixed points of a situational matrix, but persons involved in private or social acting and interacting. Verbal activities are integrated into nonverbal actional and interactional pursuits. Interactive pragmatics is the proper representative of the post- structuralist stage in pragmatics. 12 It gave us the theory of human commu- nication, the speech-act theory, the theory of dialogue and conversation, and, in our field of interest, the theory of literary communication. In a brief but lucid summary of the tasks of poststructuralist literary theory, Siegfried J. Schmidt (: –) makes literary communication its ‘‘hero’’: ‘‘Literary study as a research program will concentrate on the TOTAL RANGE of literary communication, i.e. it will take into account complex social communication-processes, the elements of which it must, consequently, consider and investigate as embedded elements.’’ Compare Schmidt’s project with a summarizing characterization of Prague struc- turalist poetics: ‘‘Although the work of art remains at the centre of attention as a semiotic system with certain autonomous properties, there is no inten- tional disregard for its relationship to the general domain of language and to other cultural and social systems. At the same time, neither the creator and the corresponding problems of the genesis of art nor the reader and his evaluation are removed from consideration’’ (Matejka : ; see also Broekman : ). Indeed, the conceptual system of Prague school poetics is unified by the idea of literary communication (see Doležel a: –). In the poststructuralist era a strange thing happened. In the Czech lands and in Slovakia—thanks primarily to Jiří Levý, Miroslav Procházka, and the so-called Nitra school—the idea of literary communication was further advanced on the ‘‘classical’’ Prague school foundations; the research tradi- tion has preserved its continuity. In the West, however, the poststructuralist conceptions of literary communication started with a wholesale rejection of the structuralist heritage. The issue at stake is the specificity of litera- ture, expressed in such concepts as poetic language, literariness, verbal art,

. Just as deconstruction is grounded in Derridean philosophy, interactive pragmatics is a child of the corresponding phase of analytic philosophy.

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and so on. The literary pragmatics of Mary Louise Pratt () and Roger Fowler () are typical in this respect, both in their positive contribution to and their negative attitude toward the structuralist past. Pratt’s critique of the ‘‘poetic language fallacy’’ is two-pronged: () if the formalists and structuralists posited the opposition poetic/nonpoetic language, then they had the duty to investigate both sides of it. Yet, Pratt claims, only the con- cept of poetic language was defined, while its opposite—variously called ‘‘ordinary,’’ ‘‘communicative,’’ ‘‘practical’’ language—remained an indefi- nite contrastive frame of reference. () It is not the concept of language (langue) that is pertinent for literary theory, but the concept of the use of language ( parole). Pratt launches a rash critique of structuralism on these grounds; how- ever, I find them perfectly compatible with Prague school thinking. First, by formulating functional linguistics, the Prague school linguists and poeti- cians were certainly developing a theory of language use (see Herman ). Second, functional linguistics was transformed into functional stylistics in the thirties and forties, and Bohuslav Havránek () proposed a system of styles which included both poetic and nonpoetic types (conversational, technological, and scientific). Ten years earlier () Havránek had inves- tigated the lexical and syntactic devices of scientific discourse (technical terms, ‘‘automatisms,’’ conventions), and during the war Vilém Mathesius studied the principles of expository style (published in Mathesius ). Other functional styles came under close scrutiny as well, especially the language of commerce (Čada ; Vančura ). Obviously, the Prague school did not focus solely on poetic language use; it also initiated the study of the functions, norms, and devices of nonpoetic styles (uses). 13 Roger Fowler’s (: ) concept of literary communication verges on ideological pragmatics. This is apparent when he uncovers a ‘‘class’’ mo- tivation behind the idea of poetic language: ‘‘The idea of a special poetic language remote from common speech suits a society in which only a very small special class of people read the texts in that language.’’ But, like most ‘‘short circuits’’ of ideological pragmatics, this determinism is dubious. In fact, one could claim just the opposite: in prewar Russia and Czechoslo- vakia, where the specificity of poetic language was strongly emphasized, reading poetry or listening to declamations was very popular. It seems rather that cultures where the authority and impact of literature is restricted to ‘‘only a very small special class of people’’ tend to blur the distinctions

. In the postwar era, Czech stylistics built on the heritage of the Prague school and investi- gated both theoretical and practical aspects of nonpoetic styles (for a survey, see Doležel and Kraus : –).

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between literature and other social discourses, between aesthetic value and kitsch, between art and entertainment. In the end, both Pratt and Fowler present a reception puzzle.While they

reject the Prague school initiative, they ultimately reassert the specificity of literature within their respective pragmatics of literary communication. Pratt (: ) concludes her monograph by introducing the concept of

‘‘verbal jeopardy’’: ‘‘In the literary speech situation

be the point of the utterance.’’ 14 Fowler’s (: ) acknowledgment of the pragmatic specificity of literature is less definite, but equally clear: ‘‘Literary communication (a type of language use) may be a distinctive form of behav- iour even though ‘literary texts’ and ‘poetic language’ are not distinctive.’’ It is not explained howa ‘‘deviant’’ speech act situation or a ‘‘distinctive’’ form of behavior have no impact on the language medium and do not affect its products.

rule-breaking can

EmpiricalStudy of Literature

The above quote from Siegfried Schmidt is taken from his programmatic outline of the tasks of the empirical study of literature (empirische Literatur- wissenschaft). This research project has become a major force in the post- structuralist paradigm, especially in continental Europe. Literary commu- nication is the basis of both the structuralism of the Prague school and the poststructuralist empirische Literaturwissenschaft. Moreover, as observed, Prague school aesthetics and poetics were empirical theories. 15 Despite these common foundations, the relationship between the con- temporary empirical study of literature and Prague structuralism is quite

. This ‘‘deviance’’ is possible because in the literary speech situation Grice’s Cooperative Principle is ‘‘hyperprotected’’: ‘‘For clearly it is because we know the CP to be hyperprotected in the literary speech situation that we can freely and joyfully jeopardize it or even cancel it there and expose ourselves to the chaotic consequences’’ (). It is secondary to Pratt’s (: ) argument that such ‘‘hyperprotection’’ and consequent ‘‘verbal jeopardy’’ is found in other ritualized speech situations. What is of prime importance is that the specificity of literature is moved from langue to language use, a move which Prague structuralism made more than sixty years ago. . Felix Vodička (: ) perceived this feature in Mukařovský’s work when he provided an evaluation of his teacher’s method: ‘‘Mukařovský did not proceed from general, essen- tially philosophical problems of aesthetics, but from the empirical study of verbal material in literary works.’’ When, in turn,Vodička’s own work was assessed by his disciple Miroslav Čer- venka (: –), the same epistemological principle was revealed: ‘‘Today, there is much speculation about the relationship between Marxism and structuralism, existentialism and structuralism, etc., as if we were dealing with a confrontation of contradictory philosophical trends. However, structuralism as conceived by Mukařovský, Jakobson, Vodička and their

is not a philosophy, but a methodological trend in certain sciences, especially

those concerned with sign systems and their concrete uses.’’


644 Poetics Today 21:4

complex. In a more recent article, Schmidt (: ) labeled his episte- mological strategy—constructivism and its consequent relativism—‘‘post- modernist.’’ This epistemology is at variance with the basic assumptions of Prague school poeticians and aestheticians who were spontaneous realists. 16 Yet in his research Schmidt and his group pursue a science of literature and apply methodologies and cognitive strategies in full accord with the prac- tice of Prague structuralism. This is apparent in Schmidt’s rigorous con-

ceptualization. The study of literature, like all empirical research, requires ‘‘intensive conceptual effort, ‘die Arbeit am Begriff,’ as Hegel once put it Without a thorough clarification of (what counts for us as) our knowledge we are neither able to formulate questions with empirical content nor can we operationalise these questions in order to produce and interpret ‘data’ in the framework of theories and methodologies’’ (ibid.: ). The concepts of literary theory form a system, as do the concepts of every science: ‘‘All key

are extremely conditioned and interrelated;

they are nodes in networks which nobody can trace back to their origins’’ (ibid.: ). In Prague, rigorous concept formation and systematization were emphasized to the point that Mukařovský identified these procedures with structuralism. Structuralism is ‘‘an epistemological stance’’ whose essence is ‘‘the manner by which it forms its concepts and operates with them.’’ In the structuralist view‘‘the conceptual system of every particular discipline is a web of internal correlations. Every concept is determined by all the others and in turn determines them. Thus a concept is defined unequivo- cally by the place it occupies in its conceptual system rather than by the enumeration of its contents’’ (: , –). So despite its postmodernist flavoring, empirische Literaturwissenschaft un- wittingly develops the legacy of Prague structuralism in two essential fea- tures: the centrality of literary communication and the insistence on con- ceptual rigor.These features characterize one and the same cognitive effort:

notions of our discipline

to establish a science of the specificity of literature, satisfying contemporary scientific standards.

A Science of the Individual?

Hermeneutics is not a child of poststructuralism; it is practically as old as our culture. But in the poststructuralist era it experienced both a newflour-

. Perhaps there is a way to achieve a rapprochement. According to Schmidt (: ), lit- erature is a ‘‘social system’’ of communication and as such it participates in the construction of ‘‘the environment we live in.’’ As a social system of reality construction, literature cannot be denied actual existence. Prague school realism is an intuitive understanding of this fact. Then Schmidt’s () claim ‘‘the fiction is that reality exists’’ is irrelevant for students of literature.

Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


ishing and a major transformation. It is significant that this transformation did not occur in Germany, the stronghold of modern hermeneutics, but in the work of Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur’s hermeneutics is propelled by a critique of the universalistic models of French structuralism (especially Lévi-Strauss’s mythology and Greimas’s narratology) and a critique of the ‘‘Romanticist hermeneutics’’ of the German tradition.The result is a poststructuralist hermeneutics that in- corporates structural analysis as ‘‘one stage’’ of interpretation. In Ricoeur’s (: ) synthetic hermeneutics the opposition between explanation and understanding is resolved by treating the cognitive operations as ‘‘two dif- ferent stages of a unique hermeneutical arc.’’ 17 The contrast between natu- ral science and human science, based on the opposition explanation/under- standing, turns out to be spurious, and ‘‘a daring endeavor’’ of ‘‘a science of the individual’’ becomes plausible: ‘‘The method of converging indices, which characterizes the logic of subjective probability, provides a firm basis for a science of the individual, which may rightly be called a science. And since a text is a quasi-individual, the validation of an interpretation applied to it may be said to give a scientific knowledge of the text’’ (ibid.: ). In one stroke Ricoeur undercuts both epistemological pillars on which the opposi- tion Naturwissenschaft/Geisteswissenschaft has rested since the end of the nine- teenth century (see Schmidt ). Much effort has gone into justifying or criticizing one of these pillars—the opposition explanation/understanding —perhaps because of the strong influence of Wilhelm Dilthey on German hermeneutics. The second pillar, Wilhelm Windelband’s opposition uni- versal/particular, has been discussed much less and is poorly understood among literary theorists. 18 In his  ‘‘Rektoratsrede’’ Windelband () introduced the terms ‘‘nomothetic’’ and ‘‘ideographic’’ (or ‘‘idiographic’’) to capture the funda- mental epistemological contrast between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswis- senschaften. 19 Because of the repeatability and regularity of the phenomena of nature, natural sciences are nomothetic; they formulate universal laws. Individual observations and experiments are of interest only insofar as they confirm or refute hypotheses about universal laws. Geisteswissenschaften deal with individualized and unrepeatable phenomena—historic events, human

. This formulation goes back to  (see Ricoeur : ). . Windelband does not merit mention in Helmut Seiffert’s () history of hermeneutics. Nor does Ricoeur, but that is because hermeneutics for Seiffert is an exclusively German enterprise. Grondin () mentions Ricoeur a fewtimes (although he does not admit him into the pleiad of contemporary hermeneuticians), but Windelband is an unknown entity for him. . The address is reprinted in Windelband  under the title ‘‘Geschichte und Natur- wissenschaft.’’ For a recent rereading of Windelband, see Doležel b.

646 Poetics Today 21:4

actions and personalities, works of art and literature, and so on—neces- sarily, they are ideographic; they try to understand these phenomena in the uniqueness of their constitution, sense, relevance, and value. Hermeneutics has claimed literature as its domain precisely on the ground that literary works are unique and historically unrepeatable.Tacitly accepting this claim, some structuralist theorists restricted poetics to the nomothetic study of literary categories and universal regularities. In Prague structuralism, however, poetics encompassed both a theoretical (universal- ist) poetics, one that designs universal tools (concepts, models, methods), and an analytical (particularist) poetics, one that tests the universal tools in the analysis of particular literary phenomena. It thus anticipates Ricoeur’s project of the ‘‘science of the individual.’’ Already the first major work of Prague school poetics, Mukařovský’s ( []: ) monograph on Mácha’s May, pursued the double-pronged strategy. A theoretical conceptual system presented in the introduction de- scribes a particular and unique poem. Jakobson’s well-known studies both posit the theoretical problem of grammatical categories in poetry (‘‘gram- mar of poetry’’) and give concrete analyses of several poems with a view to revealing their unique grammatical patterning (‘‘poetry of grammar’’). 20 The combination of nomothetic and ideographic poetics was perfected by Felix Vodička () in his major work. Vodička adopted the zigzag method and implemented it in a special compositional arrangement of his text, alternating analytical segments with theoretical reflections. The develop- ment of theoretical categories is inspired or provoked by the analysis; in turn, advances on the theoretical level stimulate newdiscoveries in the structural and historical analysis. 21 Overall,Vodička developed a systematic theory of narrative on both the thematic and discursive levels and analyzed in its terms a unique historic event—the rise of modern Czech prose fiction. In order to fully appreciate the significance of ‘‘a science of the indi- vidual’’—an epistemological endeavor shared by Prague structuralism and

. Investigating, for example, the use of personal pronouns in poetic texts, Jakobson dem-

onstrated the individuality of such works as the Hussite battle song, Puškin’s love poetry, and

a political poem by Brecht. His meticulous study revealed that each of Puškin’s poems is indi- vidualized: ‘‘Despite the common grammatical pattern of Puškin’s poetry, each of his poems

is unique and unrepeatable in its artistic choice and use of grammatical material’’ (originally

published in ; quoted in Jakobson : ). In an apposite comment, Pomorska (Jakob- son and Pomorska : ) characterized Jakobson’s method as a tool that ‘‘allows us both to generalize and individualize the phenomena under investigation.’’

. The zigzag method originates in Wilhelm von Humboldt’s  monograph on Goethe’s poem ‘‘Hermann und Dorothea’’ (see Doležel a, –). Roland Barthes’s S/Z () is

a more recent (and more celebrated) example of this method and its presentation. Doležel  develops a cognitive strategy based on the zigzag method.

Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


Ricoeur’s poststructuralist hermeneutics—consider the present state of the nomothetic/ideographic opposition. Despite the antipositivist thrust of hermeneutics, the nomothetic and the ideographic modes of cognition were tied to the positivistic ‘‘territorial principle’’ of the division and classifi- cation of sciences. A field of inquiry is defined by its object (domain)— Naturwissenschaften study nature and its processes; Geisteswissenschaften study humanity and its works. Yet contemporary cognitive strategies pose mul- tiple and powerful challenges to the principle of territoriality. Interdisci- plinary research, ‘‘hyphenated’’ sciences (such as psycho-linguistics or bio- chemistry), higher-order macrosciences (semiotics, cybernetics, ecological science) all undermine the strict divisions between territorially confined fields and disciplines. Contemporary science is not a set of ordered do- mains, but a set of disorderly problems. It is for solving complex problems rather than for exploring isolated domains that theories, explanatory hy- potheses, and conceptual systems are developed. The problem of lawlike universals and unique particulars becomes a general issue that cuts across traditional disciplines. Every contemporary cognitive field has both nomothetic and ideographic research projects, al- though the weight of these projects varies considerably from one discipline to another. In support of this claim, consider psychology, which is germane to our argument because it straddles the boundary between the natural and human sciences.When modern ‘‘personalistic’’ psychology began, it tackled the uniqueness of human personality by using approaches, methods, and results of nomothetic ‘‘general’’ psychology. But Gordon N. Allport (:

), one of the pioneers of the psychology of personality, recognized that ‘‘life processes actually occur only in unified, complex, individual wholes’’; therefore he promoted ideographic research in psychology. He expressly recalled Windelband’s nomographic/ideographic opposition, but rejected ‘‘schism’’ in psychology: ‘‘A complete study of the individual will embrace both approaches.’’ 22 In the same vein, Seymour Epstein (: –), a contemporary psychologist, when speaking about research into the moti- vation of human action, pleads for a synthesis of both approaches: ‘‘There is no need to choose between idiographic and nomothetic procedures, for it is often possible to combine the two in a design in which multiple measures are obtained on multiple subjects over multiple occasions.’’

. In reply to a critic who doubted that ideographic research could achieve scientific status, Gordon Allport (: , ) stressed the need to develop ‘‘newconcepts and methods’’ to deal with ‘‘the phenomenon of individual pattern.’’ But he insisted that under a ‘‘custom- ary’’ definition of science—‘‘that form of knowledge that enhances our understanding, pre- diction and control of phenomena above the level achieved by unaided common sense’’— ‘‘idiographic knowledge fully qualifies for a place of honor.’’

648Poetics Today 21:4

Ideographic research was stimulated anew by the restoration of the idea

of possible worlds to epistemological prominence: the actually existing now appears as one of an unlimited number of possibilities. Even our universe is

a unique system determined by the values of basic physical constants; the

slightest change in these values would create a different universe. Not sur- prisingly, contemporary cosmology—conceived as ‘‘the description of our universe as a single dynamic entity’’—has accepted the ideographic task:

‘‘Scientific cosmology is the study of a unique object and a unique event’’ (Rees : ). In the possible-worlds perspective, the order of our uni- verse is as unique as the structure of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, or Picasso’s Guernica. Structuralism is history; we live and work in the poststructuralist era. But

even poststructuralists have to face two age-old questions. First, is literature

a type of art, and thus in the company of music, painting, sculpture, dance, or is literature a medium of cognition and/or persuasion, and thus in the

company of sociological or psychological case studies, journalism, propa- ganda, moral and metaphysical philosophizing, and political or religious sermonizing? And second, is the study of literature based on rational argu- ment, systematic method, conceptual precision, and empirical evidence, or

is it a domain of antirationality, random insight, conceptual sloppiness, and

ideological dogma? Whoever has the courage to tackle these questions will

find strong inspiration and lasting support in Prague structuralism.


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Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


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Doležel Poststructuralism: A View from Charles Bridge


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