Prague literary structuralism

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The Prague literary structuralism is considered an important literary theoretical flow, the crucial since the 1930s influence on the development of literature as a modern normal science has taken.

In contrast to the positivistic and causal-genetic philological tradition, as well as following the Russian formalism , which he tried to develop further, the representatives of the Prague literary structuralism advocated a strict scientification of literary studies, which is mainly achieved by means of systematic reflection on methods and the formation of theory can achieve believed. The mostly Czech main proponents of this direction adopted not only formalistic perspectives but also essential basic assumptions and terms from the work of the Geneva linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and tried to use the then new knowledge of structural linguistics of the Prague School and the Prague linguistic group around the Russian semiotic Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Sergejewitsch Trubetzkoy on literary phenomena such as literary history , poetics or the system of literary genres .

To this day, the structuralism of literary studies in Prague is an integral part of the canon of literary methods, although its western reception and the like. a. The language barrier between the Czech and Western European languages ​​and later the Iron Curtain was delayed so much that German studies, for example, did not focus more intensely on its central ideas until the structuralist paradigm had already lost a lot of its importance and a. had already been replaced by more recent post-structuralist , discourse-analytical and systems- theoretical perspectives.


Basically, the Prague structuralists, who mainly appeared in the second and third quarters of the 20th century in the form of the Czechoslovak literary scholars Jan Mukařovský (1891–1975) and Felix Vodička (1909–1974), assume that literary works are not considered direct expression of the freely creative and sovereign author psyche are to be understood. Instead, they claim that the literary business is essentially shaped by supra-individual production conditions and structural constraints and that literary works should therefore primarily be treated as social facts or facts, but not as expressions of creative genius, as has been the norm since the Romantic era .

Later there was an approach to the hermeneutic reception aesthetics of the so-called “ Konstanz School ” and thus a softening of the initially strict anti-psychologism, especially with Vodička.

Literary historical conception and concept of structure

Due to the social conditionality of literary creativity, literary history , so the further argumentation of the Prague literary structuralism, should no longer be pursued as a mere string of flowery formulated work reviews together with more or less hagiographic artist biographies, but the traditional "literary history of the generals", like the Russian formalist Viktor Šklovskij had put it, had to be replaced by a solid scientific reconstruction of the dialectical development of the literary series, which was also characterized by internal contradictions and conflicts. Mukařovský's conception is based on a dynamic structural concept, with the help of which the diachronic level of the literary process is to be captured, taking into account the aesthetic function of language as well as aesthetic and extra-aesthetic norms and values . In the course of the 1940s, Mukařovský in particular gained more and more insight that the evolution of the literary series should always be viewed in connection with the development of other non-aesthetic series. This holistic view brings Prague literary structuralism very close to the sociology of literature .

Literary history and literary evaluation

In addition, as one of the first literary theorists, Mukařovský tried to systematically consider the problem of literary valuation in the course of his literary-historical conception of the literary process, without leaving the solid ground of scientific objectivism .

In this context, he differentiates between the current value of a work at the time of first publication, which is called up by the recipient against the background of the currently prevailing literary norms and values , and the changeable general value , which changes over longer periods of time on the basis of a large number of assessments by the The readership is solidified, as well as the a priori, objective aesthetic value of a work, which has only potential character and is inherent in the work of art as a thing in itself even before the actual act of reception. Added to this is the evolutionary significance of the work in question, which means its demonstrable ability to renew the structure of the superordinate system of literary works in the course of its first publication and to regroup its elements sustainably, so that the literary series as a whole reveals a more or less clear course correction . This value is of particular importance for literary historiography.

Semiotic concept of work

But also in the field of immanent work analysis, the Prague literary structuralism, following structural semiotics, produced significant results and made use of a transfer of Sausur's theory of signs and its differentiation between signifier and signified to the concept of the work. The Prague students conceived the literary work as a complex work symbol that represents the unity of the difference between the objective-material artefact and the aesthetic object perceived by a collective of readers , whereby the aesthetic object is the side of the work constituted by the recipient. Sign is seen as the actual bearer of the work structure. This work structure, which is based on the interpretation of the artefact, is elevated to the central subject of literary analysis by the Prague literary structuralism. The assumption is not an inner harmony of the work, but rather a highly dynamic dialectic of internal correspondences and contradictions, which are already firmly established in the artifact and which are constantly updated by the recipient or reader collective in the course of the reading act against the background literary norms and values ​​need to be decoded.

Influenced by Stalinism

Similar to Russian formalism, after the communist coup d'état of 1948 in what was then Czechoslovakia, Prague's literary structuralism was considerably restricted in its free development by the incipient Stalinism , without, however, leading to a complete break in the structuralist discourse within Czechoslovak literary studies. Obviously, the authoritarian communists put considerable pressure on Mukařovský in particular, which can also be seen in his increasing consideration of materialistic theorems, which had played no role in this form before 1948. These facts should be given due consideration in evaluating the writings of the members of the Prague School published after that date.

Primary literature

  • Jan Mukařovský: Chapter from Poetics. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M., 1967 [Orig. 1948].
  • Jan Mukařovský: Chapter from Aesthetics. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M., 1970 [Orig. 1934-1942].
  • Jan Mukařovský: Studies on structural aesthetics and poetics. Ullstein, Frankfurt / M. 1977, ISBN 3-548-03311-3 [Orig. 1929-1948].
  • Jan Mukařovský: art, poetics, semiotics. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M., 1989, ISBN 3-518-57840-5 [Orig. 1931-1968].
  • Felix Vodička: The structure of literary development ("Struktura vývoje", 1969). Fink, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-7705-0928-5 (Theory and History of Literature and the Fine Arts; Vol. 34).

Secondary literature

  • Miroslav Červenka : The basic categories of Prague literary structuralism . In: Viktor Žmegač, Zdenko Škreb: On the critique of literary methodology. Athenaeum S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1973, pp. 137-168, ISBN 3-8072-2026-7 .
  • Hans Günther: Structure as a process. Studies on the aesthetics and literary theory of Czech structuralism. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 1973.
  • Miroslav Kačer: Prague structuralism in aesthetics and literary studies . In: The world of the Slaves. International six-monthly publication for Slavistics , vol. 13 (1968), pp. 64-86, ISSN  0043-2520 .
  • Wolfgang F. Schwarz (ed.) In collaboration with Jiří Holý and Milan Jankovič: Prague School - Continuity and Change. Works on literary aesthetics and poetics of narration . Frankfurt / M .: Vervuert, 1997 ( Leipzig writings on culture, literature, language and translation studies; 1) ISBN 3-89354-261-2
  • René Wellek : The literary theory and aesthetics of the Prague School . In the S. (Ed.): Drawing boundaries. Contributions to literary criticism ("Discriminations", 1971). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1972, pp. 125-143, ISBN 3-17-0872311 (Language and Literature; 75).

See also

Literary sociology , literary studies , literary theory , structuralism , Slavic studies , German studies