Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Februar 2006

9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Gabriella Hima (Budapest)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Report: Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art

Gabriella Hima (Károli University of the Reformed Church, Budapest)


The starting point of our discussions was the devaluated status of the science and knowledge in the post-modern societies which has been sharpened in the so called Science Wars. While the Natural Sciences generally interpret their own history as the history of an unbroken progress, the Humanities highlight in their history rather the break. The logic of progressively developing knowledge was called into question by Thomas S. Kuhn who considered the history of Science as accumulation of anomalies, as shift of paradigm. This radically new approach undermines the concept of the scientific innovation as well as that of the scientific truth. Under this aspect, innovations are not really discoveries of new theories, practices or methods but rather new-castings or re-castings of old ones. The Science Wars have not finished yet, but the in the meantime recovered Human Sciences define themselves no more as a system of discovered knowledge but as a system of socially and culturally constructed knowledge. If the validity of former scientific results is not absolute but relative, if truth is not found but made, related concepts such as new and old, innovation and reproduction must also be re-estimated. In our section, we mostly carried out intertextual analyses on such (post)modern texts or any other kind of art (film, theatre, applied art etc.) in which previous, as far as possible ancient and sacral, texts were in some way recycled (e.g. old myths, The Holy Bible, the Arabian Nights, historical documents or events from the period of the Roman Empire).

Of the 20 papers of our section 3 were presented by historians, 1 by a linguist, the others by literary theorists.

One of the papers compared the decline of the Roman Empire as depicted by Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) in his book Decline of the West (1918), with that of the modern Western societies after the First World War camouflaged in the novel Nero, the Bloody Poet (1920) by Dezső Kosztolányi (1885-1936). The paper focused also on another recycling of the same topic by Albert Camus (1913-1960) in his drama Caligula (1938). Two other papers analysed diverse events of the period of the Roman Empire from a historical point of view and found out that special political strategies of that times were recycled in an innovative way by some politicians in later historical periods.

Most of the papers analysed the relationship of the Hungarian literature to the ancient historical, philosophical and fictional sources of European and other cultures. Dezső Kosztolányi was the topic of another paper, which analysed "Death" as metaphor recycled in his poems. Two papers were devoted to Gyula Krúdy (1878-1933). One of them used the concept of the Hungarian philosopher and essayist Béla Hamvas (1897-1968) about the "Path of the elders" and "Path of the gods" in analyzing of Krúdy’s short stories. ("Path of the elders" in this context means the path of reproduction, while the "Path of the gods" could be interpreted as the path of innovation ). The paper examines the short stories as to how and why the two exclusive paths had merged in one single "discourse" in the interwar period. Krúdy’s most popular short stories, the so called Sindbad-stories, were the topic of another paper, which scrutinized the emerging of the famous hero from the Tales of the Arabian Nights in Hungarian Literature of the interwar period.

Innovation and reproduction is a distinctive local character in the Hungarian- Transylvanian literature after the First World War. One of the papers was devoted to the political solution-concept, the so called "Transylvanism" from a literary point of view by analysing the three historical novels by Miklós Bánffy (1873-195 0 ). The antagonism between the European success of the Bánffy-text Transylvanian Trilogy and the semi-canonized state of the oeuvre in Hungary indicates the complexity of the problem. A second paper focused on the Hungarian-Transylvanian literature from a religious point of view. The Orderly Resurrection by Áron Tamási (1897-1966) deals with a biblical topic, the judgement day resurrection, which bears hardly any similarity with the text of the Bible. Tamási’s texts can be understood as a re-evangelization, staying in the Christian paradigm but extending it. This kind of evangelization is full with pagan and mythological elements which work together with the Bible, and the present – mainly historical – events become a biblical feature, as well. Tamási’s texts hold a combatant dialogue with the Holy Bible.

Mythological, pagan and Christian elements of knowledge about weather, nature, harvest, words of wisdom etc. were saved, utilized and recycled in Hungarian farmers’ almanacs. One of the papers analyzed these almanacs from the point of view of innovation and reproduction in the knowledge-systems of the peasantry.

Two papers were devoted to the film- and theatre-adaptations of literary works. Putting contemporary (so called: "modern") literary masterpieces on the screen is a common trend in the film-making industry. However e-texts (electronic literature) remained still inadaptable for screen. Both papers tried to answer this phenomenon.

Two papers dealt with the recent changes in the Russian society during the last two decades which have caused some considerable restructuring not only in the mentality but also in the language of the Russian people; the most obvious one is on the lexical level, which seems to be deeply effected by the modern English vocabulary.  The English loan words thus fill a language gap in describing the new realities which confronted the Russian society in the course of "perestroika".  At the same time many Russian words of the Soviet times are considered as "historicism" nowadays. 

Two papers, devoted to the theoretical approaches of the topic "innovation and reproduction" in the (post)modern cultures, analyzed the ambivalent effects of cultural utopias and the ambivalent role of the real historical European culture in the shaping of the European literary canon.

Finally, one paper dealt with the ancient literary sources of the work of Sándor Márai (1900-1989). Hitherto intertextuality dealt mainly with the effect of contemporary German literature on his opus. However, a deeper poetic analysis shows that Márai’s novels have numerous intertextual connections. They use texts which show a great variety in age, language and genre. The short presentation of the intertextual connections of Márai’s The Sister showed that the principal pretext of the novel, in structure, genre and motifs, is one of the dialogues of Plato’s Symposium. Other pretexts which also evoke and interpret Plato’s tenets have been identified, too, and their interrelations prove that ancient texts cannot only be recycled directly but also through their interpretations in later texts. This method widens the horizons of literary interpretations, helps textual tradition survive and ensures the continuity of culture.

© Gabriella Hima (Károli University of the Reformed Church, Budapest)

9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Gabriella Hima (Károli University of the Reformed Church, Budapest): Report: Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/09_5/hima_bericht_16.htm

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 28.2.2006     INST