Section of Literary Theory

History of the Section

The Section was formed in 1962 around the Literary Theory Group that had been originally established in 1959. Its head was Lajos Nyírő until 1985, then József Szili until 1999 and András Veres since 2000. Right from the beginning, the colleagues of the Section believe that it is one of their tasks to help reaching the level of international literary theory. The colleagues acknowledged and practiced the idea of plurality – which was not too frequent in this region those times – in professional orientation and theoretical debates, and as a result the Section operated as a common workshop of various trends.

The first significant step of this pioneer transmission work was the volume titled Literary Science. Studies on the Trends of 20th-Century Literary Science. (Irodalomtudomány. Tanulmányok a XX. századi irodalomtudomány irányzatairól, 1970, editor Lajos Nyírő). The demand was similar at the publication of The History of Marxist Literary Theory. From the Beginnings to 1945 (A marxista irodalomelmélet története. A kezdetektől 1945-ig, 1981, edited by Lajos Nyírő and András Veres), which examined its subject with outstanding ideology criticism; and the study collection titled The Theory of Literary History (Az irodalomtörténet elmélete, 1989, edited by József Szili), which raised questions regarding the chances of the up-to-date interpretation of historicity.

Besides the followers of the Russian formalist school and American New Criticism, the believers of phenomenological, structuralist and semiotic approaches have also found their places at the Section. Similarly, the first Hungarian interpreters of the hermeneutical-reception aesthetic and empirist-constructivist view have also come from the Section. Its colleagues have introduced Russian, Polish, Czech structuralism to the Hungarian public, translated the basic works of Nicolai Hartmann, R. Ingarden, H-G. Gadamer and Péter Szondi (Gábor Bonyhai), E. Wellek, A. Warren, Norrthrop Frye (József Szili) and Markiewicz (Endre Bojtár). Elemér Hankiss was also a colleague of the Section when he edited the two-volume collection of studies titled Structuralism (Strukturalizmus, 1971). Hankiss was an effective popularizer of structuralism with his on works, too (From the Folk Song to the Absurd Drama. A népdaltól az abszurd drámáig, 1969).

What primarily convinced the wider local public about the importance of getting oriented in literary theory was the series on literary analysis that was launched at the turn of the 1960s and 70s. The colleagues of the Section had their share in this process with the organization and publication of debate sessions that aroused great interest. It is worth highlighting the two conference volumes edited by Elemér Hankiss (Principals That Produce Form in Poetic Creation, Formateremtő elvek a költői alkotásban, 1971; The New Methods of Short Story Analysis, A novellaelemzés új módszerei, 1971), and the conference volume titled Repetition in Art (Ismétlődés a művészetben, 1980, edited by Iván Horváth and András Veres), which is the first common document of the presence of the generation that started to work that time (together with the volume on the analysis of Arany’s poems, titled Certainty Never Reached, Az el nem ért bizonyosság, 1972, which is the work of the circle of Béla Németh G.’s students). Gábor Bonyhai also made a great impact on the development of the methodology of literary interpretation (his work written on Thomas Mann’s The Holy Sinner could only come out with a long delay in 1974). The reformation of methodology reached secondary school education, too: the colleagues of the Section (Endre Bojtár, András Veres) took part in the compilation of reform textbooks published between 1979 and 1982.

Following long preparation, the comprehensive work titled After Structuralism: Value, Poem, Effect, Story and Language in Literary Theory (Strukturalizmus után: érték, vers, hatás, történet, nyelv az irodalomelméletben, edited by József Szili) was finished at the end of the 80s. It aimed at presenting the post-structuralist problems of literary theory. The first decade of the political transition is already the time of a new generation. György Kálmán C. first presented the speech act theory, then he was dealing with translation theory and the problem of canons. Ferenc Odorics introduced the empiricist-constructivist approach in Hungary. Gábor Bezeczky did pioneer work in the field of the metaphor and narration (his book titled Metaphor, Narration, Sociolinguistics – Metafora  narráció, szociolingvisztika – published in 2002, reached great professional success).

From the mid-1990s, the problem of the interpreting communities and the dialogical relationship has come into the foreground (The Theory of the Interpreting Communities, Az értelmező közösségek elmélete, 2001, edited by György Kálmán C.; Variations on the Dialogue, Változatok a dialógusra, in a special thematic volume of the periodical Helikon – nr. 2001/1. – edited by László Varga). Between 2001 and 2004, the Section of Literary Theory used to be the centre of the Széchenyi-project called The Methodological Traditions and Present-Day Possibilities of National Literary History Writing (A nemzeti irodalomtörténet-írás módszertani hagyományai és mai lehetőségei, supervisor András Veres), which integrated the work of the Institute for Literary Studies and three universities (the University of Pécs, Szeged and Miskolc). The conference volume titled The Chance of Literary History (Az irodalomtörténet esélye) was issued within the frameworks of this research programme. The volume intended to strengthen the position of literary history writing that started to loose confidence in its original principles. The colleagues of the Section played significant roles in the preparation of the new Hungarian literary history manual (The Histories of Hungarian Literature I-III, A magyar irodalom történetei I–III.) edited by Mihály Szegedy-Maszák.

The book series titled Opus. Studies on Literary Theory (Opus. Irodalomelméleti tanulmányok) was published in the 1970s and 1980s: it was edited by Gábor Bonyhai and its workshop was the Section of Literary Theory. In 2000, a new sequence of Opus was launched, edited by György Kálmán C. and András Veres (its first volume was the Complete Works – Összegyűjtött művei – of Gábor Bonyhai who died in 1996). Its most recent piece (in 2014) was Zoltán Z. Varga’s book titled Autobiographic Fragment, Found Text (Önéletrajzi töredék, talált szöveg), which examines significant authors autobiographical texts that had not been written for publication. All the members of the Section take part in editing the periodicals of the Institute. Péter Hajdu and Zoltán Z. Varga are the editors of Neohelicon, while László Varga is the editor-in-chief of Helikon, and András Veres is the editor-in-chief of Literatura. The managing editor of the latter one is Gábor Bezeczky, its editors are György Kálmán C. and Dávid Szolláth. Éva Jeney is a member of the editorial board of the review magazine of the Institute titled rec.iti.

In recent years, the Section has launched a conference series called The Turning Points of the History of Modern Literary Theory (A modern irodalomelmélet történetének fordulópontjai), which deals with the actual questions of literary theory and the history of literary theory. At the consultation in May 2013, there were for example the following presentations given (later all of them were published): The Possibilities of Re-Discovery – Systems and Literary Theory; The American New Critics’ Approach to Society; Roland Barthes’s Theory of the Text After 40 Years; The Almighty Reader; On the Development of the Concept of the Author (Az újrafelfedezés lehetőségei – rendszerek és irodalomelmélet; Az amerikai új kritikusok társadalomszemlélete; Roland Barthes szövegelmélete negyven év múltán; A mindenható olvasó; A szerző fogalmának alakulásáról). The Section (together with the Section of Modern Hungarian Literature and the Central and Eastern European Section) participates in the preparation of the 3rd volume of the manual of the Institute (András Veres is the co-editor of the volume).

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