Kirjandusteoreetilise ühendvälja poole / Unified Theoretical Field Perspectives

Arne Merilai


Estonian cultural studies constitute a rich and promising area of research. This area is uniquely positioned to bring together the vast array of methodological approaches that increasingly have come to define our postmodern mindscape. It allows us to more productively unpack salient aspects of national and world literature and to bring into sharper focus the role of the humanities in general. Contemporary research, teaching and supervisory activities in the university environment proceed from an unprecedented openness to multiple differences, older and newer constructions and deconstructions, congruent or incongruent points of view, active merging of many paradigms, intra- or interdisciplinary, and a permanent disposition towards innovation.

There are theoretical clusters that focus on the form and structure of a work, combining with linguistic and stylistic, author-centred or reader-centred approaches; intertextual relations; content-driven, i.e., socio-semantic and historical interpretations; and complex combinations of all of these.

As a result, contemporary literary research has to integrate an overwhelmingly rich multitude of different productive methods to encompass both levels of mimesis and poiesis, in their respective hermeneutic circles: literary historical, textological, bio-bibliographical and reception studies; close reading, poetic, linguistic, structuralist, semiotic, narratological; intertextual, translation-theoretical; psychoanalytical, cognitivistic; socio-psychological – including gender and memory studies, post-colonialism, new historicism, ecocriticism – as well as intercultural studies; post-structuralist discursive, hermeneutical-phenomenological, mytho-theoretical; analytical philosophical, formal statistical, digital and other current and plausible approaches.

Such anthological versatility en gros is necessary as different authors, types of texts, phenomena, traditions and levels can actualise separate points of view, networks and methodologies. Thus, the in-depth study of literatures, avoiding shallow eclecticism and levelling synthesis, should be implemented within a comprehensive, unified meta-multi-theoretical field that integrates diverse paradigms and polylogical perspectives central to the humanities today. The theorisations may be exclusively collateral, have inclusive intersections or be more generally congenial. The use of one cluster does not exclude the consideration of others, even opposing ones. Although the comparative meta-theory, or general poetics, does not aim to erase inevitable and inspiring incoherencies, a synchronisation of meta-languages can often be achieved at the appropriate levels of description, even between analytical and continental language philosophy evident in pragmapoetics (q.v. Merilai 2003, 2007a, b). While the humanities encourage diversity, no scholar, however astute, is expected to have a full command of all relevant discourses within the whole polysystem; hence the need for shared synergies.


theory of literature; literary unified field theory; methodology; comparative poetics; pragmapoetics; polysystem

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