Intertextuality and National Literatures in the Context of Comparative Literature Research


  • Anneli Mihkelev Tallinna Ülikool, Eesti Keele ja Kultuuri Instituut, Slaavi Keelte ja Kultuuride Instituut



intertextuality, multimediality, transtextuality, influence, symbolism, myths, memory, modernist poetry


20th-century literary theory discovered another possible way for world literature to exist and include all national literatures and cultures: the concepts of ‘intertextuality’ and / or ‘multimediality’ mean that contacts between cultural texts work as a network and this network includes national literatures, i.e. intertextuality and / or multimediality creates world literature. All European cultures have common sources from Ancient Greece and Rome and the Bible, which means that translations have played a very important role in European culture. Authors who use other literary works also interpret them and this gives new meaning to their works. The term ‘dialogue’, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s sense, plays a crucial role in the intertextual process. If we speak of influences, dialogue is not the crucial phenomenon on the contrary; influence is a more hierarchical phenomenon. It seems that intertextuality, especially postmodern intertextuality, avoids hierarchical communication, instead working with the dialogical relationship between the author, text and reader. Intertextuality and/ or multimediality have a great potential to connect different texts and literatures in the world. The dialogical relationships between different texts and authors are significant because the postmodernist era destroyed hierarchies, or at least tried to destroy them. This means that all literatures, including small languages and literatures, have the possibility of being world literature, offering the opportunity for comparative literary research. The paper analyzes several poets and poems from different small countries. The Irish poet W.B. Yeats was an innovator in Irish poetry and drama. He combined national myths and fantasy with a symbolist style and the main pathos in his poetry is connected with the freedom of Ireland. Finnish poet Eino Leino used very old national motifs in his poetry, and there is a tension between the older romantic tradition and the contemporary styles he used. There are mystical elements and intertextual connections from the Finnish epic Kalevala, as well as from fairy-tales and folk songs, in Leino’s poetry. Leino was also influenced by the German poet Heinrich Heine. Eino Leino was also the Estonian poet Gustav Suits’ friend and he influenced Suits’ poetry. Estonian poets Heiti Talvik’s poetry represents how intertextuality makes possible ambivalence meaning, the poet uses biblical myths in the new context. The contemporary Estonian prose writer and poet Ene Mihkelson refers to the Bible in her poetry and novels. She uses one of the common sources of European culture, but at the same time she speaks of Estonian history and destiny or, in other words, she uses the Bible to describe her national culture, describing and learning via another culture. All these examples demonstrate a very important aspect of the textual relationship: text memory and the great potential to connect different texts intertextuality and / or multimediality.


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