This volume brings together some of the papers delivered at the International Conference on Canon and Value, organised by the “Tudor Vianu” Interdisciplinary Centre of European and Romanian Studies, and at the Colloquium on Literary History in Movement, organised by the Romanian General and Comparative Literature Association, hosted by the University of Suceava, in July 2013.
At the Conference on Canon and Value hosted by the University of Bucharest, the keynote speaker was Professor Georges Vigarello (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales). We had the honour of receiving a few introductory pages from Professor Jean Starobinski (University of Geneva).
The main goal of the conference was to rekindle the interest in the issue of (literary, artistic) value, at a time when even the extensive debates over the canon seemed to overlook it or approach it exclusively by underlining the contingent nature of value. The canonical debate seems to have exhausted its polemical resources in the Western world, and in the United States it is deemed to be anachronistic. In Romania and in Eastern Europe, for reasons stemming from decades of communist totalitarianism, available to whomever is interested in knowing them, this debate has not lost its topicality.
Our historical experience and our critical tradition urge us to see the canon and canonicity mainly from an axiological perspective which has been disregarded over recent years to the extent of authorising us to speak about a genuine “exile of evaluation”.
We do not believe in the absolutism of values: their historicity, sociality, and contextuality are beyond doubt. Notwithstanding this, being aware of their dependences, interdependences, and contingencies of any kind, which are instrumental in building the canon, should not prevent us from being aware of the values as such – values whose own dynamism does not prevent them from existing and functioning in a specific way, values which, in our opinion, cannot be confined to the conditions they depend upon.
Can we speak about a literary and artistic canon in the absence of their constitutive aesthetic values? Has the aesthetic value become completely irrelevant to the Postmodern stage of arts and literatures?
These issues prompted us to attempt to oppose the axiological nihilism of our times and to deal with the problematic diversity of the canon from the vantage point of value, aesthetic value included. Obviously, things cannot be separated, the canon and its formation being phenomena of a highly dynamic complexity. Nonetheless, certain nuances can and must be pointed out; directing the focus of the discussion towards value and valorisation automatically requires us to choose to tackle certain aspects and omit others. At this point, we are neither interested in the representation and self‑representation function of the canon, nor in the way it relates to individual or collective identity.
We can neither overlook the power relations which are at work when it comes to enforcing the canon, nor exaggerate their importance by dealing with the canon as the exclusive outcome of their play in a certain field and at a given historical time.
The purpose of these introductory remarks is not to enforce a certain point of view: we have encouraged opposite opinions as well, provided that they should not elude the intricate issue of value.
Some of the topics to ponder on:
– The relationship between the aesthetic value and other values in literature and in contemporary art;
– Values and the permeability of cultures;
– The phenomenological perspective on the aesthetic value;
– The pragmatic perspective on the aesthetic value;
– Aesthetic value – the monopoly of the ruling classes?
– Can we speak about a canon of Postmodern literature?
The second topic of this volume – Literary History in Movement – is somehow linked to the former and was chosen as a follow‑up to the debate on Cultural Studies, to be dealt with in the forthcoming issue of our magazine. Within this general framework, we suggested a few subtopics which, unfortunately, were only partially approached by the participants:
– Is a comparative history of literature possible (and how)?
– Is a conceptual history of literature possible (and how)?
– Is a cultural history of literature possible (and how)?
– Is a synchronous perspective on literary history possible (and how)?
a) Issues related to genre in literary history;
b) Typology/typologies in literary history;
c) Periodisation criteria in literary history;
d) Benefits and risks of bringing literary history up to date.
Our attention has been focused on how to renew the perspectives, methods and terminology of this discipline. The emphasis on international landmarks does not mean in the least that we moved away from Romanian examples and references: here, we have mainly tried to avoid empiricism and self‑sufficient subjectivism. Our aim has been to trace the relationships between literary history, on the one hand, and the history of ideas and mentalities, the history of literary life, literary geography and historical anthropology, on the other. Participants were encouraged to direct their research towards certain issues in particular, but submissions were not limited to the suggested topics.
Let us mention some of them:
– The ordering and formative role of concepts in literary history (conceptualisations and re‑conceptualisations);
– A literary history of culture or a cultural history of literature?
– Can literary history do without a systematisation and classification into genres,
periods, schools, themes and epistemes?
– Conditions for a trans‑cultural literary history.