2016-09-02Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1515/jlt-2016-0012
Lässt sich literarischer Wandel erklären? Struktur, Gültigkeitsbedingungen und Reichweite verschiedener Erklärungstypen in der Literaturgeschichtsschreibung
Although literary critics continue to make programmatic claims about not only describing but also explaining literary change, and numerous textbooks and individual studies in literary history insinuate or claim to explain literary change, explanations of literary change are as of yet insufficiently reflected in the field’s methodology. Is it at all possible to provide explanations in literary history, where no strict laws have been discovered yet? If yes, what do these explanations look like and in which circumstances are they valid? Understanding literary change as the variance in a specific genre’s instantiation over time, this paper works from the point of departure of explanatory pluralism, the assumption that scientific explanations are to a certain degree discipline-specific and that various different types of explanations exist. The paper aims at an interpenetration of theory and practice and therefore analyzes different types of explanations through a concrete example of literary change. In particular, it focuses on the boom of fictional essay writing that occurred during the first third of the 20th century in German-speaking countries, thus analyzing the two trends of the fictionalization of the essay and the insertion of essayistic passages into fictional texts (e. g., the essayistic novel). The paper examines causal, statistical, intentional, functional, teleological and structural explanations for this literary change. Causal explanations, it is argued, cannot be employed as long as no general laws for literary change have been identified. However, it is possible to identify certain causal factors for literary change through the interplay of biographic and intertextual studies, which can be further validated by statistical approaches. Intentional explanations of literary change can generally be created through the time-consuming process of collecting explanations for the writing of single works, but they face the problem that author’s intentions, as reported in self-commentaries or poetological texts, are often too unspecific or too specific for the work being explained. Functional explanations face two difficulties. First, literature rarely solves social problems, and therefore the benefit that functional explanations presuppose can usually only consist in the thematization of social problems. Second, the causal feedback mechanism that underlies functional explanations presupposes a mechanism for social selection amongst works of literature that promotes works that have social benefit. However, only a very idealized literature market could provide for social selection along these lines. Teleological explanations, which ascribe inherent development trends to genres, are not only dubious from the perspective of the philosophy of science, but fail to explain why these trends manifest themselves in specific historical situations. Structural explanations identify underlying ›deep structures‹ of text corpora that might correspond to social or ideational structures. These explanations, however, are also questionable, because they usually don’t provide information about the causal mechanisms that may lead to this correspondence. Two consequences, this paper argues, can be drawn from the analysis of various types of explanation of literary change. Concluding that full-fledged explanations of literary change are either very time-consuming and laborious (statistical and additive intentional explanations), or only employable under specific conditions and idealizing background assumptions (functional explanations), it suggests the following. First, literary scholars could revise their practice of answering ›why‹ questions in literary history and abstain from explaining literary change except in those cases when they elaborated full-fledged explanations. Second, alternatively, they could continue their existing practice but refrain from describing it as ›explaining‹ literary change. Instead, they could describe their activity in less demanding terms, e. g. as ›the search for overarching narratives‹, which nevertheless is of value in terms of didactics, knowledge synthesis, or the reduction of complexity.
Dieser Beitrag ist mit Zustimmung des Rechteinhabers aufgrund einer (DFG-geförderten) Allianz- bzw. Nationallizenz frei zugänglich.