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Aesthetic distance as a form of liminality in selected short stories of American literature

Abstract

Aesthetic distance is a phenomenon that has attracted a considerable amount of attention, especially since the first works of postmodernism came to light. Aesthetic distance is based on creating such works which - using certain artistic tools and techniques - break the illusion and thus inhibit readers from immersing themselves in the literary world portrayed in the work they read. As a result, aesthetic distance creates a liminal space, or an invisible but consciously perceivable border between reality, i.e. the world we live in and fiction, i.e. the world we want to relocate to and enjoy during the reading process. The paper is based on an article by Bjorn Thomassen, in which he presents several types of liminality and states that the typology is not final. My aim is to prove that liminality can occur in literature as well, particularly in works built on aesthetic distance. In this matter, I focus on the reception theory of Wolfgang Iser, who studies literary texts from three perspectives: the text, the reader and the communication between the two. The theory is applied to selected short stories of American literature, which contain illusion-breaking features and thus may be viewed as liminal spaces.

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Hawthorne’s Rome – A city of evil, political and religious corruption and violence

Abstract

Hawthorne’s Rome is the home of dark and evil catacombs. It is a city haunted by evil spirits from the past that actively shape the romance’s plot. Rome’s dark gardens, endless staircases, hidden corners and vast catacombs, as well as the malodorous Jewish ghetto, affect Donatello’s and Miriam’s judgment, almost forcing them to get rid of the Model, Miriam’s persecutor. Hawthorne’s narrator’s shockingly violent, harsh and seemingly anti-Semitic description of the ghetto in Rome is just one among many similarly ruthless, and at times offensive, accounts of the city wherein Hawthorne situates his last completed romance, The Marble Faun. Hawthorne’s two-year stay in Rome in 1858-59 sets the scene for his conception of The Marble Faun. In addition to providing Hawthorne with the extensive contact with art and artists that undoubtedly affected the choice of his protagonists (Kenyon, a sculptor; Hilda and Miriam, painters), Italy exposed Hawthorne to Jewish traditions and history, as well as to the life of Jews in the Roman ghetto. Most probably it also aroused his interest in some of the political affairs in which Italian Jews were involved in the 1840s and 50s. This historical background, especially the well-publicized abduction and conversion of a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, in 1858 provides important political and cultural background for Hawthorne’s portrayal of Miriam in The Marble Faun.

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Jane Austen Americanized: The democratic principle in recent adaptations of Emma

Abstract

When they first reached an American readership, Jane Austen’s novels enjoyed mixed reactions among intellectuals. The main charge levelled against Jane Austen’s fiction was that it conflicted with the democratic principles American society was based on. The next century brought about an explosion in the attention paid to Jane Austen, whether via adaptations, spinoffs, biopics, musicals, detective fiction, scholarly texts, societies or even websites. Most of these creative extensions of Jane Austen’s ideas (and her personality) seem to embrace contemporary American values and sensibilities and therefore, logically, make attempts at revising some of the less palatable aspects of the English society of the Regency era. This paper focuses on two prime examples of such a revisionist approach to Jane Austen’s most classconscious novel, Emma, in Douglas McGrath’s eponymous 1996 film adaptation and in Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s 1995 satirical film based on the same novel.

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Protected values and the meaning of life in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead

Abstract

The paper examines the protected values in Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead (2004). The aim of the study is to show the significance of three major values, namely faith, family and education. It also attempts to suggest how complexly these values interrelate and eventually represent the central tenets of the life worth living.

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Towards freedom and social awareness: Hopeful narratives and performatives in American theatre and literature

Abstract

The paper addresses the complexity of social issues in contemporary American society through the prism of its reflection in theatre and literature. The characteristic features of American narratives and performatives are freedom and an almost utopian belief in diversity and social understanding. At the same time, the discussed works present a comprehensive look at social issues using a great variety of forms and genres, and appealing to the aesthetic sensitivity of different groups of recipients. In the face of future problems in the political arena, American art offers an interesting transatlantic perspective on the complexity of 21st-century issues which are relevant all over the world.

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Communication across cultures: ideological implications of Sam Selvon’s linguistic inventiveness

Abstract

In the postcolonial context, language represents one of the crucial tools of cultural communication and is therefore often a subject of heated discussion. Since language constitutes the framework of cultural interaction, postcolonial authors often challenge the privileged position of Standard English within their writing by modifying and substituting it with new forms and varieties. The Trinidad-born writer Sam Selvon belongs to a handful of Caribbean authors who initiated linguistic experiments in the context of Caribbean literature and is considered one of the first Caribbean writers to employ dialect in a novel. His 1956 novel The Lonely Londoners reflects the possibilities of vernacular experimentation and thus communicates the specific experience of a particular cultural group in an authentic way.

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Ethnic humour in a multicultural society

Abstract

The coexistence of different cultures in specific pluralistic settings not only has positive but also negative impacts. Besides exchanging cultural contents within a multicultural environment, societies use humour as a form of social interaction, which reinforces cultural interrelationships as well as ethnical differences. However, humour differs from culture to culture and from individual to individual. On the one hand, it develops social cohesion, fosters positive relations and increases the self-identification of the individual in relation to other ethnic groups, but on the other hand, it functions as an acceptable and tolerated form of aggression in a particular society. The bipolar character of humour stems from its status and functions. It serves both as a social unifier and a social separator. The most common paradigms of humour in social discourse are ethnic jokes or cartoons that are often built on fixed ethnic/racial stereotypes leading to social categorization but also to fast and correct decoding of semantic information by an audience. Ethnic jokes are social thermometers, recording and measuring the level of sensitivity towards specific cultural groups. The main aim of this paper is to introduce ethnic humour and its key functions in the context of ongoing cultural interactions and changes.

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From the diasporic to the transnation: Catherine Temma Davidson’s The Priest Fainted

Abstract

This paper analyses the depiction of the main female protagonists of Catherine Temma Davidson’s novel The Priest Fainted (1998) in the context of the symbolic formation of the hybrid identity of the main female character and narrator which is close to Bill Ascroft’s concept of the transnation. The author of this paper analyses Davidson’s depiction of three generations of female protagonists with a Greek cultural background and the way they symbolically represent the transition from a traditional diasporic identity (the narrator’s grandmother), through multicultural and transnational identity (her mother) up to the identity close to the concept of the transnation as defined by Bill Aschroft (the narrator herself). At the same time, the formation of such a cultural identity is understood as a symbolic formation of female independence and the rejection of a patriarchal society, religious bigotry and conservative values as represented, in the narrator’s and her mother’s view, by contemporary Greece.

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The humanistic aspect of Alexander McCall Smith’s African detective fiction

Abstract

The text presents some of the unusual features of Alexander McCall Smith’s popular African detective stories, in which cultural elements convey humanity and thus lower tension, the characteristic sign of detective fiction. Culture, in particular the African collectivist culture included in the core of these stories, creates a milieu that enables the writer to avoid murders, which are usually basic conflict-conveying vehicles in this genre. Although McCall Smith’s African books contain the conventional formal elements of detective stories, they also display a very low level of tension together with other peculiarities. This text tries to compare the structure and elements of classic detective stories with those from McCall Smith’s books to disclose their true essence.

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On the dehumanizing universe of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer: the code of obscenity and its interaction with other elements

Abstract

The following article shows why Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer should not be labelled as a pornographic nor dehumanizing novel through the prism of a scientific and nonsentimental approach. The author of the article argues that even though Henry Miller creates in his novel a certain project of dehumanization, the article explains how usage of poetic language prevents Tropic of Cancer being a sexist insult to woman as often claimed by the feministic discourse of the 1980s and 1990s. Reacting to the popular and standardized interpretational traditions, the article contributes to the discourse about the dehumanizing aspects of Henry Miller’s novel by analysing the code of obscenity present in the materia of literary text. The code of obscenity is put into context with other features of materia of Miller’s text in order to explain how its specific “energy” functions. The author of the article applies the thinking of influential Russian literary scholars such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Yuri Lotman on the autonomous world of a literary text.

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