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The Practical Past as a Field of Metahistorical Approach. Some Remarks on the Contemporary Situation of Historical Theory

Abstract

The narrative theory of history that studies historical works from the viewpoint of their narrative, rhetorical devices, and ideological strategies highly emphasized the necessity of renewing historiography. In his early essays, the trend’s founding father, Hayden White, positioned history between art and science or fiction and reality and defined the role of historical theory as a kind of “critical historiography” that is both a criticism of actual historical works and a prescriptive theoretical approach with which the contemporary historical discipline can reform itself. This renewal basically meant a formal reorganization with which the historical works and the historical discipline itself could come closer to literature by using narrative methods and rhetorical devices of recent literary works and films. However, after the 1990s, White and his followers had to face some radical problems that compelled them to rethink the role of recent historiography and their theoretical positions as well. Firstly, the so-called “new” historiography did not actually come into existence, or at least not in a way they suggested. Secondly, new forms of “unofficial” history, from varieties of public history through conspiracy theories to contemporary historical fictions, forced to reconceptualize the task of historical theory and its approach to the social and ideological functions of “official” history. Analysing some recently published works of this trend (above all, Hayden White’s concept of “modernist event” and his distinction between two forms of the past, theoretical and practical), my essay tries to define the situation of historical theory among the forms of contemporary historical experience.

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Postmodern Romance and the Illusion-Making Tendencies of Historiography

Abstract

The paper proposes a reading of romance in terms of postmodernism by establishing a connection between feminism and postmodernism’s questioning of historical and cultural representation. The aim is to reveal how history, no longer governed by the urge to find the “truth”, gives prominence to the uncertain, the extraordinary, the fantastic, which are the main ingredients of romance.

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Literature as Enchantment or the Regained Grandeur of the Novel: An Essay on Salman Rushdie’s Novel The Enchantress of Florence

Abstract

My essay intends to analyze the dialectic relationship between historical reality and fiction in the novel The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. I will point out a sophisticated and playful story in which the author interweaves elements of history and literature, a game-story that transcends the canonical limits of postmodernism where the novel has constantly been placed by the critical establishment, and goes back to the beginnings, to the anthropological function of play as an essential human activity that was once defined by Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture. Moreover, my paper will explore how this play becomes Rushdie’s attempt to return to the original function of literature which used to enchant and inform at the same time. Once these roots have been reached, however, and the secondary reality of the literary game is well-established, Rushdie manages to break the barriers between reality and fiction, and through versatile textual mechanisms, to intermingle history and reality in a way that makes them merge. Consequently, he composes a play within fiction that is just as powerful as reality itself and suggests the fact that representation has more ontological consistency than the represented body or event itself. We exist as long as we are written and talked about, and nothing in the order of reality can be as powerful as the reality of language.

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“Journeys are Meaningful” (Travelling, Travellers, Literary Periods, Literary Journeys)

Abstract

If the changes of the “discourse networks” (Aufschreibesysteme) from 1800 to 1900 model the relations pertaining to the personality, to the cultural determinedness of technology and personality as well as to their interconnections (Kittler 1995), especially having in view the literary mise en scène, it applies all the more to travelling - setting out on a journey, heading towards a destination, pilgrimage and/or wandering as well as the relationship between transport technology and personality. The changes taking place in “transport” are partly of technological, partly (in close connection with the former) indicative of individual and collective claims. The diplomatic, religious, commercial and educational journeys essentially belong to the continuous processes of European centuries; however, the appearance of the railway starts a new era at least to the same extent as the car and the airplane in the twentieth century. The journeys becoming systematic and perhaps most tightly connected to pilgrimages from the Middle Ages on assured the “transfer” of ideas, attitudes and cultural materials in the widest sense; the journeys and personal encounters (of course, taking place, in part, through correspondence) of the more cultured layers mainly, are to be highly appreciated from the viewpoint of the history of mentalities and society.

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The Image of Transylvania in the Works of Two Contemporary Romanian Historians. Translation and Related Views on History

Abstract

“As every inhabited area, culturally Transylvania can also be conceived of mainly as a symbolic space. Starting from its physical, material reality, our perceptions are made up into a subjective image of the area in question. This is the real Transylvania, or rather, the place in connection with which we formulate our ideas and to which we adjust our deeds. This image may seem so real also because it is equally shared by many, occasionally several millions. If many see things in the same way, we could say, this means that they are so in reality, though most of the time we only share prejudices, clichés and misunderstandings” - Sorin Mitu writes. Comparative imagology examines the formation of these collective ideas as well as the issues of identity and attitude to the Other. As a member of the imagology research group at the Department of Humanities of Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania, Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, I translated one chapter of Sorin Mitu’s volume entitled Transilvania mea [My Transylvania]. During the translation process it became obvious to me that if translation is not only linguistic but also cultural transmission, it is especially true for the translation of historical works and that it would be worth examining whether some kind of rapprochement could be detected between the Romanian and Hungarian historical research of the past decades; if yes, whether this is reflected in the mutual translation of the respective works

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Azerbaijan in the account of the trip to the East by Felice De Vecchi (1841-1842)

Abstract

The article aims to illustrate how Azerbaijan appeared in the eyes of an Italian who, in the first half of the nineteenth century, had the opportunity to visit it during a trip to Constantinople. Between 1841 and 1842, Felice De Vecchi, a wealthy Milanese passionate about painting and travel, embarked on a journey, together with his naturalist friend Gaetano Osculati, to Constantinople and then, through Persia, visited India. He kept a diary of that journey, only recently found in its almost totality, dedicating an entire chapter to Azerbaijan, the “land of fires”. From his account, rich in anthropological and pictorial notations, emerges a very well-defined sketch that does not hide the wonder of those who meet housing situations and customs far from their country of origin. In order not to lose the most emotional component contained in De Vecchi’s writing, the frequent quotations of passages from the diary are presented in the English translation, followed by the original text in nineteenth-century Italian.

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Towards a Reflexive Ethnography: (Re-)inserting the Producer and Process Into the Research Equation

Abstract:

The individualistic orientation of life histories has long been hailed as an antidote to the generalizing tendencies of ethnographic research. However, the life history method is not without problems of its own, as I explain by referencing some of the most well celebrated life histories and so-called ‘autobiographies’ in the anthropological corpus. The traditional method of composing the life history as a flowing narrative is not only morally dishonest but also intellectually inadequate because it conveys the false impression of a chronologically timeless and uninterrupted soliloquy. By focusing only on the final product, life histories ignore the other two components in the communicative process. In this article, I emphasize the need to (re-)insert the producer and process into the research equation.

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Empathy or Empathies? Uncertainties in the Interdisciplinary Discussion

Summary

The term empathy has become a linguistic commonplace in everyday communication as well as in interdisciplinary research. The results of the research questions, raised in the last hundred (and more) years, coming from different areas, such as aesthetics, psychology, neurosciences and literary theory, lack in fact a clear concept of empathy. Not surprisingly, a recent paper has identified up to 43 distinct definitions of empathy in academic publications. By reconstructing the main research lines on empathy, our paper highlights the reasons for this conceptual inadequacy and the deficiencies in the theorization of empathy that create misleading interpretations thereof. Along the line connecting Plato’s insights on empathic experiences to the present neuroscientific experiments, a broad spectrum of issues is deployed for which “empathy” functions as an umbrella term covering a net of categorical relationships – projection, transfer, association, expression, animation, anthropomorphization, vivification, fusion, and sympathy – that only partially overlap. Our paper therefore recommends that “empathy” should not be assumed as a self-evident notion but instead preliminarily clarified in its definition every time we decide to have recourse to it.

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THE SEA AND WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARE’S FIRST TETRALOGY

Abstract

The garden is a powerful imagery in Shakespeare history plays, yet the sea also plays an important role. By discussing episodes and metaphors related to the sea in Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, this paper aims to demonstrate Shakespeare’s macro-spatial perspective of England as an island, whose history is influenced by elements on and across the sea. The paper also examines Shakespeare’s dramatization of women’s interconnections with the sea. It attempts to contextualize Shakespeare’s dramatic representation of the sea and of women within English Renaissance maritime culture.

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Quo Vadis, Homo Viator? / Journeys in Jože Hradil’s Faceless Pictures

Abstract

In Jože Hradil’s Faceless Pictures [Slike brez obrazov] the characters go astray or get into the attraction of adventures and set off for a journey. The spiritual and identity shifts can be interpreted along these eternal human desires as well. A patchwork of remembering and forgetting, the internal journeys of identity preservation, spontaneous or forced assimilation, tolerance and all kinds of politics-induced human deformations are depicted in the novel. The text traces the roles of the journey defined by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant such as the search for justice, peace, immortality and finding the spiritual center. This study examines how the concrete physical journey changes into an internal road determining the evolution of personality.

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