Perm State University, Russia
The “novel of culture” and its historical poetics
Abstract: The “novel of culture” remains in the focus of the modern literary criticism. The general cultural synthesis, pointed out by all the researchers, is connected with the boundary position of the “novel of culture”. Its origins are discovered in Metamorphoseon by Apuleis (the contacts of Egyptian, Grecian and Roman cultures in it). The motif of wandering through the space of culture is typical for the “novel of culture” (Landscape Painted with Tea by Milorad Pavić). In Europe origins of the “novel of culture” appeared in the 18th -19th centuries (Wilhelm Meisters Wanderungen by Goethe). There is formed the “art romance” as a kind of the “novel of culture” in European and American Romanticism (from Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen by Tieck to The Marble Faun by Hawthorne). Different historical modifications of the “novel of culture” are changing one another in Symbolism (from A Rebours by Huysmans), in Modern (from Ulysses by Joyce) and especially in Postmodern.
Keywords: Russian Literature; Novel of culture; Künstlerroman; Genre; Comparative Studies; Historical Poetics; Motif of Creativity.
In Russia the novel of culture has been analyzed both by philologists (Vladimir Dneprov, Valerij Pesterev) and by philosophers (Ludmila Berdyugina, Vitim Kruglikov). It was defined by V. Dneprov as “a new genre of the 20th century literature, in which the historical time is reflected through a synthesis of the cultural epoch”. L. Berdyugina specified the meaning of the term having differentiated between “the novel of art culture” (which can be read according to special laws of music and painting thanks to its particular poetics) and “the novel of culture” (its new method is the synthesis of philosophy and fiction). But the latter is often called the philosophical or intellectual novel.
The universal synthesis of the novel of culture manifests itself in the dialogue of cultures (East and West, national and historical), in the interaction of cultural forms (language, myth, religion, art, science) as well as the interaction of arts (“the verbal modelling of non-verbal arts”). The general cultural synthesis, pointed out by all the researchers, is connected with the boundary position of the novel of culture.
I discover its origins in Metamorphoseon by Apuleius while researching the contacts of the Egyptian, Grecian and Roman cultures in it. This text is “an archeform” of the novel of culture. Its esthetic dominant are cultural metamorphoses. The main character does not only transform from a man into an ass, he transfers (rebirths with water) from Lucius of Corinth (“Hymettos Attica et Isthmos Ephyrea et Taenaros Spartiatica, glebae felices aeternum libris felicioribus conditae, mea vetus prosapia est”, Apul. I.1) to Apuleius of Madura (“audisse mitti sibi Madaurensem”, Apul. XI.27), from the Greek culture (Plutarch) to the Roman civilization, and “returns” to the Egyptian mythology (the mysteries of Isis and Osiris).
These metamorphoses, as the author says, suit the linguistic metamorphosis (the mixture of the native and foreign languages): “…ibi linguam Atthidem primis pueritiae stipendiis merui. Mox in urbe Latia advena studiorum Quiritium indigenam sermonem aerumnabili labore nullo magistro praeeunte aggressus excolui. En ecce praefamur veniam, siquid exotici ac forensis sermonis rudis locutor offendero. Iam haec equidem ipsa vocis immutatio desultoriae scientiae stilo quem accessimus respondet” (Apul. I.1). For example, the old woman in her “pleasant tale” uses the Greek word Psyche and the Latin word Cupido. But the author and his main character can’t read the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Magic in Metamorphoseon is compared with the skill of the juggler or the gymnast and with the knotted staff of the god of Medicine (Apul. I.4). This Greek art of metamorphoses is like a narration of stories, “verbal pyrotechnics” and the weave of tales. “In fact this linguistic metamorphosis suits the style of the writing I have adopted here – the same sort of trick, you might say, as that employed by a circus-rider who leaps from one horse to another – for the romance on which I am embarking is adapted from the Greek” (trans. adapted from those of Walsh & Kenney by Benjamin Slade).
Using the modern terminology we can define Metamorphoseon as “the text into the text”, Lucius of Patrae’s Greek fable and Milesian tales into Apuleius’ novel. The last one includes myths and anecdotes, rhetorical passages and tales of brigands, magic ceremonies and religious devotions, theatre performances and carnival processions.
At the centre of the “Chinese-box” structure of Apuleius’ Metamorphoseon is the tale of Cupid and Psyche which is absent in Lucian’s variant. Probably this tale was not invented by Apuleius, but it became a parable to the main subject of his Metamorphoseon. Its functions are similar to those of Klingsor’s tale in Novalis’ novel of culture Heinrich von Ofterdingen.
The researchers of Metamorphoseon point out its main idea as a man’s attempt to solve the universe mystery, “a secret of rose”. That’s why the motif of the clue and investigation became very popular in the novel of culture from Umberto Eco to Dan Brown.
Another feature of the novel of culture is a dialogue with a reader to attract his attention and to induce him to creativity. But Apuleius promises only to entertain a reader, “to stroke your approving ears with some elegant whispers” (Walsh trans.): “Lector intende: laetaberis” (Apul. I.1).
These features are clearly revealed in the postmodern novel of culture Landscape Painted with Tea by Milorad Pavić. The main character transforms from Serbian Atanas Svilar in Belgrade into Russian Athanasius Razin in California; he has double birth as the son of a Serbian soldier in the monastery and as the son of a Russian mathematician in Siberia.
This metamorphosis has wide cultural prospects in the past (the history of religion) and in the present (after the Second World War). It is connected with the linguistic metamorphoses.
Before the mixture of languages the Edomites “spoke Coptic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Georgian, and Syrian, or kept silent in one of these languages”. After the separation “one can distinguish between quiet and silence. For a man with a heart full of silence and a man with a heart full of quiet cannot be alike”. Athanasius Razin knows that “not” in Greek and “not” in Hebrew have different meanings. He distinguishes the same language in Doric as Serbian and in Gothic as Croatian. Each language has its own colour, TOD and season. In Belgrade occupied by Germans people were learning French in the morning, German in the afternoon, English in the evening and Russian at night. Amalia Riznich’s family was speaking German in autumn, Polish or Russian in winter, Greek in spring and Serbian in summer. The main character changes his name, fatherland and language. He writes in English with the Cyrillic alphabet, in German with Greek letters, in Russian with the Roman alphabet. In his autobiography Pavić compares learning languages with metamorphoses of a werewolf.
In Landscape Painted with Tea the tragic transfer from some culture into another appears in the allegorical image of a soul which changed its own body. Vitacha Milut’s soul freed itself from an old cracked alto and took a new magnificent Italian soprano. She changes her name, place of residence, profession, voice, but doesn’t understand Italian. She forgot the native language, but can’t learn the strange one.
Pavić’s Landscape Painted with Tea has a complicated structure and consists of two books. In each chapter of “A Little Night Novel” the story of two monastic orders becomes a parable to the personal story of Atanas Svilar. In “A Novel for Crossword Fans” three parables marked with the black squares have a particular significance for the novel of culture and its cultural metamorphoses. As a teller of these allegorical tales and a reader of his souvenir album Athanasius Razin finds the fourth tale about the fourteenth apostle. The creation of characters and readers means an honourable attempt to stop time and defeat death, although it hasn’t any result.
Roland Barth metaphorically said that in the contemporary novel a writer has died and a reader has been born. In order to stimulate reader’s creativity Milorad Pavić uses hypertext forms (novel-lexicon, novel-crossword, novel-horoscope, novel-tarot) and a play or game: “The cultural mechanism that motivates Pavić’s writing is the processing of memory into a game/play”. A stylus and a penis become the creative symbols for characters and readers in Landscape Painted with Tea.
All the definitions of culture presuppose creative human activity. That’s why the image of “a man of culture” is stipulated by a person’s “creatively active position”. I research the novel of culture through the prism of “the novel of creation”. Investigating the historical poetics of the European novel Michael Bakhtin pointed out the evolution of relationships between a man and the world and defined four types of a novel, such as “the novel of journey” (a man observes the world), “the novel of test” (a man reveals himself in the world), the biographical novel (a man develops with his age) and “the novel of growth” or Bildungsroman (a man is being changed by historical reality). Basically researching the tradition of a romance in the contemporary novel I arrived at the necessity to continue this classification and define the fifth type as “the novel of creation” in which a man creates a new world. The principal features of “the novel of creation” are: a) the main character being a creator and b) the “chronotope of culture”.
The novel about artist (Künstlerroman) and the novel of culture can be researched as the basic kinds of “the novel of creation”. The main character of the Künstlerroman is an artist (poet, writer, painter, musician, actor etc.); the main characters of “the novel of culture” are a culture or a creation (book, building, picture and others) and its recipient or interpreter. The last one is often not an artist, but a scholar as in Michel Bradbury’s novels or Antonia Byatt’s romances.
Michel Bakhtin noted the motif of the test in creativity and artistic genius in the Künstlerroman. But for the novel of artist the expression of creativity is more important than the test in it. Discovering its origins in the Italian Renaissance autobiography (Vita Nuova by Dante and Opere di Benvenuto Cellini) I have researched the novel about artist from Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung by Goethe.
The motif of wandering through the space of culture (“voyage into creativity” by Roberta Seret) is also used in the Künstlerroman. But the wandering makes up the subject of Metamorphoseon by Apuleis which I define as an “archeform” of the novel of culture. In the literature of the early modern period the origins of the novel of culture appeared in the 18th -19th centuries (La Princesse de Babylon by Voltaire, Ardinghello und die Gluckseeligen Inseln by Heinse, Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre by Goethe). In European and American Romanticism “the art romance” is formed (from Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen by Tieck to The Marble Faun by Hawthorne) as a kind of the novel of culture. Alexander Mihajlov and Sergej Zenkin bring out clearly the dominant role of art and culture in the works by Ludwig Tieck and Theophile Gautier. Later different historical modifications of the novel of culture are changing one another in Symbolism (from A Rebours by Huysmans), in Modern (from Ulysses by Joyce) and especially in Postmodern.
During the 19th-20th centuries the novel about artist and the novel of culture developed interacting in one work (Corinne ou l’Italie by Germaine de Staël, Tous les Matins du Monde and Terrasse à Rome by Pascal Quignard) or works by one writer. We can see the evolution from the novel about artist to the novel of culture in the works by Goethe (from Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung to Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre), Joyce (from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to Ulysses), Aragon (from La Semaine Sainte to Henry Matisse, Roman) and others.
Oswald Spengler in Der Untergang des Abendlandes which Thomas Mann called the intellectual novel explains a symbolic analogy of the cultural forms as a method of researching different cultures. This method underlies the typification in the novel of culture. The symbolization is an important element of its poetics. “The semantic structure of a symbol is multi-layer and meant for the active work of a recipient”. Alexej Losev distinguished two degrees of symbolization: “The first degree is immanent enough to every artistic image. If every artistic image is an idea executed in the image […] the idea is a symbol of the image and the image is a symbol of the idea”. The second degree of symbolization oversteps the limits of an artistic work: “It’s necessary to compose and experience the whole work as the direction to a certain extraneous perspective, to an infinite row of its various metamorphoses”. I offer to continue this classification and to regard “the principle of double reflection” or “the image of an image” in the novel of culture as the third degree of symbolization. In the novel of culture a double perspective lets out an infinite row of its various metamorphoses inside the work. In this way a symbol is interpreted artistically. “Every interpretation of a symbol remains a symbol slightly rationalized, i.e. slightly closed to a concept”. That’s why the novel of culture is closely related with the philosophical and intellectual novel.
Vladimir Dneprov brings together the principle of “doubled representation” and the interaction of arts, but literature itself may become a subject of reflection. The novel about writing (“the self-begetting novel”, the roman du roman) is a particular kind of “the novel of creation” which originated from Don Quijote by Cervantes and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. Today it is defined as “a modification of the novel about artist” or “a tradition of metafiction”. The novel about writing interacts with the novel about artist and the novel of culture, for example in A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde by Peter Ackroyd and others.
The reflection of culture in the novel of culture is expressed through its interpretation or play in the “chronotope of culture”. The author, his characters and readers find themselves on a playground. Moreover, “a play itself plays with players” in accordance with Hans-Georg Gadamer’s concept of play. The main role of play/game becomes apparent in the titles of Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel and John Fowles’ The Magus/ The Godgame. The reader of the novel of culture takes part in creation decoding the cultural reminiscences.
The joining of the past and the future in the present and the eternity as the overcoming of the time form a chronotope of “the novel of creation”. Already in St. Augustin’s Confessions the past and the future depend on the present in the human soul (“tempora sunt tria, praesens de praeteritis, praesens de praesentibus, praesens de futuris. Sunt enim haec in anima tria quaedam, et alibi ea non video praesens de praeteritis memoria, praesens de praesentibus contuitus, praesens de futuris expectatio”, Aug. X. 20) and the Creator is over and above the time which He creates (“Nullo ergo tempore non feceras aliquid, quia ipsum temtus tu feceras. Et nulla tempora tibi coaeterna sunt, quia tu permanes; at illa si permanerent, non essent tempora”, Aug. X. 14). Contemporary scholars explain differently the overcoming of “the linear flow of time” in the construction of the 20th century novel: as an interaction with painting (“spatial form in literature”), with music (“the musicalization of the fiction”), with modern philosophical and religious ideas, the natural-science discoveries, the avant-garde and folklore art, with myth (“mythologism” in literature).
The novel of culture remains at the periphery of the modern literary criticism. The problem of its genre typology can be solved only on the basis of up-to-date culturological knowledge. There are various definitions of culture. For a concept of the novel of culture Ernst Cassirer’s philosophical synthesis as the unity of creative process is the most productive approach. Human culture forms different types of activity that develop in different ways, purposing different aims. According to Cassirer’s theory if we are satisfied with the contemplation of the results of these types of activity – myths, religious rituals or beliefs, works of art, scientific theories, then to reduce them to a common denominator becomes impossible. The philosophical synthesis, however, signifies something else. Here we see not the unity of effects but the unity of actions; not the unity of products but the unity of the creative process. That’s why in my opinion the novel of culture can be realized only through the novel of creation.
Moreover, there is the relativity of concepts in various kinds of culture and cultural epochs. For the novel’s author as an artist Art is the centre of cultural activity. Often a writer describes another activity similar to art (Goethe about the medical activity in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre). Art replaces Life in Huysmans and Wilde’s novels. The postmodern destruction of cultural borders leads to broadening the concepts of culture and creation.
The novel of culture became the most popular genre in the 20th century because the creation determined the character of the epoch. It’s indicative that the creator becomes the main character in interpretation of classic works. For example in the musical Notre Dame de Paris the playwright Grenguar becomes the main character and sings the programme song about the time of cathedrals. In Pasolini’s film Decameron the tale about the artist Giotto di Bondone as a creator of beauty frames the whole subject. In Boccaccio’s work Giotto is remarkable only for his witness. In Pasolini’s film he decorates the walls of a cathedral.
Vladimir Bibler regards Michel Bakhtin’s humanitarian thinking as “poetics of culture”. While Bakhtin compares the humanitarian and natural-science methods, Bibler opposes the modern dialogical thinking to the preceding types of mind, “a man of culture” to “a man of science”. Mark Lipovetskij researches “the image of culture” in the poetics of Andrej Bitov’s novel Pushkinskij Dom, the dialogue of its character, narrator and author with preceding culture.
Michel Bakhtin points out that each historical kind of a novel can’t be a pure representation of some principle, but a certain principle predominates in a certain historical kind. But Peter’s Cornell’s The Ways to Paradise: Commentaries to the Lost Manuscript can be called an exclusion as the pure representation of the novel of culture. The novel of culture interacts with other genre structures, but has its esthetic dominant. It determines “a constellation of characteristic features”. Comparative researches help to investigate inner typology of the novel of culture.
The wandering through the space and time of culture; three parts of composition and three forms of culture (religion, art, science); introduced myths of creation; archetypical motifs of God, temple, stone, coffer, lock, key, mystery; philosophical dialogues – all these features unify Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre oder Die Entsagenden by Goethe and Oglashennyie (The Announced) by Andrej Bitov.
The history of creation and symbolic architecture of the Gothic cathedral make up the subject and the chronotope in Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo and The Spire by William Golding. Hugo concentrates on it in some chapters, Golding devotes the whole novel to creativity as a process.
Boris Pasternak inherited poetical vision and poetics of culture from Rainer Maria Rilke but they are conveyed in different ways in Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge and Doctor Zivago.
The grotesque interpretation of some culture as the process of creation and writing (imagination and narration) characterizes the ironical type of the novel of culture, for example The Dream Life of Balso Snell by Nathaniel West and The Ship of Fools by Gregory Norminton.
Representation of the creative act through the female archetype in the antique mythological images is displayed in Chimera by John Barth and Mantissa by John Fowles.
This list will be continued in the next researches. Comparative methods suit the dialogical character of the novel of culture. The writers and scholars have the general aim – to preserve culture.
 East-West. Investigations. Translations. Publications. Moscow. Nauka. 1985 (in Russian); Grinzer,Paul. The Epochs of Contacts between the East and West Literatures. Moscow: Russian State Humanitarian University. 1997 (in Russian).
 Sagatovsky, Valerij. Basic Approaches to Understanding Culture: Attempt of Synthesis. In: The First Russian Congress in Cultural Research. Programme. Report Summaries. St. Petersburg, Eidos, 2006. P. 84; Barantcev, Rem. Culture as Synthesis of Science, Art and Religion. Ibid. P. 94.
 On meanings of metamorphoses in this novel see: Bakhtin, Michel. The Forms of Time and Chronotope in a Novel. Essays on the Historical Poetics. In: Bakhtin, Michel. The Questions of Literature and Aesthetics. Moscow: Art Literature, 1975. P. 262-265 (in Russian).
 Bakhtin, Michel. The Novel of Upbringing and its Importance in the History of Realism (On the Historical Typology of a Novel). In: Bakhtin, Michel. Aesthetics of Verbal Creativity. Moscow, Art, 1979. P. 188 (in Russian).
 Seret, Roberta. Voyage Into Creativity. The Modern Künstlerroman. New York, San Francisco, Bern, Baltimore, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Wien, Paris. Peter Lang. 1992. “Studies in European Thought”. E. Allen McCormick General Editor. Vol. 4.
 Bakhtin, Michel. The Novel of Upbringing and its Importance in the History of Realism (On the Historical Typology of a Novel). In: Bakhtin, Michel. Aesthetics of Verbal Creativity. Moscow, Art, 1979. P. 188 (in Russian).
 Linder, Lois. Le Roman du Roman. In: André Gide 5: Sur Les Faux-Monnayeurs par c.m. 1975 (4) № 439-444. Keypour, David. André Gide: Ecriture et Réversibilité dans Les Faux-Monnayeurs. Montreal. 1980. P.170.
 Bakhtin, Michel. Word in the Novel. In: Bakhtin, Michel. The questions of literature and aesthetics. Moscow: Art Literature, 1975. P. 224 (in Russian); Segal, Dimitrij. Literature as a writ of protection. In: Slavica Hierosolymitana. “Slavic Studies of the Hebrew University”. Ed. By L. Fleishman, O. Ronen, D. Segal. Vol. V-VI. The Magnes Press. The Hebrew University. Jerusalem. 1981. P. 153 (in Russian).
 Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and method. Trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. Second Revised Edition. New York. Continuum. 1989. P.101-110; Bessonov B.N. Germeneutics. History and the Present. In: Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and method. Moscow. Progress. 1988. P.27 (in Russian).
 Bakhtin Michel. The novel of Upbringingand and its Importance in the History of Realism (On the Historical Typology of a Novel). In: Bakhtin, Michel. Aesthetics of Verbal Creativity. Moscow. Art, 1979. P. 188 (in Russian).