Interdisciplinary studies in the context of British culture and literature

Considering the current condition of research into British culture and literature, the themes of research subjects extend far beyond the literary and cultural spheres. Liminal territories become of growing interest, not only literary-cultural ones, but also ones connected with sociological, aesthetic, political and economic studies. Studies on British culture and literature have been broadened by such contexts as British-American culture, Polish-British culture, comparative literature, for instance German-British, British American, issues in translation, whose theory postulates the crossing of cultural borders, philosophical and aesthetic aspects of English language literature, problems in literary history and many other phenomena at the meeting point of Anglophone cultures and literatures. From the earliest historical times of the Old-English culture, Middle-English literature, but most of all, since the 18th century, British culture and literature has become an important challenge and inspiration for interdisciplinary studies. They no longer entail only historical analyses of literary works, but also theoretical, cultural, philosophical, and structural aspects, as well as studies on subjectivity and identity, cultural difference, frequently in the context of European and non-European (e.g. American) culture. Thus the suggested study subjects concern a broad thematic spectrum, which frequently exceeds historical frameworks and contexts connected only with British culture and literature and entails many comparative spheres – other (non)European cultures and literatures.

A. Early medieval literary studies. The study of Old English literature and culture focuses on analysing interdependencies between the tradition of early Christian hermeneutics present in patristic sources and Old English poetry. Among the specific issues under scrutiny are such topics as apophatic theology, the poetics and theory of chaos in Old English literature, hybridic and visual aspects in medieval texts, gnostic elements in Old English literature and the paradigm of enigmaticity in Old English poetry and culture seen against the contexts of apophatic theology. The other main aim of the research is the study of medieval English representations of the marginal world, the world of reversed hierarchies and the world of the monstrous in the light of mythographic theories. The research conducted relies also on medieval social history and investigates the connections between the culture of the written word and the culture of the image in the Middle Ages.

B. The dialectic of the Enlightenment. The said “dialectics” refers to the critique of modernity and its ideology, but also to literature of the period, with special attention being paid to satire, comedy, the culture of wit, which, in a serious way, provides a vivid, creative critique of social groups, the society as such and nation. Hence, satire, comedy, the fun factor these lighter genres are conducive to, have important things to say about reality, for they can be looked on as systemic agents of the official ideology (of the Enlightenment, civil society, sciences, pedagogy, Christianity) as well as a potent means of subverting this ideology. Studies in classicism, thus construed, commit themselves to “closer” reading of literature and history, as well as they contribute to a cultural critique, curious about the small facts of life, often ignored by serious literature. Studying a “whole way of life” includes legal and illegal entertainment, public spectacles, its rites of praise and derogation, all engaged in various “structures of feeling.” The early-modern life and culture become a source of enjoyment of the man and woman of quality and, in this way, support an ideology based on the domination of the high and middle class, the social castes which can afford to enjoy it. In England, the coming of modernity is driven by the robust energies of the Restoration, and the process continues well into the 18th century. Much of that new humanism is announced and celebrated by the cultural codes of the comedy of manners.

C. Romantic culture and literature. Romantic studies address the literature of the 19th and 20th century, especially the aesthetic and literary criticism of the period, which includes phenomenological aspects of literary analysis. Among key working concepts of this programme we find irony, wit, the “literary absolute”, the transcendental subject, intersubjectivity etc. In this way theoretical considerations are applied to the analysis of English literature; including the prose and verse of the Victorian period, but, given the continental provenance of Romanticism, where they theorize, these considerations draw from the prolific heritage of German philosophy and aesthetics. Thus, widening of the perspectives helps to recognize the affinities between English Romanticism and its sister offshoots (i.e. German, French, Celtic.) Accordingly, the romantic project creates a perspective which is interdisciplinary; showing the complexities of European cultures as they relate and develop discrete rapports with each other (such as Poland and Europe) and comparing different environments (English, American, Irish, Scottish, Spanish, Polish, German, etc.). Romantic studies involve reading cultural history actively engaged in the cross-reading of arts: literary (including poetry), musical (inspiring the concept of polyphony of discourses) and visual, bearing in mind that the 19th century criticism of arts lays the foundations for contemporary aesthetic theory.

D. The sensorium of modernity – nineteenth-century culture and literature. The research concerns the culture and literature of the nineteenth century as well as the then processes associated with the formation of modernity in its material, mental and emotional dimensions. In particular the research focuses on how technical artefacts and mechanization of the everyday life influenced the development of the culture of speed, rush, intensity, sensory overload, tiredness and, in consequence, of surplus (exhaustion). Among the most important issues studied are analyses of the popular 1860s’ novels, belonging to the genre of the sensation novel, and of the multifaceted representation of modernity which they contain. Many of the nineteenth-century studies are also conducive to post-modern conceptions rebelling against traditional romantic conventions – visualization, voyeurism, the “scopic model of reality” etc.

E. Time in culture and literature. Time metronome is often a measure of arts, including poetry and music. Studies on time mostly focus on Victorian arts (e.g. G. M. Hopkins or Pre-Raphaelite painting) but also include elements of musical discourse (W. Pater or T. S. Eliot) and the problematic of “late style” in music, literature and visual arts. The problem of temporality is an important aspect of representation of the world – distinct, ceaseless, obsessive consciousness of time as a force which moulds and determines human relations and experience of the world. In the context of literary analysis through the theme of death (M. Blanchot) and the concept of metaphor as a means to express the inexpressible (P. Ricoeur), the vision of literature and visual arts as practices which allow for arrestation of the passing of time is an important aspect of theoretical literary and cultural studies devoted to 19th and 20th centuries.

F. The reception and translation of British literature in Polish culture (from the nineteenth to twenty-first century) in the perspective of descriptive translation studies. The issues analysed comprise literary translations and in particular retranslations of literary works. After the cultural turn in translation studies the claim of one definite meaning of the primary text has been undermined. As a result of this, there arose the possibility of coexistence of a number of parallel secondary texts. The studies focus on translations of British literary works as well as their selection and anthologizing in Polish culture. The analysis aims to reveal the historical and cultural factors which stimulated or blocked the development of retranslations of particular works. The research undertakes the questions of translation strategies (e.g. foreignization), the transfer of elements of third culture, intertextuality in translation and intratexual links. This translation theory is based on the methodology of Descriptive Translation Studies proposed by G. Toury and K. van Leuven-Zwart.

G. Topicality of (post)modernism. Culture and literature of the twentieth century. In this particular subject area our analyses refer to discursive mechanisms (such as the criticism of universalism, for instance) that are typical of literary, visual, musical and architectural works of art, as well as theories in the humanities that refer to them. The said mechanisms are instrumental for the construction of a radical modernist impulse that is rendered possible due to new techniques of narration or narrative fragmentation. In this case, our research interests are also focused upon the manners in which European canons of literature, visual arts and philosophy are adapted and transformed by colonized cultures in order to be subsequently redefined as bases for cultural self-identification and formation of indigenous identities in their the struggle with colonizers. The confrontation of the European culture with its unnerving double results in the reevaluation of its axiological formulae, which is evident in debates concerning the politics of identity, such as discussions referring to the notions of elite culture, popular culture, or multiculturalism (it also includes debates concerning German and Jewish culture and poetry of R.M. Rilke or P. Celan). The research also focuses on Irish, German, Spanish, and Polish cultures and their relationships with a plethora of Anglophone cultures.

H. Mechanisms of cultural reproduction. The study of mechanisms responsible for the relative integration and hierarchization of diversified elements of symbolic culture is an interesting task in the field of contemporary cultural studies. Interdisciplinary studies concerning the concept of “discourse” and its relations to a number of correlated notions referring to the dynamics of social structures (e.g. habitus, cultural capital, structuration) are critical for the aforementioned research problems. The studies are focused upon the search for interpersonal strategies rendering possible the construction of sense within the sphere of symbolic culture. In this context, studies concerning human agency and identity, as well as investigations into mutual relationships taking place between the social actor’s subjectivity and the objectivized character of social and cultural structures are equally important. In this sense, agency and identity are becoming significant research problems in cultural analyses of the global society which is multicultural and post-traditional and, as a consequence, becomes deprived of solid foundations for individualized narrations of identity formation.