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The Challenges of Writing a National Literary History in the Era of Transnationalism: Insights from a Peripheral Literary Space

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The Challenges of Writing a National Literary History in the Era of Transnationalism: Insights from a Peripheral Literary Space

Abstract: It goes without saying that during the nineteenth and twentieth century literary historiography tries to define national identities. However, a methodological and paradigm shift occur at the beginning of the twenty-first century when, under the auspices of globalization and the emergence of world literature and transnational literary studies, literary historiography is re-thought as a collective and transnational project. Yet, the asymmetry of the world literary system affects literary historiography too. When it comes to this scholarly genre, the asymmetry is most visible in the fact that in the era of transnationalism, national histories are still written at the periphery. Given the aforementioned observation, this paper a) looks into the challenges of writing literary history in Romania in the age of world literature and transnational studies, and b) tries to explain why a national literary history is still needed and how it can change the way we think about Romanian literature. The starting point of this inquiry is represented by the publication of Mihai Iovănel’s Istoria literaturii române contemporane: 1990-2020 [History of Contemporary Romanian Literature: 1990-2020]. In the context of the ‘transnational turn’ in literary studies, the attempt to write relevant national histories in a peripheral literary space such as Romania is faced, in my view, with two major challenges: 1) the fact that transnationalism manifests itself differently at the periphery and 2) the tradition of Romanian literary criticism and history. The former refers to the fact that unlike central literatures, where transnationalism is shaped to a large extent by migrant writers (those who enter these literatures), in Romanian literature it comprises exiled or migrant writers (those who left Romania and not vice versa) and, to a lesser extent, the literatures written by ethnic minorities. A comparative approach can cast light on this difference. For example, while the thirteenth volume of The Oxford English Literary History is dedicated entirely to migrant and bicultural writers, transnational histories concerning the peripheries, such as History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe, focus on multiple literary spaces and therefore have a different approach to dealing with transnationalism. The latter challenge is represented, as shown by Iovănel, by the long-lasting tradition of the “principle of aesthetic autonomism”, which persists even in post-communist Romania. In this regard, this paper aims to show that Iovănel’s History… overcomes the above-mentioned hindrances of literary criticism and succeeds in offering an image of Romanian literature not as confined to its national boundaries but as part of the world literary system. Along with other significant scholarly works on Romanian literature as and in world literature, this project is a significant step towards re-thinking Romanian literature as a “literature of the world” (Terian 2015).

Keywords: literary history, transnationalism, Romanian literature, world literature, periphery.

Citation suggestion: Ung, Snejana. “The Challenges of Writing a National Literary History in the Era of Transnationalism:

Insights from a Peripheral Literary Space”. Transilvania, no. 7-8 (2021): 14-21.

https://doi.org/10.51391/trva.2021.07-08.02.

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