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Department of Central and East European Literature

History of department

The Department was founded in 1961, as a continuation of the Literary Theory Group organized in 1959. Until 1985, the head of the Department was Lajos Nyírő, then until 1999, József Szili, and as of 2000 András Veres. The department has regarded as its task, from the very beginning, to help elevating Hungarian literary theory to an international level. Thanks to the far reaching recognition and practice of the principle of pluralism in professional orientation and theoretical discussions, a trait of scholarly behavior rather rare in this region at that time, the Department has been able to serve as a common workshop for several different schools.

The first significant product of the pioneering work of transferring or mediating literary theory of the “West” to Hungary has been the volume Literary Studies: Essays on the Trends of the 20th Century Literary Studies (in Hungarian, 1970, ed. Lajos Nyírő). A similar ambition has been in the background of the volume The History of the Marxist Theory of Literature: From the Beginnings to 1945 (in Hungarian, 1981, ed. Lajos Nyírő, András Veres), which has been an exemplary work of criticizing the ideology in question. As a sequel to these, the recent issues of history (of literature) were addressed in the collection of essays entitled The Theory of Literary History (in Hungarian, 1989, ed. József Szili).

Together with those following the Russian formalist school or the American New Criticism, the Department has offered a shelter also for the followers of Phenomenology, Structuralism and Semiotics, and the first Hungarian interpreters of Hermeneutics as well as Reception Aesthetics and the Empiricist constructivism, too, started their work here. It was the members of the Department who introduced the Russian, Polish, Czech Structuralism for the Hungarian public as well as translated the major works of Nicolai Hartmann, R. Ingarden, H-G. Gadamer and Peter Szondi (Gábor Bonyhai), R. Wellek, A. Warren, Northrop Frye (József Szili) and Markiewicz (Endre Bojtár). Elemér Hankiss who edited, in 1971, a two volumes collection of essays entitled Structuralism, was a member of the Department, and his own works (such as From the Folk Song to the Absurd Drama, 1969) have also been very influential in popularizing the ideas of Structuralism.

The wider public has got convinced of the importance of literary theoretical orientation by a series of literary work analyses at the turn of the nineteen-sixties and seventies. The members of the Department were involved in these sessions by organizing and later publishing some highly successful debates. Two volumes of these conferences, edited by Elemér Hankiss, deserves special attention (Principles of Form Creation in Poetic Works, 1971, New Methods in the Analysis of Short Stories, 1971), as well as the volume of the contributions to the conference Repetition in Art (1980, ed. Iván Horváth, András Veres), the latter being the document of the new generation of literary scholars starting their career at that time (and here one can also mention the volume of interpretations of János Arany’s poems, published in 1972, under the title Certainty Unachieved, a collection of works of the disciples of Prof. Béla G. Németh, another manifestation of a new generation). The methods of literary interpretation has been highly influenced by Gábor Bonyhai (his major book on Thomas Mann’s novel, The Chosen, was published with a considerable delay, in 1974). The innovation in methods of approaching literature has also been present in secondary school level teaching of literature: among the authors of the new („reform”) textbooks published between 1979 and 1982, the member of the Department of Literary Theory were present (Endre Bojtár, András Veres).

After a long period of preparation, in the end of the eighties, the volume After Structuralism: Value, Poetry, Effect, Story and Language in Literary Theory was finished and published. This summarizing work was edited by József Szili, and it aimed at introducing the Poststructuralist problems of literary theory. The first decade of the Transition (1990–2000) is the period of the emergence of a new generation. György C. Kálmán has first introduced to the Hungarian public the theory of speech acts, then he has turned towards the theory of translation and the issues of canons. Ferenc Odorics has been the main proponent in Hungary of the Empiricist-Constructivist trends. Gábor Bezeczky has produced a pioneering work in the fields of metaphor and narration studies (his volume of 2002, Metaphor, Narration, Sociolinguistics has been a significant success in scholarly circles).

As of the middle of the nineties, the problems of interpretive communities and those of dialogic relations came into the fore (The Theory of Interpretive Communities, 2001, ed. György C. Kálmán; Variations of Dialogue, special issue of Helikon 2001/1, ed. László Varga). Between 2001 and 2004 the Department of Literary Theory was the center of a Széchenyi project entitled “Methodological Traditions and Recent Possibilities of National Literary History Writing” (headed by András Veres), which, besides the Institute for Literary Studies of the HAS, coordinated the work of three Departments of the Universities of Szeged, Pécs and Miskolc. In the framework of this research project, the book of conference proceedings The Chance of Literary History was published (2004, ed. András Veres, associate ed. Gábor Bezeczky). The contributions of members of the Department to the new Hungarian literary history (editor in chief: Mihály Szegedy-Maszák) has had great importance in the work (published in 2007).

In the seventies and eighties, the book series Opus – Studies in Literary Theory was published by Akadémiai Publishing House, within the workshop of the Department and edited by Gábor Bonyhai. In 2000, the new series has been launched, the editors are György C. Kálmán and András Veres. The fisrt volume was the collected works of Gábor Bonyhai, who died in 1996. All the members of the Department take part in the editorial work of the periodicals of our Institute. József Szili is a co-editor in chief of Neohelicon, László Varga is the editor in chief of Helikon and András Veres of Literatura. Péter Hajdu helps József Szili in editing Neohelicon, he, Gábor Bezeczky, Dávid Szolláth and György C. Kálmán are involved in editing Literatura.


András Veres chief of department

Gábor Bezeczky

István Gránicz

Péter Hajdu

Éva Jeney

György Kálmán C.

Ferenc Odorics

Dávid Szolláth

László Varga