Analysieren als Deuten: Wolf Schmid zum 60. Geburtstag.
This enormous Festschrift has been published in honour of Dr Wolf Schmid, Professor of Slavic Literatures at Hamburg University. As erstwhile honorary member of academic departments in Denmark, Australia, Canada, and the US, his reputation has been founded upon research into Russian and Czech literatures. His multiple addresses and interests are perhaps most prominently linked by decades of scrupulous investigation into the finer points of narratology. This bridging aspect of Professor Schmid's labours is what unifies the thirty-six essays in German, English, and Russian.
The oft-obituarial overtones of a Festschrift are here, mercifully, a cheerful celebration of the scholar's sixtieth birthday, which creates something of a dilemma for any reviewer. Being asked to review a birthday Festschrift is like asking a restaurant critic to review a party; the guests do not want merrymaking or their friendship subjected to 'instructive' scrutiny. Thankfully the range, quality, and shared enthusiasm connecting these articles should circumvent the moody scribblings of critical curmudgeons.
One of the opening entries, by Mieke Bal, concerns the concept of voice in narratology past and present. Drawing upon Deleuze and Borges, Bal suggests that voice should be a category defined less by 'who?' than issues of 'where?' 'Where does meaning come from, where does it go and which pathways does it follow, forking or not?' (p. 51). These interrogatives, overtly prompted by Schmid's early research, are a pleasing statement of intent; a diffusion of techniques and tendencies learnt initially by grateful students.
Other attempts to drag semantic construction from the linear, from the straight and restrictively narrow, are outlined through cognitive science (Willem Weststeijn), intentionality (Reinhard Ibler), or versification's endless struggle between linear metonymy and the slippery workings of metaphor (Michail Gasparov and Viacheslav V. Ivanov). Following on from the rhizomatic wanderings of significance in and around syntax, other articles extend trajectories learnt from Professor Schmid beyond 'narrative' as a wholly textual phenomenon. These apply narratological techniques to Russian history (under Ivan the Terrible (Marija Virolainen)) or questions of whether one might speak of narratives' spatio-temporal 'places of action' at all (Tod'iana Tsiv'ian). Lest the collection lapse into aimless dispersals of meaning before its 300th page, an interesting piece by Aleksandr Chudakov suggests that 'unpopular, frighteningly dull' introductory courses in literature departments be replaced with a 'slow' reading of Eugene Onegin alone (p. 277). Instead of one (often anthologized) text in a linear series of literary historicism(s), Onegin's myriad (if not endless) significances could be unpacked, over and over again. Lying as it does in the middle of the Festschrift, Chudakov's entry is one of the most important (and happiest) applications of Schmid's initial research, over and over in new interpretations of a single work--to the point where Pushkin actually evanesces (in Bal's terms) in a series of questions rather than statements: Where did his meaning come from? And where did it/does it go?
Perhaps on the heels of Chudakov's pedagogical epatage, another key section of the Festschrift is dedicated to additional (concrete) examples of how Schmid's ideas cast new and dappled light upon other canonical texts: Onegin once more (David Bethea), The Captain's Daughter (Natalia Mazur), Dead Souls (Iurii Mann and Valerii Tiupa), White Nights (Riccardo Nicolosi), The Gambler (Boris Christa), The Adolescent (Galena Potapova), Lady and the Lapdog (Peter Alberg Jensen), several more Chekhovian tales (Matthias Freise and Erika Greber), plus other works from Akhmatova, Nabokov, Pasternak, and Aleksei Tolstoi.
Lest potential readers of this stout tome be labouring under the misconception that celebratory retrospectives always become a melange of unrelated studies (submitted by far-flung colleagues keen to advertise their differing efforts), I should stress the opposite. The editors of this volume are to be congratulated twice over. First and foremost, they have gone to evident pains to ensure that contributors to Analysieren als Deuten explicitly graft their entries onto Schmid's intellectual prompting(s). These guidelines have granted the volume thematic cohesion. Secondly, within fundamental rubrics or parameters, the more theoretical chapters are positioned early on: theory is followed by hypothetical (though well-justified) domains of practice.
Uncommon though the following observation may be, I am--after 741 pages--convinced that this volume could be of considerable pedagogical benefit to academics pondering how to 'de-canonize' their current course offerings without recourse to the increasingly common (and lamentable) practice of mentioning 'awesome death', 'equally awesome sex', and 'unspeakable, yet intriguing violence' in class titles to increase enrolments. One of the Festschrift's closing articles, therefore, appropriately outlines the function of Pushkin among Leningrad's 'underground' poets between 1960 and the 1980s. This closing essay, like the collection in toto, suggests how to vivify the often fossilized building-blocks of our discipline. Happy Birthday, Wolf Schmid.
UNIVERSITY OF LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
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|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2006|
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