THE NEW BIOGRAPHISM
Literary history as a field is periodically shaken by challenges directed at its orientation, purposefulness or its very constitutive legitimacy. The object of literary history, it is claimed, is contradictory: it attempts to be simultaneously both material – the description and analysis of literature, of texts and their construction – and ideological, i.e. the history of the literature described. Not only is this history a construct, made possible only through an act of selection and interpretation, but it also has to first “create” the entities whose evolution it discusses: authors, trends, literary kinships, cultural environments with both political and artistic components, the emblematic reader of the time (embodying public opinion and various types of success), the part played by translations and foreign literature in this process, etc. It all becomes possible, at least theoretically, if literary history surrenders its traditional presumptuous ambition of “totality” (or, in Wellek’s words, its attempt “to write that which will be both literary and a history”) and accepts its position as “imaginary space”, a creation and proposition put forth by the literary historian, who can then construct it based on a return to the persona of the author – therefore a sort of new biographism.
Keywords: literary history, new biographism, renouncing the ambition of totality, literary history as imaginary space.