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Romanticism and Cultural Identity

Class at Faculty of Arts |


For many Central European nations Romanticism was a decisive cultural influence that shaped their emancipation movements in the nineteenth century.

Organic models of community based on the affinities between nature, culture and language became the foundation of nationalistic ideologies. The upsurge of nationalism gave birth to grand narratives of national history, and created sharp divides in multilingual and multiethnic societies. The outcome of these developments was a deep and protracted crisis of many Central European nations in the twentieth century, affecting the best works of their cultures.

The course is divided into two parts. In the first part we shall study the origins and different forms of Romanticism in Central

European cultures (Czech, Slovak, and partially also Austrian, German, Polish, and Hungarian), and read specimen of Czech romantic literature (K.H. Mácha´s verse tale May, selected poems from the Queen´s Court Manuscript) and selected theoretical or historical texts (see below in the section Reference). We shall also discuss the refashioning of romantic paradigms in the communist ideologies of bipolar world and "people´s culture". Our main aim will be the understanding of basic cultural notions and paradigms, such as multiculturalism, ethnocentrism, patriotism, nationalism, the invention of tradition, cultural translation, or imagined community, the explanation of difficult, culturally specific terms, namely antiquarianism, philology, national revival or Biedermeier, and the comparison of the Central European notions of ethnocentric nationality with the U.S. and British concepts of the nation and national identity. For those who do not have any experience with European romantic literature some preliminary reading of English romantics, especially lord Byron, P.B.

Shelley, William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge, is recommended.

In the second part we will closely read some representative works of twentieth-century Central European literatures (see below under "Fiction, Poetry, and Drama"). We shall examine the ways these works reflect romantic themes or cultural paradigms, and respond to the questions and dilemmas of national identity. Our purpose will be to understand the persistence and transformation of Romanticism in modern and contemporary Central European cultures, its creative influence and destructive effects.

The presentation of individual topics will combine the form of lecture (explaining selected topics in the coursebook or reference texts, or important features of social, historical or literary context of the discussed book), and the form of discussion. Discussions will be introduced by short but carefully prepared position papers (short talks, 5 min.) given by all students in the class.