Poetry and Drama: Dr. Natália Pikli
Prose: Dr. Zsolt Czigányik and
Dr. Ákos Farkas
1, September 9
2, September 16
3, September 23
4, September 30
5, October 7
6, October 14
7, October 21
8, November 4
9, November 11
10, November 18
11, November 25
12, December 2
13, December 9
Ted Hughes
Tony Harrison
Seamus Heaney
Anthony Burgess (lecturer: Ákos Farkas)
Carol Ann Duffy
John Fowles
(October 23-30 autumn break – no lectures)
Tom Stoppard
Caryl Churchill & in-yer-face theatre
Salman Rushdie
Julian Barnes
Angela Carter and Amy Sackville
Tibor Fischer
Virginia Woolf: Modern Fiction (1925)
In making any survey, even the freest and loosest, of
modern fiction, it is difficult not to take it for granted
that the modern practice of the art is somehow an
improvement upon the old. […]And yet the analogy
between literature and the process, to choose an
example, of making motor cars scarcely holds good
beyond the first glance.
It is doubtful whether in the course of the centuries,
though we have learnt much about making
machines, we have learnt anything about making
We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to
do is to keep moving, now a little in this direction,
now in that, but with a circular tendency should the
whole course of the track be viewed from a
sufficiently lofty pinnacle.
It need scarcely be said that we make no claim to
stand, even momentarily, upon that vantage ground.
On the flat, in the crowd, half blind with dust, we look
back with envy to those happier warriors, whose battle is
won and whose achievements wear so serene an air of
accomplishment that we can scarcely refrain from
whispering that the fight was not so fierce for them as for
us. It is for the historian of literature to decide; for him to
say if we are now beginning or ending or standing in the
middle of a great period of prose fiction, for down in the
plain little is visible. We only know that certain
gratitudes and hostilities inspire us; that certain
paths seem to lead to fertile land, others to the dust
and the desert; and of this perhaps it may be worth
while to attempt some account.
Contemporary literature
• What is contemporary?
• strict sense of the word: author is alive
(changes day by day)
• in university education: 1960s-present (?) +
(personal) preference and choice of
• acquiring literature in chronological order:
practical benefits
• museums vs. parents
• Contemporary:
close(r) to the reader
no (little) time gap
contemporary problems, settings, situations,
language, technical devices
• ‘Contemporary classics’
What to include in a course?
What is valuable?
• What will be relevant in 50, 100, 500 years?
• canon
originally: the books of the Bible officially
recognized by the Church
literature in general:
privileged status of ”great literature”
• Canon: necessary (yearly ca. 3.000 novels in
• Despite debates, with a sufficient perspective,
a canon is formed
Ladányi took out a book – the Analects of Confucius. ‘Is
it any good?’ Gyuri questioned. ‘Life is too short for
good books,’ said Ladányi, ‘one should only read great
books.’ ‘How can you tell if it’s great?’ ‘If it’s been
around for a couple of thousand years, that’s usually a
good sign. (Tibor Fischer: Under the Frog)
The canon – in change: 19832009
• ”The National Poetry Society Competition has again (see
last year) failed to unearth convincing winners from a total
of 12,000 submissions. The first prize of ₤ 2,000 was
awarded […] to ‘Whoever She Was’ by Carol Ann Duffy.
This is quite an effective evocation of some eerie moments
in the relation between motherhood and childhood, but
much of the detail is predictable, and the language is not
very interesting, so that the poem doesn’t improve with
repeated readings.” (Review, 1983)
• vs 2009: Poet Laureate, ”the most studied poet in schools
after Shakespeare”
the canon - in change: gender issues
• Carol Ann Duffy, ed.:
Answering Back, 2008
• 46 poets – 23 men/23
• Caryl Churchill,
playwright – 1960s:
”women can’t do
structure [in drama]”
vs the most
structured plays
prizes, awards, venues & canon formation
Nobel Prize in Literature (author)
2013: Alice Munro
2007: Doris Lessing
2005: Harold Pinter
1995: Seamus Heaney
– fiction: (Man) Booker Prize (since 1969): 'the best novel in
the opinion of the judges‘ (common man)
to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract 'the
intelligent general audience'. (
Man Booker International Prize 2015:
László Krasznahorkai
– drama/theatre: Tony Award, theatrical venues: Royal
Court Theatre, NT, RSC
– poetry: Poet Laureate, National Poetry Competition,
journals vs internet
popular and/or elite?
• contemporary
literature /postmodern
• blurring the borderline
– PLAY with
tradition/elite culture
– influence of popular
culture: Tarantino on
inyerface-theatre, etc.
– problem: entertainment
and/or aesthetic values
(’twilight zone’ – eg.
slam poetry?)
Poetry and Drama: ‘the old/young’
• Ted Hughes † (1998), Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney †
(2013), Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard in their 70s
• Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy (2009): Poets Laureate,
Heaney: Nobel Prize, Sir Tom Stoppard – ‘established’
and huge influence on younger generations
• BUT: necessary cuts (eg. not Andrew Motion – Poet
Laurate 1999-2009) + sorry state of availability of texts in
Poetry Society, etc.
’canonised contemporaries’ (contradiction; doubts regarding
future evaluation)
poetry today: English authorsHungarian relevance
• festivals (Hay Festival, Budapest, spring
2012 – Tibor Fischer, Ben Okri, Dragomán
György) – contemporary writers in
interaction across borders
• translations-interaction (S. Heaney – Győző
Ferencz, Ted Hughes-Pilinszky, etc.)
• Why poetry? Facebook challenge - ”Poets
don’t have solutions, poets are recording
human experience” (Carol Ann Duffy)
Poetry classes
• Ted Hughes: from the celebrated ‘arrogant’
young poet of the 60s to the dying
confessional author of Birthday Letters
(1989) – masculinity, myth, animals and the
• Tony Harrison: v
the emblematic long poem of the
80s – issues relevant even today
Poetry classes
• Seamus Heaney: Irish and/or British?
postcolonialism, national and individual
identity (”be advised / my passport is green”
vs Beowulf)
• Carol Ann Duffy (b. 1955): a woman poet,
Scottish, Lesbian love, dramatic
monologues, philosophy/clichés, rewriting
famous narratives,
social concerns
• London theatrical scene / Fringe theatres – eager
to receive a great number of new plays every year
• Focal points:
– Tom Stoppard – first great success 1960s (RosGuil),
international fame, Hollywood/Oscar-winning film:
‘the curious fate and fortunes of the successful
contemporary playwright’ - a popular classic
– Caryl Churchill – social ills, current themes –
stockbrokers/male-female social roles/cloning
and identity, etc.
– 1990s, in-yer-face theatre (Sarah Kane, Jezz
Butterworth, Martin MacDonagh, etc.,
influence of Hollywood/Tarantino)
Contemporary English plays on present-day Hungarian
stages: Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker (Az iglic), Martin
McDonagh’s The Lonesome West (Vaknyugat)
Martin McDonagh Radnóti
Színház 2001-2011: A kripli
(The Cripple of Innishman,
1996, transl. Dániel Varró, first
transl. by Anna Szabó T.)
• 6 plays ca. 40 performances
in Hungary since 1997
(5 plays in 2007) –>
Csaba Székely: Mine
Country (Bányavidék)
• Hollywood: In Bruges
(Erőszakik), Seven
Psychopaths (A hét
pszichopata és a Si-cu)
Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)
prolific, popular and philosophic
A Clockwork Orange (1962)
John Fowles (1926-2005)
redefining the role of the author
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
Angela Carter (1940-1992)
Feminist retelling of fairy tales
The Bloody Chamber (1979)
Salman Rushdie (1947-)
postcolonialism, pop-culture
Midnight’s Children (1981)
Julian Barnes (1946-)
Grand narrative?
Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)
A History of the World in 10 ½
Chapters (1989)
Tibor Fischer (1959-)
humour and tragedy
Under the Frog (1992)
Amy Sackville (1981-)
Postvictorian post-postmodern
Individualism and community
The Still Point (2010)
(early 20th c.): breaks with artistic
traditions and conventions,
• with time the experiment becomes
• No clear barrier between modernism and
(cultural history: palimpsest)
Ihab Hassan, The Postmodern Turn.
Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1987.
• Modernism
Form (closed)
Finished Art Object
Anti-form (open)
• vague and fashionable term
• meaning and value: disputed
no (little) perspective (How to define our own age?)
• poststructuralism and deconstruction
”meaning is neither inherent in language, nor in the world
of things but is ‘constructed’ by conventional frameworks
of thought and language” (Gray, 1992)
• individuality, human character, freedom:
constructs of a particular culture and time
(vs. universal truths, absolute authenticity
What small potatoes we are…
• Man no longer the centre of the universe –
no centre
• Threats of extinction of humanity
(nuclear holocaust, despoiling the
environment/planet, overpopulation)
breaking up of traditional communities
=> sense of despair and disillusionment
(vs. 60s)
• result of meaninglessness: play with styles
and values
• a sense of disjunction or deliberate
confusion, irony, playfulness, reflexivity
• A postmodern insistence on process rather
than product: a “postmodern” cultural
artifact is one that consistently questions
itself and the context that it seems to fit
Nealon, Jeffrey, and Susan Searls Giroux. The Theory Toolbox. New York: Rowman and Littlefield,
• postmodern texts
look at themselves as texts (Ø illusion, isolated
from author and extratextual reality)
often reveal the instability of language
meanings are constructions
freedom of interpretation (limitless?)
• Postmodernism, celebrates the freedom of
possibility, but it also seems to make agency or
concrete decision impossible.
Return of the grand narrative
• PM: rhetoric of disruption (everything has to
be new, break in human experience)
heroic age of theory
• Incredulity toward metanarratives (Lyotard)
progress, enlightenment, Christianity
• 2000: West forced to reflect on the foundations
of its own civilization
„seek to make sense of the grand narratives”
• How far is it relevant in the 21st century?
re-evaluation of traditional values and
communities (religion, nation)
• Alan Kirby: Digimodernism
1990s: decomposing postmodernism
21st c. new cultural paradigm
PoMo obsolete (once fresh), creative period
• Computerization of text _> new form of
social and multiple authorship
triggered by the redefinition of textuality
and culture by the spread of digitalization
• reality TV, Web2.0, videogames, radio
shows: reader/viewer intervenes
• PM: objectivity does not exist, truth is
social construct
Facebook e-friendship between accounts
(well designed, so the e-textualization often
for many: indistinguishable from actual

Contemporary literature