Patrick Colm Hogan
Literary Universals
Poetics Today 18. 2 (1997): 223-49


This essay takes up the issue of universalism in relation to literature, arguing that unrelated literary traditions manifest a wide range of formal and substantive universals that should be the objects of systematic study. More exactly, the first section undertakes to refute common political objections to the study of universals, contending that these objections rest on a confusion between empirical universalism (the isolation of genuine cross-cultural invariants) and normative absolutism (the cross-cultural imposition of culturally nonuniversal evaluative principles). The second section considers the structure of a theory of universals. It outlines the varieties of universal, illustrating these by reference to examples from a range of genetically unrelated literaturesBEuropean, South Asian, East Asian, African, and so on. The final section considers two likely universals in more detail, proposing, criticizing, and refining a number of descriptive formulations and explanatory hypotheses. Examining this process of theoretical evaluation and revision should serve to clarify the nature of literary universals in general and to indicate how a research program in literary universals could proceed.






Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles