on the doctoral dissertation by Ms. Katarzyna Rosner-Graff titled: “On the cognitive function of literary works”.
v Ms. Katarzyna Rosner-Graff’s dissertation deserves to be recognized as a sufficient basis for awarding a doctoral degree to Ms. Rosner-Graff. The author presents therein evidence that she is familiar with and has mastered extensive literature on the subject (mainly English and Polish works, omitting German and French), while presenting views of others in a clear and generally apt way. She also conducts a thorough critical analysis of some of their carefully selected points, relevant for her own arguments. The results of the discussion conducted in this way create the basis for the author’s own considerations on the subject provided in the title of the dissertation. The dissertation would even gain in transparency of construction if the author were to refrain from discussing some rather secondary authors. She would then be able to attack the central issue of her work more deeply and inquisitively than it actually ended up being done.
I believe the certain accusation by the reviewer, Mr. J. Pelc, that only 1/10 of the dissertation contains the author’s original views to be wrong, as those are also present in a range of critical remarks that the author makes with regard to the views of others. However, it is true that the author’s own positive concepts demand further development, deepening and more extensive confrontation with the properties of individual literary works. These more detailed confrontations could in some cases undermine the accuracy of the author’s general theses. It would be an intensified study of literary works themselves due to the functions assigned to them by the author, instead of reaching this particular material through the analysis of the literature on the subject. But such is usually the style of doctoral dissertations that – in accordance with the postulates of supervisors – the discussion of other people’s views is at the fore.
v In order to somewhat organize the abundant variety of literature on the subject, the author introduces her own three definitions of a literary work and attempts to assign views of particular authors to them, which she does not always succeed in and which does not help the development of the central about issue. It is quite natural that in some cases this method fails, as the definitions she constructed do not exhaust all possible cases. The author exercises equal effort to clarify and justify her main thesis that a literary work (that is, to say more precisely: a literary work of art) performs a cognitive function by means of the world represented in and created by its linguistic double layer. This is a refinement and clarification of a claim often expressed by Marxist literary theorists. It should be emphasized, however, that the author tries to provide a justification for it in a much deeper and more detailed way than can usually be found in Marxist works, using a number of far-reaching concepts regarding the construction of literary works, the way in which the author conducts this justification, however, failed to convince me that the paramount thesis of the author’s dissertation is correct.
In my opinion, this is primarily caused by the fact that the way in which the author tries to explain and establish such concepts as “cognitive function”, “cognitive value”, “artistic truth” of literary works does not lead to a proper explanation and unambiguous definition of these concepts, in particular the concept of “cognitive function” of literary works. For firstly, it seems that this “function” is simply a certain “relation” between the world presented in the work with the non-literary – as the author says “non-fictional” – reality which can be compared to it, and secondly, this relation is – as the author says – only the “source” of this function, so the function itself would be something else. It was necessary to explain what the “function” itself is and whether it is something that the literary work itself can “fulfil” at all (or whether it can only be performed by the reader or researcher of the work?). And finally, what is “the cognitive layer” of this function, as it is neither the “truthfulness” in the strict sense or “objective consistency” of a certain style, and finally “faithfulness” in the manner
I have introduced this concept in my book “Das literarische Kunstwerk”, which the author uses. “Reproduction” (as I put it in my book “reality”) cannot yet constitute cognition or the cognitive function of a literary work by itself. Explaining both the nature of the process of cognition and the cognizance of something obtained in it is necessary here. Only such an explanation could show whether, even in a figurative or analogous sense, one could conclude that it is possible to carry out this process by means of a literary work of art (as there is no doubt that it is not possible in the sensu stricto understanding of “cognition”). This figurative meaning of “cognizing” should be explained, and at the same time it should be explained whether it could lead acquiring cognition in its strict sense by means of the work or in the work and what this cognition would refer to.
The lack of explanation of all these matters and ambiguities connected with it characterize not only the dissertation by Ms. Rosner-Graff, but also other advocates of the argument about the fulfillment of the “cognitive function” by a literary work. It is overlooked that literary works differ greatly as to whether, on the basis of their text alone, they can be ascribed the intention to perform a “cognitive function”.
It is not advisable to refer to the – difficult to detect – intentions or objectives of the author of the work. For some works it seems quite probable, for others it seems that their structure and content of the text deprive them of properties that would enable them to perform this function. Most often, the case is probably that literary works of art themselves do not have a “cognitive function”, but that some of their readers, and especially literary researchers, use them in such a way that they seem to have a cognitive function afterwards. One can also wonder whether those ways of using literary works are not a certain level of their abuse aimed at achieving certain non-artistic goals. In any case, it forces a juxtaposition of at least some works, in a manner unauthorized by their text, with one or other non-artistic and at the same time autonomous reality. Whoever is interested in such a juxtaposition for some reason may, of course, indulge in their interests, but this does not mean that they do justice to a given literary work by imposing on it a role that does not flow from its text and which is not its proper cultural task.
v I have put forward these doubts deliberately, to emphasize that despite having a different view on this case than from that which the author attempts to justify in her dissertation, I consider this dissertation to be a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion. It certainly brings into these considerations a number of new findings and issues that may turn out to be useful for further clarification of the main issue. After rectification of some formal deficiencies, it can also be printed, and in any case – as I have already indicated at the beginning – it is quite sufficient to grant the author a doctoral degree.
(Prof. Dr. Roman Ingarden)
P.A.S. full member