National Poets, Cultural Saints: Canonization and Commemorative Cults of Writers in Europe


In National Poets, Cultural Saints Marijan Dović and Jón Karl Helgason explore the ways in which certain artists, writers, and poets in Europe have become major figures of cultural memory, emulating the symbolic role formerly played by state rulers and religious saints. The authors develop the concept of cultural sainthood in the context of nationalism as a form of invisible religion, identify major shifts in canonization practices from antiquity to the nationally-motivated commemoration of the nineteenth century, and explore the afterlives of two national poets, Slovenia's France Prešeren and Iceland's Jónas Hallgrímsson. The book presents a useful analytical model of canonization for further studies on cultural sainthood and opens up fruitful perspectives for the understanding of national movements.

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Marijan Dović is Associate Professor at the ZRC SAZU Institute of the Slovenian Literature and Literary Studies in Ljubljana. He publishes extensively in Slovenian and English on cultural nationalism, national poets, the literary canon, systems theory, the avant-garde, and authorship.

Jón Karl Helgason is a Professor in the Department of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland. He has published monographs and articles on cultural history, metafiction and the afterlife of Iceland’s medieval literature.
'One of the most exciting comparative literary projects to appear in recent years is the Cultural Saints of the European Nation States (CSENS) project [...] Both the project and the book National Poets, Cultural Saints Canonization and Commemorative Cults of Writers in Europe by Marijan Dović and Jón Karl Helgason are ambitious in scope, and their framework has proven to be a benchmark for any such studies for years to come. The combination of a comparative literature approach, cultural memory studies, and the embracement of a new theory relating to the construction of cultural saints, national poets, and cultural nationalism is truly convincing.'
Kim Simonsen (University of Amsterdam), in: Romantik. Journal for the Study of Romanticisms, Volume 06 (2017), pp. 121-123.
Preface ... vii
List of Figures, Charts, Tables, and Maps ... xi

Introduction ... 1

PART 1: Towards a Theory of Cultural Sainthood

1 Remembering the Dead: Contexts of Cultural Sainthood ... 11
Cultural Memory and Invisible Religion ... 14
Nationalism and Civil Religion ... 23
Relics, Rituals, and Postulators ... 29

2 Commemorative Cults of Poets and Writers: A Historical Perspective ... 35
From Poets’ Hero Cults to the Concept of Canonicity ... 36
Medieval and Early Modern Europe: From “Poets Laureate” to the Petrarch Cult ... 42
The Cult of Centenary and Denkmalwut ... 51
Ritual and Cult as the Core of Commemorative Culture ... 58
The Rise of National Poets as Paradigmatic Cultural Saints ... 61

3 The Canonization of Cultural Saints: A Dynamic Model ... 71
Canonization, Canon, and Cultural Saints ... 72
Vita: Potentials of the Individual for Canonization ... 78
Cultus: The Production and Reproduction of Canonical Status ... 81
Effectus: Consequences for Society at Large ... 91

PART 2: National Poets from the European Periphery: Two Case Studies

4 “Glory to Prešeren!”: Canonizing a Paradigmatic Cultural Saint ... 99
Examining the Threads of Vita ... 100
Opera: Poetic Cult and the “European Level” ... 106
A Prelude to Canonization: The Tombstones ... 111
Vodnik, the “First Slovenian Poet” ... 115
The Prešeren Centenary and the Monument to the National Genius ... 122
From the Monument to the National Anthem ... 134
The “Slovenian Cultural Syndrome” ... 144

5 “I Sensed Your Desire for Your Home”: Postulators of the Memory of Jónas Hallgrímsson ... 149
Vita and Persona: Prešeren’s Nordic Twin ... 150
Opera and Acta: “His Story Still Can Make the Heart Beat High” ... 155
Postulators: The Role of Friends and Relatives ... 160
The Jónas Monument and the Icelandic Flag ... 168
The Translation and Reburial of the Poet’s Relics ... 176
Cultural Saints and Cultural Capital ... 185

Epilogue ... 189

Bibliography ... 205
Index of Names ... 226
All interested in European (cultural) nationalism and its para-religious extensions, as well as in commemoration, veneration, and canonization of artists (especially poets) in various literary cultures within the last two centuries.