Introduction to culture and literature (2010)

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Introduction to culture and literature


Examination material

Below, you will find the material of the examination.

The first section of this material consists of terms and issues that have not been discussed in the lectures (terms related to general cultural knowledge and terms related to the study of literature). This is followed by all your lecture handouts. In some cases (e.g. anthropology, referentiality, binarity), key terms discussed during the lectures are also defined in the other part of the material.

At the end of this material, you will find detailed instructions concerning the examination. If, after having read that section, you still have queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

The examination test will also contain questions concerning the literary texts and other quotations, films, paintings and other visual representations (photographs, advertisements) discussed in the lectures. As I informed you during the very first lecture, some parts of the examination material (especially the analyses of the films, images and literary texts, as well as some other issues) are not discussed in detail in the material below. In order to be able to answer these questions, it will be necessary to have lecture notes. All the essay questions in the examination test will be selected from the list which concludes this material, except for questions relating to quotations, paintings and films discussed during the lecture.

You will find the paintings and other images in the INTROGALLERY.

NB. You do not have to learn the definitions word by word (many of these things should be familiar from secondary school material, anyway): read the definitions first, and when are sure you have understood them, try to describe the phenomenon in your own words. Mind the spelling of certain terms. Correct spelling is part of the answer.

NB. Please make sure that you understand the term that is to be defined and that you are able to explain it in decent English. If you are in doubt, consult me or your seminar instructor.

NB. Many (though not all) of the terms that appear as essay questions are indicated with an *, set in BOLD CAPITALS.


The list below contains words that belong to the basic vocabulary of any educated person, especially to that of anyone with a university degree in English. Familiarity with the basic concepts listed and defined below  as well as their correct spelling  is a precondition of passing the examination.
The Hungarian noun “tudomány” can be translated as scholarship (in a more general sense) or science, which refers only to the natural sciences.

Academic disciplines (“tudományok”, “tudományágak” in the most general sense) are divided into several categories, which include the following three:

sciences or natural sciences (“természettudományok”): disciplines like biology, chemistry, physics, medical science etc

social sciences (“társadalomtudományok”): academic disciplines like sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science etc

humanities or arts: (“bölcsész(et)tudományok”): academic disciplines including literary studies, history, art history, linguistics, etc

Please note that the expression (fine) arts is also used as the collective term for painting and sculpture (“képzőművészet”)

The Hungarian adjective “tudományos” can be translated in different ways: “scientific” refers mainly to the natural sciences, whereas “scholarly” to the humanities; a more general term that may cover both areas in certain situations is “academic”. For instance, the academic community of a country includes scientists and scholars alike.

the intelligentsia (“értelmiség”): the collective word for intellectuals; an intellectual is an educated person, usually having a university degree, who is able to form his/her own opinions about the things of the world (politics, culture) and follows the developments of cultural and political life.

(the terms that follow have their origin in philosophical thought, but all of them have broader meanings: they have all become part of educated discourse. Thus, the definitions that follow are not strictly philosophical: they stress the more general usage of the terms)

a concept (“fogalom”): an abstract category (as opposed to a concrete name); e.g. the concept of love, the concept of freedom, equality or hatred

a binarity (binary opposition) (“bináris oppozíció”, “kétosztatúság”): a sharp opposition between two contrasting terms, such as the oppositions on which our (philosophical and everyday) thinking is based: e.g. subject/object, male/female, self/other, particular/universal, civilisation/barbarity etc

Here are a few crucial binary oppositions that play an important role in our thinking.


abstract (“elvont”): general, considered independently of any specific object or example;

concrete (“konkrét”): pertaining to a specific object, event or example. E.g. It is difficult to conceive of abstract concepts without concrete examples.


universal (“egyetemes”): general, valid everywhere and in any set of circumstances;

particular (“egyedi”, filozófiai kategóriával “különös”): specific, individual. For instance: his particular case is an exception to the universal rule.

eternal — ephemeral:

eternal: timeless, perennial;

ephemeral: momentary, transitory, fleeting.


literal (“szószerinti”): straightforward (meaning);

figurative (“képes”, “átvitt”): different from the straightforward meaning, usually metaphorical

orality literacy:

oral means “spoken”, “not written”. Orality (“szóbeliség”) refers to those cultural traditions and institutions that do not use writing. E.g. folk literature used to spread orally/it was part of oral culture.

literacy (“írásbeliség”) means written forms of cultural practices, institutions created by these ways. Literacy also means the ability to read, spell and write. We talk about the rate of literacy in a certain country. In this sense, the opposite of literacy is illiteracy (analfabétizmus, írástudatlanság). Illiterate means “unable to read and write”, and literate means the opposite: “able to read and write”. Please note the difference between the words literary (having to do with literature), literal (straight, obvious meaning, the opposite of figurative) and literate (able to read and write).

metaphysics, metaphysical: the branch of philosophy that deals with final, ultimate things, the great questions of human existence, like for instance the concept and nature of being or reality, the relationship between general Being and individual or particular Existence, between form and matter (substance), etc

transcendental: beyond/above our world, having authority over it; e.g., God is our most common idea of a personified transcendental force

transcendence: (the idea that there is) something (someone) beyond /above our world of everyday experience. The desire for some sort of transcendence seems to be a general feature of different human civilisations.

a phenomenon (“jelenség”); plural: phenomena: any object of the world as it appears to our senses. It also means “jelenség” in a more general cultural sense: we talk about social, cultural, political and artistic phenomena. For instance: the “single woman phenomenon” (“a szingli-jelenség”) reached a wider public through the Bridget Jones books.

perception (“észlelés”): the process (act) of becoming and being aware of the outside world through the senses. E.g. visual perception vs. auditory or tactile perception

perceptual: having to do with perception; eg: the perceptual world: “érzéki valóság” (note that perceptive is an everyday word meaning simply “having sharp powers of observation”, referring to someone who notices things around him/herself)

sensory (“érzékekkel kapcsolatos”, rajtuk keresztül történő): having to to with the senses. Note the difference form the often derogatory sensual (“érzéki”) and sensuous (“érzékszervekre hatással lévő”)

mental spiritual intellectual

mental (“szellemi”): pertaining to the mind in a general sense; e.g. “mental activity” refers to all kinds of spiritual and intellectual activity. For instance: as she had never been ill before, it was mentally very difficult for her now to cope with the fact that she was seriously ill. “Mental” is also used in phrases that refer to the health of the psyche: e.g. “mental health”; a mental hospital or home is a place with people suffering from a mental disorder.

spiritual (“spirituális”, “lelki”, “szellemi”): pertaining to the spirit, pertaining to the soul; also, pertaining to higher aspirations of mankind; e.g. religion, art or Platonic love are usually thought to belong to the spiritual sphere; spiritual love is usually conceived as the opposite of physical love.

intellectual (“intellektuális”, “szellemi”, “értelmi”): pertaining to the intellect, to reason, rational; e.g. solving a mathematical or philosophical problem requires a great deal of intellectual effort.

in Hungarian, the three main senses of this word are rendered through three different words: “tapasztalás”, “tapasztalat”, “élmény”.

experience as “tapasztalás”: the result of perception and of existing in the world, the lived knowledge of the world. E.g. We learn through experience.

experience as “élmény”: a “memorable experience” (in this sense, the word usually gets an adjective: a pleasant or unpleasant etc experience).

experience as “tapasztalat”, “tudás”: here, experience is the opposite of “innocence”; in this last sense, “experience” means “knowledge”, the condition attained after one has been initiated into the “real world”, suggesting “knowledge” and “maturity” as opposed to the immaturity and ignorance that characterise the state of innocence (e.g. an experienced craftsman/sportsman etc).

an axiom: an unquestionable basic rule that is accepted as true, not requiring further verification. E.g. parallels don’t meet.

a principle (“alapelv”, also “elv”): a basic rule, for instance, the principles of mathematics or book reviewing (should not be confused with “principal”, primarily an adjective meaning “chief” or “main”).

an analogy (analógia): a mental operation by means of which we compare two things or phenomena; a strategy of reasoning based on the comparison. For instance: many thinkers have found analogies between the structure of insect communities and human societies.

a fallacy (“tévképzet”, “téveszme”): an erroneous or mistaken belief; e.g. the pathetic fallacy (see below), or the fallacy of Geocentrism (the mistaken belief that the Earth is the centre of the universe).

a criterion (“kritérium”, “szükséges feltétel”, “ismérv”), (plural: criteria): a necessary condition. For instance: the criteria of a successful business enterprise, the criteria of a good poem, etc.

a consequence (“következmény”): that which follows from an act; an effect (of a cause).

causality (“okozatiság”): the principle of causes (“okok”) leading to effects (“okozatok”) and effects following from causes according to an understandable logic.
ontology, ontological (“lételmélet[i]”): the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the being of things as they are

epistemology, epistemological (“ismeretelmélet[i]”): the branch of philosophy that is concerned with cognition, that is with how the world appears to us and is knowable by us

The contrast of ontology and epistemology is one of the major binary oppositions in philosophy. For instance: if I am not certain that it is possible to really know the world because my senses, reason etc. are deficient, this is an epistemological problem. If, however, I have doubts about the existence of the world or objects of the world, the problem becomes ontological. The kind of philosophy that is ontologically based asks questions like “How do things exist?”, whereas epistemologically oriented philosophy is more likely to ask questions about the possibilities and methods of knowing the things of the world.

cognition (“megismerés”): the philosophical term for the process and activity of knowing the world

cognitive: having to do with cognition; e.g. cognitive maps are mental maps of the world that help us know and find our bearings in the world

Platonism: the philosophical idea that there is another world above ours, the world of pure Ideas and essences, which is more real (because purer) than our world of physical objects; therefore, our physica, perceptual world appears as a world of less reality, a pale imitation of the world above

solipsism, solipsistic: the belief that the only reality is the one experienced by the individual, therefore nothing else is real outside me

sceptic(al): doubting

scepticism: an attitude of doubt

agnosticism: the philosophical attitude denying that the world is knowable that we can know anything for certain about the world and about other people; an agnostic is a person who represents this attitude

empiricism: the philosophical belief that the world is knowable through the information gained by sensory experiences; empiricist philosophers claim that all our knowledge comes ultimately from the outside world (e.g. Locke)

empirical: having to do with the world as it is experienced by the senses. E.g. Many philosophers value only empirical knowledge as opposed to speculation

rationalism: the philosophical belief that the world is knowable by reason, by the innate rational structure of the human mind; the structures of our reason are supposed to correspond to the (mathematical) laws of the world (eg. Descartes)

ethics (etika): one of the main branches of philosophy, dealing with the ideas and rules of right and wrong and trying to define these ideas in a universal way

morality (erkölcs, erkölcsiség): a system of ethical rules (e.g. Christian morality). Please do not confuse morality with “morality play” (further below in this list)

a moral (noun) (“tanulság”): the moral of a story is the lesson taught by that story

moral (adjective): a moral act is one that is right from an ethical point of view (opposite: immoral)

hedonism: the idea that the main aim of human life is to enjoy ourselves

pragmatism: the philosophical trend that views general ideas and concepts in terms of their practical consequences; abstract ideas and principles are viewed not as timeless and universally true but as the results of a consensus, and accepted in so far as they are useful for the community. In a more general sense, a pragmatic attitude means a practical and utilitarian view of things.

dogma: a settled, rigidly held opinion or belief

dogmatic, dogmatism: the attitude that clings too rigidly to a set of ideas or rules, refusing to modify any detail in the light of experience; dogmatic views are inflexible, dogmatic persons tend to be overbearing and self-assertive

apocryphal (adj., “apokrif”): not admitted into the canon, because it is of dubious origin/authorship; in everyday language, the word is used to refer to an account or version of events that is different from the officially accepted version. Originally, apocryphal texts were those that were left out of the Bible because their authenticity was doubted.

a vaguely definable group of philosophical tendencies in the second half of the nineteenth century and mainly in the twentieth century. Existentialism is probably the most influential philosophical tendency of the twentieth century in cultural and artistic terms, the only philosophical tendency that can be called “popular” in any sense. This popularity and impact is due to the fact that philosophy is concerned not so much with eternal and universal concepts but mainly with the lived life (existence) of the individual. It starts out from the experiences of the individual in the world, concentrating on the essential solitude of the individual in the face of other people, in the face of the oppressive laws and habits of society (alienation — “elidegenedés”), and in the face of the essentially alien, meaningless and even hostile universe. Existence is also seen as essentially absurd because of the fact of death. The existentialist hero is the lonely individual who deeply feels the hostility of the world and the absurdity of existence, and experiences what is called existential anxiety (“egzisztenciális szorongás”, the German word is “Angst”). This anxiety is different from simple fear, which has a definable object, whereas anxiety is more vague and general, having to do with the solitude and absurdity of existence in a hostile world. The existentialist hero’s “heroism” means that he is willing to face this anxiety and absurdity, and lives his life in a clear awareness of this anxiety, not hiding it behind layers of social customs. In this way, the existentialist hero confronts both society and the universe. Thus, existentialist heroes are usually individualistic, antisocial figures who consider social rules and rituals as lies that hide the essential horror and absurdity of existence, lies that pretend that the world is a place intended for human beings. Thinkers associated with existentialism include Søren Kierkegaard (19th century), Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism appears in a great deal of late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and film, for instance in the short stoires and novels of Dostoevsky (e.g. Notes from the UndergroundFeljegyzések az egérlyukból, Ördögök) novels of Sartre (NauseaAz undor), Camus (The StrangerA közöny), in the stories and novels of Franz Kafka (texts full of existentialist anxiety), in the fiction and plays of Samuel Beckett, as well as in the theatre of the absurd (see further below).

Society, politics and culture
referentiality (“referencialitás”): the ability of language to refer to the world, the belief that words refer to things outside language. E.g. Twentieth-century philosophy and literature began to question simple referentiality.

verbal (“nyelvi”): having to do with language, happening through language; eg. a verbal insult, verbal (and non-verbal) communication (please note that “verbal” does not mean “szóbeli,” which is “oral”!)

linguistic (“nyelvi”, “nyelvészeti”): having to do with linguistics, or with the system of language (e.g. linguistic theories, conferences etc.)

visual (“vizuális”, “képi”): having to to with the faculty of sight/vision and with images and representations perceptible for sight (e.g. visual culture); it might stand in contrast with “verbal” (e.g. verbal and visual representations or images)

an ideal (“eszmény”, “eszménykép”, “ideál”): a desired image of perfection, a standard of perfection. E.g. Jesus represented for everyone the ideal of Christian behaviour

genealogy (“[le]származás”, “eredet”): the ancestry (more than simply “origin”) of a person, a family or of anything else (of a given concept, of a particular science or discipline); also, the study and exploration of this ancestry

a metamorphosis: a transformation, a complete change of form and/or substance. Eg. the metamorphosis of Narcissus into a flower or of Gregor Samsa into an insect

hypocrisy (“képmutatás”): pretence, the act of pretending to be what one isn’t, to pretend beliefs one does not hold

a hypocrite: someone who pretends to be different from what he is, usually pretending to be virtuous while being the opposite; a Tartuffe (from the protagonist of Molière’s play); we talk of hypocritical behaviour

decadent (“dekadens”): decaying, deteriorating; a decadent culture is one that is past its peak and its cultural products and institutions are considered feeble, sickly. The terms Decadent and Decadence are specifically used to refer to a certain artistic tendency (in France, England) at the end of the 19th century (Oscar Wilde was the most famous representative).

misogyny (“nőgyűlölet”): the hatred and detestation of women. A misogynist is a person who hates women.

xenophobia (“xenofóbia”, “idegengyűlölet”): the hatred of strangers, of those that are different from us. A xenophobe is a person who hates strangers and people different from himself.

racism (rasszizmus): the idea that some races are physically and/or intellectually superior to others; racism usually leads to the hatred of people belonging to other races (e.g. blacks or Asians), and to racial discrimination, that is, to unjust differentiation between the members of different races. The Apartheid (“apart-ness”) system in South Africa was built on racism and discrimination (e.g. black children were not allowed to go to school with white children, or even to use the same public transport). Anti-semitism is also a kind of racism, and Hungary before World War Two was characterised by racial discrimination. Needless to say that racism has no scientific (biological or physiological) basis whatsoever.

sexism (szexizmus): the idea that one sex is physically/intellectually superior to the other. The victims of sexist thought and sexual discrimination are usually women (for instance, in Hungary today women tend to get paid less for the same job).

the “science” of man and mankind, of man as a social/cultural animal, of the institutions of human society, of all manifestations of human nature and the human community that are not purely biological. This “discipline” arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from ethnography, the study of “primitive” or “savage” peoples in the early twentieth century. Anthropology is based on the realisation that there is something common (the essentially human) between the most primitive tribes and the most highly sophisticated societies, and anthropology concentrates on these common features, on the features that distinguish “culture” from “nature”. This also implies that anthropologists investigate not only the so-called “primitive” societies, but also European social and cultural phenomena. When a European custom or institution is examined from an anthropological perspective, this means that a European social or cultural phenomenon is seen as if it belonged to an alien culture. For instance, the anthropological examination of religion means to see religion (religious faith itself and all the other aspects of religion) as a social or cultural phenomenon: to see it not from within religious faith but as the expression of a general human aspiration or desire for something spiritual and transcendental. (For more details and names, see also lecture handout)


(these terms are originally related to religion or theology, but most of them have a more extended meaning, which is what is stressed in the definitions below)

theology: the science of religious (Christian) matters; scholars dealing with such matters are called theologians (be careful not to confuse the word with teleology)

divine: having to do with God/divinity E.g. in epics, the outcome of battles is decided by divine power or intervention.

apotheosis (“valaminek az apoteózisa, mennybemenetele vagy megdicsőülése”): the process of becoming God; the ranking of a person among the gods; also used in everyday language to refer to the exaggerated overvaluation of a person or an idea. For instance, we could say that reality shows represent the apotheosis of vulgarity and stupidity.

apocalypse: the title of the last book in the New Testament, containing prophecies of the end of the world and of all the horrible things that will take place before this event. By extension, apocalyptic is used to refer to any kind of universal catastrophe or cataclysm (as in the Coppola film Apocalypse Now).

providence (“gondviselés”): the care of God over His creatures, divine supervision, including foresight and direction; providential (“gondviselésszerű”): something indicating divine intervention and purpose.

a gospel (“evangélium”): a record of the life and deeds of Jesus Christ written by one of the apostles (the four Gospels in the New Testament)

secular (“világi”): pertaining to things not religious or not having to do with the Church. For instance, the period beginning with the 17th and 18th centuries saw the increasing secularisation of European culture.

ecclesiastic(al) (“egyházi”): having to do with the institution of the Church; not secular

puritanical: Puritans were religious dissenters in 16th- and 17th-century England; in a broader sense, puritanical refers to habits and institutions (and people or communities) that are extremely rigorous, professing simplicity, purity, temperance and a general austerity, condemning pleasure as sinful.

orthodoxy: sound(ness) of faith; the accepted dogmas of a given religion or, more broadly, a given system of thought. The adjective is orthodox: agreeing with the strictest dogmas of a faith or system of thought.

heresy (eretnekség, eretnek tan): a religious idea or set of ideas contradicting the officially accepted beliefs (that is, from orthodoxy); originally used in religious terms; heretical ideas and sects differed from the religious dogma and were therefore persecuted, just as the holders of these heretical ideas, called heretics. The word is often used in secular (e.g. political) contexts, referring in a general sense to ideas that differ from the officially accepted version of truth.

occult: (referring to a kind of spiritual knowledge or certain spiritual matters) hidden from the eyes and the knowledge of average people, mysterious, invisible

the occult sciences are astrology, alchemy and magic; occultism is a system of esoteric knowledge based on the occult sciences, professed by occult sects


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