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Balkan Revisions to the Myth of Central Europe

Jessie Labov
New York University
This paper takes up the challenge presented by Maria Todorova at the end of her chapter on
Central Europe in Imagining the Balkans: to try to address the question of how the Balkans are
related to the mythical project of Central Europe. My more general area of study is the concept
of Central Europe in the 1980s, primarily as it appeared in the journal Cross Currents: A
Yearbook of Central European Culture; for this symposium on Southeastern Europe I will try to
present the relationship between the two geographical regions as it appears in the twelve issues
of Cross Currents (1982-1994). The role of Southeastern Europe in the imaginary cultural
geography of Central Europe (a geography which is clearly articulated by Todorova as well), has
to do with which aspects of Balkan culture are useful, relevant, and/or difficult to assimilate into
the larger regional picture. After reviewing Todorovas arguments regarding Central Europe, I
examine two texts on Central Europe that I call mission statements for their
inclusion/exclusion of Southeastern Europe: one by Czesaw Miosz and the other Milan
Kundera. Next, I engage questions about the form of the journal, first in reference to earlier
intellectual practices, and then by evaluating the twelve tables of contents of the journal for the
editorial selection, placement, and ratio of articles relating to Southeastern Europe. Finally, and
most importantly, I take a closer look at two of the authors specifically representing Southeastern
Europe in the journal: Vladimir Dedijer and Danilo Ki.

Jessie Labov
Jessie Labov is working on her dissertation on Central Europe at New York University, in the
department of comparative literature. Her thesis is on the reinvention of the concept of Central
Europe in the 1980s, specifically in the journal Cross Currents. For the last few years she has
been presenting papers and teaching classes on Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and formerly
Yugoslav film and literature, which is a welcome relief from writing mostly about essays.

Balkan Revisions to the Myth of Central Europe


Jessie Labov
New York University
Introduction
This paper takes up the challenge presented by Maria Todorova at the end of her chapter on
Central Europe in Imagining the Balkans, to address the question of how the Balkans are related
to the mythical project of Central Europe. My more general area of study is the concept of
Central Europe in the 1980s, primarily as it appeared in the journal Cross Currents: A Yearbook
of Central European Culture ; for this symposium on Southeastern Europe I will try to present
the relationship between the two geographical regions as it appears in the twelve issues of Cross
Currents (1982-1994).
There are many other ways in which this kind of relationship might be evaluated: in the
economic policy of individual Central European countries towards their neighbors below the
Danube, for example; or a straightforward discourse analysis of the term Balkan in the Central
European media. By restricting my project to the confines of a journal that calls itself A
Yearbook of Central European Culture, I am delineating very clear boundaries for possible
conclusions. Cross Currents is concerned with both the reinvention of a Central European
culture that had been subsumed under the larger rubric of Eastern European or Soviet
culture, and at the same time the articulation of this category in a Western context. Many articles
suggest that their primary purpose is to introduce authors and artists from Central Europe to a
specifically American audience (the journal was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan by Ladislav
Matejka and Benjamin Stoltz, and then moved to Cambridge, MA with Matejka). The
institutional task at hand was to create a space in which to discuss Central European culture
within Slavic departments at American and British universities, dominated by scholars of
Russian language and literature. We should not ignore what was also at stake in promoting
Central Europe in the political geography of Europe in the 1980s; the imposition of martial law
in Poland in 1982 prompted some Western governments to more actively support dissident
movements in the East. Beyond these issues, however, and beyond even the very fundamental
question of what boundaries constitute Central Europe, I choose to see this journal as an
experiment in defining a regional culture. What elements must one include to convince, to
persuade both a Western audience (and scattered groups of migrs from the East) that Central
Europe is a culture in and of itself that it is a coherent whole that is separate from the more
well-known Russian, German, and Turkish cultures that have occupied the same physical space?
Because of these questions, the role of Southeastern Europe in the imaginary cultural geography
of Central Europe (which is pretty clearly articulated by Todorova herself in the abovementioned chapter) has more to do with which aspects of Balkan culture are useful, relevant,
and/or difficult to assimilate into the larger regional picture. Fault lines between the AustroHungarian and Ottoman Empires, for example, re-emerge because of the importance of the
former to the concept of Central Europe, and the inherently alien nature of the latter yet this is
only one of many roads into the subject. Because my larger project takes the unorthodox
approach of treating twelve issues of a serial yearbook as a single text, to be read from one end

to the other, I have devised three strategies of reading Southeastern Europe into Cross Currents,
all of which maintain that impression of unity. After reviewing Todorovas arguments regarding
Central Europe, I examine two of the texts that I call mission statements, which appear
throughout Cross Currents for their inclusion/exclusion of Southeastern Europe: one by Czesaw
Miosz, and one by Milan Kundera.1 Next, I engage questions about the form of the journal, first
in reference to earlier intellectual practices, and then with a kind of content analysis (by
evaluating the twelve tables of contents of the journal for the editorial selection, placement, and
ratio of articles relating to Southeastern Europe). Finally, and most importantly, I take a closer
look at two of the authors specifically representing Southeastern Europe in the journal: Vladimir
Dedijer and Danilo Ki.
Todorova and Central Europe
Before getting into the geographical questions about borders and which countries belong in
Central Europe, Southeastern Europe, or both (a task undertaken by most if not all of the mission
statements), it is necessary to understand the political and intellectual history of this movement.
In her chapter on the subject Todorova provides an excellent summary of the publications and
debates that contributed to the reemergence of Central Europe in the 1980s. From the
Hungarian historian Jen Szcs initial theory that Eastern Europe must be divided into EastCentral and Southeastern, to the political wrangling in the early 1990s over which countries
might be included in the newly-expanding NATO, which then led to the demise of any potential
Central European coalition, Todorova follows a trajectory of intellectual thought through the
thorny issues of cultural imperialism, identity politics, economic makeovers, and the general
chaos of transition. In other words, she takes on the mythology, and makes careful decisions
about how to analyze its effects without attempting to answer T.G. Ashs daunting question:
Does Central Europe Exist? (1986) In Todorovas narrative, there are three contemporaneous
versions of the Central European myth in the early 80s: the partitioning of Szcs; an attitude
described by Miosz in a series of works (1983, 1986); and the tragedy dramatized by Kundera
in 1984. She isolates characteristics of each, suggests that while Szcs dismisses Southeastern
Europe from his picture, Miosz embraces the area as non-Russian without mentioning the
Balkans separately (Todorova 145), and then turns to Kunderas essay. With Kundera, and then
in broader strokes, in the ensuing polemic ten years later between Vclav Havel and Joseph
Brodsky (1994), the issue of Central Europe focuses around the demonization of Russia and
Russian culture. Where Todorova sees Miosz as ambiguous towards Russia (145), Kundera
and Havel are using Russia as an essentialized alien, a distinct culture more foreign to the
West than the Czech, Polish or Hungarian middle ground. In this view, resisting the
essentialized Russian East is what gives Central Europe its centralness (146, 147).
Here Todorova introduces a second round of the debate about Central Europe, as articulated in
many different publications during the late 1980s. Cross Currents is included in those
mentioned, although it stands out as the only publication primarily concerned with the cultural
issues that accompany the political ones. George Schpflin and Nancy Woods book In Search
of Central Europe stands in as a kind of reader for Todorova (a representative sample), and she
1

Included in this category is Kunderas well-known essay published beyond the confines of Cross Currents that has
become a part of the general discussion: The Tragedy of Central Europe, which originally appeared in The New
York Review of Books (1984).

treats the essays included in it as following the three master narratives of Szcs, Miosz, and
Kundera. In general, the references to Southeastern Europe are few and far between.2 Todorova
then outlines the major historical attempts to theorize the center of Europe into existence:
Friedrich Naumanns pan-Germanic Mitteleuropa; Thomas Masaryks interwar dream of a
politically united Central Europe; and finally historian Oskar Haleckis definition of the region,
as he published several volumes about it during the early stages of the Cold War (150-152). The
contrast between Haleckis view of Southeastern Europe and that of the intellectuals of the 1980s
forms the core of Todorovas critique of the Central European movement, and I will return to
this comparison after laying out the contents of Cross Currents in more detail.
After 1990, Todorova claims, came the next step in the development of the Central European
idea: the application of the theory to a pragmatic, political sphere. In this mode, the question of
whether Southeastern Europe which might have been able to hover previously in the undefined
space between East and West, and Russia and Germany belonged in Central Europe
became much more prominent. As mentioned above, it was around the issue of inclusion or
exclusion from the NATO military alliance that the intellectual ideal of a unified Central Europe
began to disintegrate. Todorovas observation about the first debates on the subject, that the
Balkans were evoked as the constituting other to Central Europe alongside Russia (156), is then
proven in her analysis of the discourse surrounding the words and balkanization in the popular
press over the next two years. In relation to Central Europe, the Balkans are invoked almost
solely as a dividing line between those countries which are always already Western, and those
which are sliding backwards towards their Ottoman past.
Todorovas challenge suggested at the beginning of this paper is contained in the last
paragraph of the chapter. It is not enough to expose the Central European myth as insidious, or
its attempt to contrast itself to the Balkans as invidious, she writes, one must go further into the
comparison of the two mythologies.
Juxtaposing the notion of Central Europe as an idea with its short-term
cultural/political potential to the concept of the Balkans with its powerful
historical and geographic basis, but with an equally limited although much longer
historical and span, one can argue that the two concepts are methodologically
incomparable, and therefore incompatible constructs. (160)
There is no argument against the powerful historical and geographic basis of the concept of the
Balkans as presented by Todorova in the book as a whole. Its originality and genuine
interdisciplinarity (as opposed to some studies that border on tokenism by incorporating
disciplines over which the author does not have full control) make Imagining the Balkans
extremely useful as a model, and in my case as a bridge to a corresponding intellectual history. I
would first agree that the two concepts (that of Central Europe and that of the Balkans) are
methodologically incomparable, but I would also argue that this does not necessarily mean that
the Central European intellectual is writing against Balkan culture. Rather, in a context like
2

One exception that Todorova makes is Predrag Matvejevis article, Central Europe Seen from the East of
Europe, which includes certain Balkan cities like Belgrade and Bucharest, and regions of Yugoslavia. Todorova
draws attention to Matvejevis fluid view of Yugoslav identity, which is not subject to the nesting orientalisms
discussed in other chapters of her book, in which Slovenia and Croatia especially, are portrayed as more Western,
and regions to the South and East of Yugoslavia are exoticized as progressively more Eastern (cf. Chapter 2, p. 58).
Matvejevi is a key figure in representing Yugoslavian culture in Cross Currents.

that of Cross Currents, in which the very definition of a culture is being worked out next to the
specific concept of Central Europe, the dilemma of how or when to include Southeastern Europe
becomes essential to the project almost thematic. The heterogeneity of Southeastern Europe,
for example, is often used to stand in for a lost heterogeneity in countries farther to the north. At
the same time, the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups in a country like Yugoslavia,
at least up until 1990, served as a prototype for the multicultural utopia that the myth of Central
Europe presented to its potential residents. If we follow the intellectual history generated by
Cross Currents, it is the failure of that vision of co-existence that led to a real disillusionment for
the Central European intellectuals discussed above; the resulting disenchantment from within
played at least as vital a part in the collapse of Central Europe as the military and economic
temptations of mainstream Europe in the early 1990s.
Two Mission Statements
Czesaw Miosz (1911- )
An essay by Miosz opens the first volume of Cross Currents: Looking for a Center: On the
Poetry of Central Europe (1982). Miosz presents, essentially, an essay on Polish poetry, but
has confidence that students of Czech or Hungarian or Baltic literatures will easily find
analogies (1). He locates, first in space, then in time, the coordinates of the subject he will
proceed to navigate: combining the East-West axis and North-South axis of Europe (the Eastern
marches of Rome-centered Christendom); and the possibility of different temporal centers of
Europe (The seventeenth centurygradually moved the cultural center of continental Europe
from Rome to Paris). Invoking Rome as a past center implies that this is a malleable concept,
that centers can move.
Similarities among poets of the Renaissance, whether French or Polish or
Croatian, were due to their common models taken from Italy. Similarities among
modern poets of various languages were due to their openness to French
influence. However, it would be a mistake to reduce this to the question of
fashion and of imitation. Rather, French men of letters succeeded in imposing
everywhere their own conviction that what was French was universal, i.e. a norm
for the whole civilized world, while the particular, different in every country,
constituted so many deviations. (3)
Despite the appearance of a new center on the horizon (Moscow) Miosz remains faithful in
some way to the French universal. He admits that his paper could just as well be entitled
What Happened in Our Time to Paris, Once a Mecca of Poets and Painters? This does not
mean that Miosz views his French intellectual contemporaries with rose-colored glasses, either.
He quotes three poems that problematize this relationship, between the poet behind the Iron
Curtain and the Western Marxist: Zbigniew Herberts Mona Lisa, about an imaginary visit to
the Louvre; Tadeusz Rewiczs poem Falling, about Camus La Chute; and Constantin
Cavafys Waiting for the Barbarians. Miosz explains the last choice as follows:
It would be wrong to underestimate the subtle and hidden relations between
poetry and politics. And the intellectual Paris of the 1950s and the 1960s turned
with expectation towards the East, masochistically assigning itself to the role of a
periphery of Moscow. A poem written decades earlier by the Greek poet Cavafy,
Expecting the Barbarians, acquired a new poignancy and was particularly liked
by the Polish poets as an indictment of their Western European brethrenIt tells

the story of how a center, by losing faith in itself, changes through resignation
into a periphery. (8)
Mioszs third illustration is interesting in the context of Central and Southeastern Europe
because it suggests that weve come to the end of his French universal. In its place stands a new
cultural unity, a shared joke between two countries involuntarily on the periphery of Europe,
wherever the center might be.
There is no great inclusion of Southeastern Europe in Mioszs vision of Central Europe. Except
for the above reference to Croatia (as a papal follower), the intellectual capitals and poets listed
belong to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. A few details will take on greater significance
later, however. For one thing, Miosz is so precise about his own spatial and temporal genealogy
that the center he defines becomes a personal, individual choice instead of a formula for Central
European success. Second, his attachment to and simultaneous suspicion of the lost French
universal, from which one could chart ones national deviation, should be linked to the role of
the public intellectual which Miosz has worn gallantly ever since The Captive Mind. Lastly, his
final paragraph, in which he cautions messianically against the dangers of nationalism.
Standing one ones own feet, liberating oneself from the vestiges of unhappy love
for the West is a good thing, provided it doesnt lead to entrenching oneself in a
morbid nationalism. An East-Central Europe composed of closed national
compartments hostile or indifferent to each other would be against the vital
interests of its nations. (11)
Given that the Central European myth usually invokes the brief interwar period as a model for
independence from foreign domination, Miosz was just as likely referring to the dangerous
nationalisms that developed in the 30s as the possibility of national conflict in the near future of
Central Europe. His potential remedy: a clear understanding of the past, of a shared cultural
regional identity. This is the initial motivation behind Cross Currents.
Milan Kundera (1929- )
The next major mission statement is the most famous one, Kunderas Tragedy of Central
Europe. The title comes from an earlier version (1962) of Stephen Borsodys continually
developing history of Central Europe, currently known as The New Central Europe (1993). The
tragedy of Central Europe that Kundera articulates begins with arguments similar to Borsody,
about the political situation of the Central European countries after World War II, about their lost
potential. Kundera refuses to delineate specific geographic boundaries (It would be senseless to
try to draw its borders exactly. Central Europe is not a state: it is a culture or a fate. Its borders
are imaginary and must be drawn and redrawn with each new historical situation (1984, 35)),
but the countries he mentions the most often in the postwar period are the same three as Miosz:
Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. The influence of this article, and its success in drawing
some international attention to the revival of Central Europe, is probably due to Kunderas
excellent reading of late Cold War politics. His overriding insistence that Central Europe
belongs to the West, that it contains something that Europe itself has lost touch with, the antiRussian sentiments, and the isolation and untouchability of countries still behind the Iron
Curtain, all of these factors combine to produce a new final frontier to be explored, discovered,
marketed. These are the aspects of the article that appear in Todorovas chapter, and they are the

ones most often discussed. They are also shared by most of the mission statements about Central
Europe, however, and the significance of Kunderas article for this paper lies in different details.
After Kunderas major historical and political arguments, and after his diatribe against the
stereotype of the Slavic soul, he begins to make lists. He lists the different cultural moments of
Central Europe that have become important, or memorable, to Western Europe: Vienna at the
turn of the century; interwar Prague and Krakow; Charles University in the 14th century; the
Hungarian Renaissance; the experience of 19th-century national struggles and the poets that led
them; the advent of Zionism. These are the great common experiences that reassemble peoples,
regroup them in ever new ways along the imaginary and ever-changing boundaries that mark a
realm inhabited by the same memories (35). The following paragraph, the opening of
Section 7, reads as follows:
Sigmund Freuds parents came from Poland, but young Sigmund spent his
childhood in Moravia, in present-day Czechoslovakia. Edmund Husserl and
Gustav Mahler also spent their childhoods there. The Viennese novelist Joseph
Roth had his roots in Poland. The great Czech poet Julius Zeyer was born in
Prague to a German-speaking family; it was his own choice to become Czech.
The mother tongue of Hermann Kafka, on the other hand, was Czech, while his
son Franz took up German. The key figure in the Hungarian revolt of 1956, Tibor
Dry, came from a German-Hungarian family, and my dear friend Danilo Kis, the
excellent novelist, is Hungario-Yugoslav. What a tangle of national destinies
among even the most representative figures of each country!
Working his way from north to south, Kundera produces great cultural figures with hybrid
identities that challenge our attempts to assign them nationalities. This is an illustration of the
common experiences and ever-changing boundaries described above, and it seems at first
glance to be a straightforward appeal to pluralism, diversity, multiculturalism values that
appeal to the Western audience as much as anti-Russian ones do. But in the midst of this tangle
of identity politics there is a hidden marker, which Kundera reveals in the next sentence.
And all of the names Ive just mentioned are those of Jews. Indeed, no other part
of the world has been so deeply marked by the influence of Jewish genius. Aliens
everywhere and everywhere at home, lifted above national quarrels, the Jews in
the twentieth century were the principal cosmopolitan, integrating element in
Central Europe: they were its intellectual cement, a condensed version of its spirit,
creators of its spiritual unity. Thats why I love the Jewish heritage and cling to it
with as much passion and nostalgia as if it were my own. (35)
Here lies the second meaning of tragedy in the title: with the loss of Jewish people and culture,
Kundera believes that the intellectual cement and unity is missing from the concept of Central
Europe. The lists are a kind of mortar, in that they remind us not only of the contributions of
Central Europeans, but how interconnected those contributions are. It is another version of
Mioszs panacea of historical understanding to heal the rifts of fragmentary nationalism. And in
fact, once the glue is in place, Kundera goes on to discuss the dilemma of the small nation
(exemplified by the Jewish people), another often-discussed passage of this essay.
Cross Currents is actually mentioned in a footnote to Kunderas essay, in this same Section 7,
after the discussion of small nations and the relevance of their problems to Europe in general.
Kunderas reason for placing the reference here, I believe, is to suggest that the process of

coming to terms with the loss of Jewish culture might not necessarily happen in Central Europe
itself; that the lack of intellectual cement is in fact a global problem, and Cross Currents is one
example of the form that a new cohesion might take. The task of finding suitable replacements
for the great cultural figures of the past (the subject of the next section of the essay is Franz
Werfels hypothetical Weltakadamie der Dichter und Denker) is no longer just a Central
European problem, according to Kundera, it is a question for all Europeans.
Europe hasnt noticed the disappearance of its cultural home because Europe
no longer perceives its unity as a cultural unity.
In fact, what is European unity based on? (36)
This is another dimension of the same preoccupation, the same loss of a humanistic intellectual
tradition that carried out its business in a separate sphere from politics even if that business
concerned politics. Part of the problem in the West, Kundera diagnoses in Section 10, is the
mass media, which, for the French and Americans, are indistinguishable from whatever the
West is meant to be (37). At least in the postwar revolts in Central Europe there remained a last
link between politics and culture, for which Kundera makes another list: [the resistance to
Communism] was prepared, shaped, realized by novels, poetry, theater, cinema, historiography,
literary reviews, popular comedy and cabaret, philosophical discussions that is, by culture.
Following this thought all the way down to another footnote (a symptom of Kundera trying to
contain his digression) we find a list submerged within the above list of cultural products.
[footnote 11] By reviews I mean periodicals (monthly, fortnightly, or weekly) run
not by journalists but b people of culture (writers, art critics, scholars,
philosophers, musicians); they deal with cultural questions and comment on social
events from the cultural point of view[Here Kundera lists no less than seven
such journals in the German, Russian, French, and then Polish contexts]The
disappearance of such reviews from Western public life or the fact that they have
become completely marginal is, in my opinion, a sign that culture is bowing
out. (37)
Kundera goes on to describe his arrival in Paris after the 1968 invasion of Prague, his shock at
the liquidation of this literary culture, and his eventual realization that there was no analog for
this aspect of Czech culture in France. Another footnote [12] cites the Czech literary weekly
Literarni noviny as a further example, and mentions the numerous underground publications still
circulating in 1980s Poland.
In this tenth section of the essay, which on first reading might be dismissed as simply cultural
nostalgia on Kunderas part, there is embedded an explanation, or even a justification, for the
appearance of Cross Currents two years earlier. Between the earlier footnote, which mentions
Cross Currents because there might be something of value or relevance in it for Westerners
seeking intellectual cement, and the digressive footnotes in section 10, which insist on the
specificity and importance of the literary press in postwar Central Europe, there is another
mission statement a way out of the tragic tone that dominates the essay as a whole. In Cross
Currents, one might expect to find a recuperation of the cultural point of view that could still
comment on social events. One of the purposes of such a journal would be to locate or even
produce Kunderas great cultural figures (hereafter referred to as intellectuals) that have
disappeared from the European landscape.

The journals mentioned by Kundera, however even the example of the migr publication
Kultura based in Paris are based on one national literature, and written, of course, in the
language of that literature. Cross Currents, while derived from this model, contains texts
representative of much of Central Europe, and uses English as a universal language, as did its
contemporary publications devoted to history and political science (East European Reporter,
East European Politics & Society). The multinational approach has the potential to produce a
fragmented, seemingly haphazard selection of literary texts, especially when including Austrian
or German authors from the other side of the Iron Curtain. The editors of Cross Currents follow
Mioszs advice and set their journal in the past as well as the present, using articles about the
Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Jagieonian dynasty to dissolve current borders and boundaries.
They follow Kunderas example and incorporate much of the regions lost Jewish heritage as a
kind of intellectual cement between nations (after all, what else do all of the nations that could
possibly included in Central Europe share?), and across centuries.
The question still remains, though, of how to read twelve volumes of a yearly publication as one
text, and I take my answer from these mission statements by Miosz and Kundera as well. As
mentioned briefly above, the role of the public intellectual that they are both attempting to reinhabit (and that they claim can still be inhabited in Central Europe, as opposed to the West) has
its origins in the same French tradition that Miosz claims became a universal. Kundera
alludes to such a figure, dating back to the early stages of the Enlightenment, in one of his antiRussian statements:
in fact, totalitarian Russian civilization is the radical negation of the modern
West, the West created four centuries ago at the dawn of the modern era: the era
founded on the authority of the thinking, doubting individual, and on an artistic
creation that expressed his uniqueness. (37)
Although the word intellectual does not enter into common usage until the late nineteenth
century, with the Dreyfus affair (Jennings 1997, 7), there were certain groups of thinking,
doubting individuals who have received that title in retrospect; among the earliest in this
genealogy of public intellectuals, and the most important here, is the group surrounding Voltaire:
Diderot, DAlembert, and the other Encyclopedists. This is, then, the solution offered by the
combination of Mioszs French tradition and Kunderas list; to read Cross Currents as not just a
yearbook, but as an encyclopedia of Central European culture means to read each Table of
Contents as an attempt to define a larger entity, to encounter each new writer, artist, and/or
intellectual as an entry. Now formally as well, we have a model in which Southeastern Europe
will be emblematic; the success of the encyclopedia depends upon a number of diverse entries
being understood as necessary parts of a whole.
The Encyclopedia
Before actually cataloging the contents of Cross Currents, the connection between the
intellectual and the encyclopedia requires more attention. What is the relationship between the
genre designated for intellectual writing the essay and the encyclopedic entry, for example?
Cross Currents also contains many primary texts, often accompanied by essays on those texts.
Are these entries to be read in different registers? Do the entries in the encyclopedia consist of
the authors or the essayists, or perhaps the objects of their texts?

In his series of lectures on the subject in 1994 (published in the volume Representations of the
Intellectual ) Edward Said revisits various definitions of the intellectual and distinguishes two
directions that definition has taken in the twentieth century. Julien Benda, for his 1928 study Les
Trahison des Clercs, found only a few scattered figures living up to the standard of the
intellectual throughout European history (Voltaire being included in that selection). Those
following Benda must similarly condemn of modern intellectuals (from 1890 or so on), who
abandoned their position outside of all institutions to follow their political passions into
discussions of race, class, and nationality. Antoni Gramsci, writing his Prison Notebooks, is at
the other extreme, also in the late 20s, includes everyone who works in any field connected
either with the production or distribution of knowledge (Said 9). For his own definition, Said is
much more sympathetic to Gramsci, but rescues the individual, who has a specific public role in
society that cannot be reduced simply to being a faceless professional (11). On the same axis,
both Miosz and Kundera would probably move away from Said in the direction of Benda to
condemn those who have become accomplices to power yet their vision of the Central
European shares a lot with Saids point of view.
The central fact for me is, I think, that the intellectual is an individual endowed
with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an
attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an
edge to it, and cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose place it
is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma
(rather than to produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by
governments or corporations, and whose raison dtre is to represent all those
people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug. The
intellectual does so on the basis of universal principles (11)
Perhaps the similarity is due to the fact that Said derives his definition, in part, from the actions
of Central European intellectuals. Also, based on his own experience, he insists on the complex
nature of the private and public sides of the role, how his own, personal inflection and private
sensibility inevitably become a part of the public persona.
As close as Saids definition sounds to the self-image of the Central European intellectual, what
does it have in common with the writer of an encyclopedia? We do not usually envision the
encyclopedia entry author as someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing
questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma. Quite the opposite seems true, in fact: what could
be more orthodox than an entry in an encyclopedia? Yet to anyone familiar with the writing of
LEncyclopdie in the eighteenth century, Saids description will sound appropriate for its
authors. The materialist and anticlerical views that Diderot, DAlembert, and the other
Encyclopedists infused into many of the articles of LEncyclopdie led to scandals, attempts on
the part of the church to censor each new volume, and an intrigued and loyal public. The
Enlightenment philosophes can also be helpful in relating the genre of the encyclopedia to the
essay, for in the very same year that Diderot began technical research on LEncyclopdie,
Montesquieu, also known as the father of the essay, published his most famous work, LEsprit
des lois (1748). They are definitely of two domains: the encyclopedia is at least nominally
objective, the author is anonymous; the essay is a purposely subjective genre, the author is

assumed to be the one speaking.3 If we consider their shared origin among the progenitors of the
Enlightenment, however, it is clear that they both assert the authority of intellectuals to either
catalog or comment on the world around them. The claim to this authority, even against the will
of a legal or spiritual higher power, is novel to both genres, and connects them even today.
Does this mean that Miosz and Kundera are advocating a return to the Enlightenment, and pure
rationalism? That they would like to rewrite themselves as les nouveaux philosophes? Not
necessarily. The reactionary impulse of the two Central European intellectuals (to return to a past
moment in the European humanistic tradition) is countered by their revision of that project, by
the last phrase in Saids formula: to represent all those people and issues that are routinely
forgotten or swept under the rug.4 The reason that Said is so useful in this context is that he
decides to foreground the task of representation, which answers the last few questions about
Cross Currents read as an encyclopedia. In a literary journal without the aspiration to catalog and
describe an entire culture, the table of contents might be organized around a particular topic, and
even suggest different possible approaches to the topic, but it will not normally claim to
represent the entire discourse surrounding the topic. The same might be said of an essay or short
story in such a journal: under normal circumstances, the piece or author could stand alone, might
be read in dialogue with other articles in that issue, but is not necessarily representative of a
larger body of work, or a larger group of people. Reading Cross Currents as an encyclopedia
means that in addition to each entry containing factual information about a part of Central
Europe, and each author asserting their basic humanistic right to evaluate the world around them,
it is meant to represent a city, country, region, or even historical moment that is important to the
understanding of Central Europe. The purpose of both the entries and the authors is to
supplement the larger Encyclopdie of Western Europe, to describe a reality that does not exist in
the orthodox views of the West or the East.
The articles that appear in Cross Currents about Southeastern Europe, therefore, read as entries
in an encyclopedia, are emblematic of the role of Balkan culture in the myth of Central Europe.
The authors and essayists from the former Yugoslavia and Romania (the only two nations from
Southeastern Europe that are represented in Cross Currents) serve both as intellectuals
representing groups of people, and entries in the larger encyclopedic project.
Further Lists
[See Table 1 for a list of all of the articles appearing in Cross Currents concerned with
Southeastern Europe.]
The most immediately noticeable feature of the thirty-eight articles listed here, when seen in the
context of each Cross Currents table of contents, is where in the volumes these articles on
Southeastern Europe appear. Throughout the twelve volumes, there is an editorial logic at work
in the placement of articles. First, there are five to ten assorted articles on the theme of Central
3

Interestingly enough, neither of these conditions were met by Montesquieu and Diderot. The former often had to
disguise his narrating voice, the latter was notorious as the author of LEncyclopdie.
4
The criteria of representation is not new to the definition of an intellectual Voltaire, in fact, is usually
retrospectively defined as an intellectual because of his willingness to intervene in the affair of the Calas family, in
other words, he tried to speak out on their behalf (Benda 50). The difference here is that Said assumes that there will
be a group, or an identity, or at least a series of individuals that the intellectual will need to represent.

Europe, or on the particular theme that the volume is trying to address; these tend to be essays on
the current political situation, mission statements, or historical analyses of the Central European
question. Next, there are usually three or four articles on each of the three major national
literatures: Polish, Czech, Hungarian.5 The last third of each volume is devoted to two
miscellaneous categories: other nations (Slovakian,6 Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, Austrian,
German, Ukrainian, Romanian, or Yugoslav) and other media (film, theater, music, sculpture and
other visual arts). Therefore, the articles listed above about Southeastern Europe appear towards
the end. Beginning with the fourth volume (1985), the contents are divided into numbered
sections7, which more clearly reflect the categories listed above (see Table). This policy
continued until the journal moved in 1990 with Matejka to Cambridge, MA; from this point there
were significantly fewer articles in the journal, which might explain the lack of subdivision.
Despite the many different mission statements that claim that the boundaries of Central Europe
are not distinct, the editors of Cross Currents do make a decision on this subject, and add the
following statement at the end of volume 6 (along with a form to order back issues):
CROSS CURRENTS BRINGS THE CULTURAL UNIQUENESS AND
CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF CENTRAL EUROPE TO THE
ENGLISH READER. IT ADDRESSES A WIDE VARIETY OF TOPICS
PERTINENT TO THE LITERATURE, CULTURE AND HISTORY OF
AUSTRIA, THE BALTIC COUNTRIES, CZECHOSLOVAKIA, HUNGARY,
POLAND, YUGOSLAVIA, ROMANIA, AND THE UKRAINE. PUBLISHED
ANNUALLY SINCE 1982, EACH ISSUE OF CROSS CURRENTS CONTAINS
OVER 400 PAGES OF POETRY, PROSE, INTERVIEWS AND ESSAYS. THE
CONTRIBUTIONS IN CROSS CURRENTS AND THEIR ACCOMPANYING
ILLUSTRATIONS, PHOTOGRAPHS AND ARTWORK ALL VARIOUSLY
BRING INTO FOCUS THE JOURNALS MASTER-THEME THAT CENTRAL
EUROPE IS A COMPLETE CULTURAL UNIT BOUND TOGETHER BY AN
AWARENESS OF COMMON HISTORICAL EXPERIENCES.
The southern border of Central Europe, which seems to be a religious one adopted from Miosz,
runs between Yugoslavia/Romania and Albania/Bulgaria/Greece.8 The nations and nationalities
included are presented in an alphabetical list and only one list among other lists. In addition to
the diverse nations, the journal contains: literature, culture, and history, poetry, prose,
interviews and essays; illustrations, photographs and artwork. None of these elements are
uncommon in the Central European literary journals that Cross Currents is emulating, but in
those journals they are not enlisted into the encyclopedists project. The final statement of the
above advertisement, which reflects Mioszs conclusion as well, is that the object of study is a
5

There are a few exceptions, as in volume 3, when articles on Hungary are mixed in with those on Southeastern
Europe as well.
6
Even in the early issues, well before the separation of the Czech and Slovak republics, they were treated as two
different cultures in Cross Currents.
7
Within each subdivision, the individual articles often supplement each other. The Romanian section 6 of Cross
Currents 6, for example, contains an interview with Ion Caraion by Marguerite Dorian, and then a selection of
Caraions poems. Similarly, in volume 8, a short essay on the surrealism of Yugoslav writer Radovan Ivi precedes
his play AIAXAIA. This increases the encyclopedia effect, because it provides biographical details as well as other
types of context about the writers and artists included.
8
That is, according to national boundaries as they were drawn before 1989. If we were to consider present-day
boundaries, Macedonia would be south of the border as well.

cultural unit which has been determined by certain historical events and their impressions on
Central Europeans. Because the journal is composed of those impressions, it continues to
determine itself, to become more of a reality with each issue (as its audience begins to write
about its own awareness). In other words, the publication of Cross Currents marks the
beginning of a chain of consensus, and it is that consensus that brings the diverse elements of
nations, genres, and media together into one unit. If that consensus is threatened, or (to put it
another way) if the awareness of commonality subsides, then the journal cannot continue to
bind itself together. The editors and contributors of Cross Currents must believe, like the
Encyclopedists did, that they are simply asserting their authority to record and comment on an
objective reality.
In the initial volumes of the journal, cultural figures from both Romania and Yugoslavia
appear to symbolize Cross Currents goal of diversity, or heterogeneity, while still achieving
one, coherent reality. (In the case of Romania, it is the historic fact of the Kingdoms tolerance
of exiles and refugees from other parts of Europe that hovers in the background.) Over the
course of the journals publication, the Yugoslav entries begin to foreground the possibility of
division and the search for an intellectual cement, especially after 1989. The last section of this
paper examines two intellectuals Vladimir Dedijer and Danilo Ki for their representation of
Southeastern Europe in Cross Currents, and how that representation influences the overall
direction of the journal.
Two Yugoslav Entries
Vladimir Dedijer (1914- )
Although there are interesting articles by and about other Yugoslav writers (esp. Ivi and
Dubravka Ugrei), I have chosen Dedijer and Ki because they each appear in more than one
volume, and because of the resonance of their work in the larger project of Cross Currents.
Dedijer is probably most well known as an early historian of Communist Yugoslavia: he wrote
an authorized biography of Tito (1953), an official history of the country (1972), and many other
books chronicling the twentieth century in Yugoslavia. He was one of the original true believers,
who went to Spain and worked on political newspapers in the 30s, fought with Tito as a partisan
during the war, and appointed to a high position in the new government after the war. This part
of his biography appears in Cross Currents 4 (1985), in an autobiographical piece, My Two
Comrades. An editorial note introduces the piece:
Written in 1957, this manuscript was given to Eleanor Roosevelt for safekeeping
and is published here for the first time. We have appended to the text some
unpublished correspondence between Djilas and Dedijer.9 (387)
The piece that follows is Dedijers Captive Mind, a section of his memoirs in which he draws a
self-portrait similar to those in Mioszs 1953 study of the intellectuals enchantment with
Communism during the interwar period, and subsequent arrival at an empty faith. The inclusion
of this piece in Cross Currents is unusual, because most of the postwar entries either describe the
culture of dissent, or concern artists and writers who have kept a good distance from politics.
Over half of the articles are written by those already living in the West in the 1980s, and others
(like the essay about Ivi) are attempting to re-integrate the work of those living in exile into the

The note continues: This material will be used in the forthcoming book by Dedijer about Djilas to be published by
the University of Michigan Press. It is interesting that Dedijers essay, and the fascinating letters to and from
Milovan Djilas that follow also function as an advertisement, or preview of sorts, for U. Michigans Press.

Central European canon. In this case, Dedijer presents the reader with a view from the inside, in
the literary genre of memoir.
It was another set of published memoirs, the diaries that Dedijer kept during the war, that
launched his career in the new regime (1951). The newly published memoirs and letters in Cross
Currents mirror the first set of diaries, but add an extremely private element of disillusionment
and personal tragedy. They could be an illustration of the individual dimension of the intellectual
that Said feels is missing in Gramsci:
There is no such thing as a private intellectualNor is there only a public
intellectual, someone who exists just as a figurehead or spokesperson or symbol
of a cause, movement, or position. There is always the personal inflection and the
private sensibilityLeast of all should an intellectual be there to make his/her
audiences feel good: the whole point is to be embarrassing, contrary, even
unpleasant. (Said 12, emphasis in the original)
The climax of Dedijers memoirs involves such a moment, when he adopts this role, and speaks
out against Titos ousting of Milovan Djilas, thereby ending his active political career. Dedijers
entry in the encyclopedia of Cross Currents allows for the possibility that on an individual level,
a person may take on the role of the intellectual, even if they are not a lifelong dissident. It
demonstrates as well a commitment on the part of the editors to examine the embarrassing,
contrary, even unpleasant histories of Central Europe, and not just the nostalgic, AustroHungarian histories, or the heroic, Solidarity histories.
For an even truer parallel to Miosz, however, there is Dedijers essay on Ivo Andri, in volume
2, entitled Literature and History in the Totality of the Historical Process.10 What is most
initially intriguing about this article is the method: Dedijer the historian is analyzing Andris
qualities as a literary historian (as opposed to a historian of literature), and the article is not
really about literature at all, but about the possibilities of reading history through literature. There
are echoes of this idea in every entry of Cross Currents, from Mioszs article on. Because the
countries of Central Europe have had only limited periods of independence in the past few
centuries, their histories have been written by foreign occupiers. Therefore, the only historical
record of the nations themselves is in the products of their culture, and the overarching project of
Cross Currents is to reconstruct the history of the region based on those novels, plays, films,
paintings, operas, and so on. The essays (the attempts) are what stitch this fabric together.
Dedijer, as an accredited historian (and we shall see more on this in a moment), is a believable
authority in this interdisciplinary incubus, a voice of reason.
There is one further theme interwoven in this interdisciplinary paper a theme
sounded more than a century ago by Svetozar Markovi, who called on historians
to immerse themselves in all aspects of national life, including material
production, social relations, and national culture. As a historian of modern times,
I keep asking myself the question I first alluded to in 1960, in my introduction to
the Danish edition of Dobrica osis novel Daleko je sunce (Far is the Sun), and
again in 1972, in A History of Yugoslavia, namely: why is that writers like
Dobrica osi, Antonije Isakovi, Branko opi, Mihailo Lali, Mea Selimovi,
10

Whether this would qualify as an encyclopedic entry under Dedijer or Andri is up for debate; we gain almost
too much information about both figures to reconcile them with other entries under their name, which anticipates
Ki final judgment about the encyclopedia project.

Erih Ko, Miodrag Bulatovi, Matej Bor, Matija Bekovi and others have
entered more fully into the total historical process of the revolution of 1941-1945
than have many historians, sociologists, and political scientists? And by the same
token, does not Andris literary opus illuminate the periods described by him
more completely than the works of many historians? (Dedijer 1983, 243)
It is not immediately apparent how Dedijer intends to answer this question. Is he calling for a
revision in historiography, to an approach more like what we now call social history? Or is he
alluding to the decidedly unorthodox view that a novelist (even one adhering to socialist realist
principles) can portray more of lifes contradictions and shades of grey than can a socialist
historian?
There is one more major element circulating in Dedijers article, and that is the question of
cultural genocide. Here his international persona takes over, as U.N. delegate, as Chairman of
the Russell War Crimes Tribunal.11 After the first few sections of the essay examining Andris
concept of space and time (as an historian), Dedijer uses the novelist to make his case that the
current definition of genocide should be expanded to account for cultural genocide. In the
findings of the second Russell Tribunal, the first act of cultural genocide in Latin America took
place during the Spanish colonization. This was the so-called Christianization or destruction of
the cultural identity of the Indian people, carried out by the Franciscans and other Catholic
orders (254). The principle of cultural genocide under colonialism and/or imperialism is
continually applied by Dedijer via Andri to the Ottoman and Austrian Empires, and implicitly,
to the USSR as well. Dedijer uses the two definitions of genocide to structure his discussion of
Andri: he lists the five activities that constitute physical genocide according to the U.N.
definition,12 four more criteria that constitute cultural genocide,13 and then begins to find
examples of these activities throughout Andris work (even citing Andris dissertation on the
Turkish empire).
In presenting the systemization of genocidal acts in the works of Ivo Andri, I am
following the UN Convention of 1948, so that I might show more vividly to what
extent Andri, by going into all the nuances of cruelty and pain involved in the
phenomenon of genocide, went further than other writers, and surpassed the dry
wording of legal conventions. (255)
After 12 pages of examples, Dedijer has only reached genocidal activity c, and he stops his
catalog there, quite credibly citing lack of space. The next section, Martyrdom and Heroism
according to Andri, begins Sometimes Andris literary works remind one of a great arsenal,
from which every critic may select the weapons he needs at any given moment (266). By this
point, the correspondence between Dedijer and Miosz has ended.

11

There were, in fact, two sessions of the International Russell Tribunal, founded by Bertrand Russell. Dedijer
participated in both of them. The first Russell Tribunal (I) met in 1967 to discuss accusations of war crimes and
genocide in Vietnam; the second met in 1976 to discuss possible genocides in Latin America.
12
a) murder of the members of a group; b) severe injury to the physical or mental integrity of the members of a
group; c) intentional subjugation of a group to living conditions calculated to bring about its complete or partial
physical annihilation; d) measures having the objective of preventing births within the group; e) forced transfer of
children of the target group to another group (cited in Dedijer, 253)
13
a) prohibition of the use of a national language; b) prevention of schooling; c) destruction of books; d) destruction
of cultural buildings and monuments (ibid.)

Part of the difficulty in imagining a geopolitical space for the concept of Central Europe is
navigating between imperialism and nationalism. Resistance to imperialism comes naturally
enough to those living in and writing about the satellite countries of the USSR; it is often
referred to indirectly, as Dedijer does through discussing the domination of past empires,
sometimes to avoid censorship, sometimes just for the sake of subtlety. Mioszs dire warnings
about nationalism at the end of his mission statement, on the other hand, are not subtle, and
neither is his solution to work towards a clear understanding of the past, of a shared regional
identity. Dedijers treatment of Andri as a historian of genocide reveals a potential problem
with turning to history for the sake of a regional identity, for Dedijers history only identifies
with one ethnic identity Serbian and details the different crimes perpetrated against that
identity.14 He follows the program of Cross Currents, but produces a different result.
Both Dedijers memoirs and his essay on Andri prove the difficulty of incorporating him into
the Central European realm, even though he satisfies the basic definitions set forth in the mission
statements, and in the genealogy of the intellectual and the encyclopedia. His work even
embraces the methodology suggested by Miosz and other founding members: the
reinterpretation of history through literature. The problem is not with Dedijer, or some complex
now labeled as Balkan, but with Mioszs concept of history as a panacea itself.
The paradox I find in this foundational idea runs something like this: how can we expect
histories derived from the famously diverse and multicultural literatures of Central Europe to
reflect similar structures of identity, even within the same tiny burg? Of course, most of them
will share a resistance to imperialism, the fear of fear, and, in fact, a lot of other traits that
Dedijer detects when seeking signs of cultural genocide. The failure of the Yugoslav example to
produce a shared regional identity only illustrates more clearly a fault line that is part of the
Central European experience. In writing a novel, an author will extract only a few, personal
dimensions of that experience. In parsing the novel in order to write a history, the essayist (or
historian) will be extracting only a few more, equally personal dimensions of the experience of
reading the novel. The results of different attempts will undoubtedly contain new and useful
information, but how could they be common?
Danilo Ki (1935- )
Ki is writing one gigantic story of himself, his family, his century, his world: a
catalogue of life-size in which experiences talk to each other across the volumes
as books talk to one another in Umberto Ecos Il nome della rosa. (Birnbaum
353)
What has happened to the intellectual cement? If anyone could contain it, it would be
Danilo Ki. His presence in Cross Currents neatly sutures all of the multiple identities of this
paper into one human being: he is self-admittedly Central European, Balkan, and HungarioYugoslav (in Kunderas words), of Jewish origin (in Kunderas list), Western, Eastern, a
novelist, an essayist, an intellectual, an encyclopedist, and, in his own way, also a historian. He
14

I do not want to claim that Dedijer wrote this essay in the spirit of present-day Serbian nationalism. He has
published at least one more explicitly controversial books about the subject since, Vatican i Jasenovac (translated
even more sensationally into English as The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican: the Croatian massacre of the
Serbs during World War II (1992)), which has generated its own debate. If possible, I would like to leave that
debate in the present, and consider the Cross Currents essay on its own.

has kindly written his own entry in the encyclopedia, or biography, or even obituary, and called
it Birth Certificate; and it is cited in Predrag Matvejevis article Danilo Ki: Encyclopedia of
the Dead, in Cross Currents 7 (1988). Originally published as an addendum to his 1983 Works.
He fills it with literary interpretations of his own life, like the following, which border on
absurdity:
From my mother I inherited a predilection towards the narrative mixing of fact
and legend, and from my father my pathos and irony. It is not without
significance for my relationship to literature that my father was the author of the
international timetable: hence this constitutes my entire cosmopolitan literary
inheritance.
My mother read novels until her twentieth year when she realized not without
regret, that novels are an invention and rejected them once and for all. This
aversion of hers towards empty invention is also latently present in me. (347)
There are more entries on Danilo Ki in Cross Currents than on any other figure from
Southeastern Europe: apart from Matvejevis article, there appear three other essays on Ki
work; his short story Simon Magus (1989); and his own mission statement responding to
Kundera et al., Variations on a Theme of Central Europe (1987). This last piece is the only one
shown in my condensed tables of contents that appears in the first section of the journal. This is
significant, because it demonstrates Ki membership in the Central European club at this time,
whether or not he agrees with the general claims about Central Europe.
Of the four essays on Ki, the one that gives the most extra-literary information is Serge
Shishkoffs Koava in a Coffee Pot: or a dissection of a literary cause clbre (1987). It is a
lengthy and detailed account of the polemics generated by the publication of Ki Grobnica za
Borisa Davidovia (A Tomb for Boris Davidovi) in 1976. The problems began with the
insinuation on one literary critics part (undoubtedly politically motivated) that Ki book was
plagiarized from foreign sources. The accusation is beyond absurd, because Tomb, like other
works of Ki, is explicitly derived from those sources, some of them even footnoted: it is another
experiment on Ki part of the narrative mixing of fact and legend. Shishkoff follows the story
through six years of accusations and law suits between third parties (among them Matvejevi),
for Ki himself managed to avoid most of the storm, using the time to write Lesson in Anatomy
(1978) about the entire controversy.
The literary history described in Shishkoff is the more traditional kind the history behind a
few of Ki literary works but the nature of Ki work brings us back to the literary history
explored by Cross Currents, and problematized by Dedijer. Ki experimentation with fact and
fiction, his insistence that nothing is more fantastic than reality (following Dostoyevsky,
Matvejevi 340), leads him down an encyclopedic path.15
Ki links together the episodes [of A Tomb for Boris Davidovi], using crossreferences or echoes. Those imaginary lives which have only the misfortune to
be real, could be recorded in some Encyclopedia Sovietica, if such a work
decided to name and rehabilitate the millions of victims of the Purges. Nothing is
15

Tomb is neither a novel, nor a collection of short stories, but a cycle of stories similar in form to Bruno Schulzs
work. Ki will continue with this form in his next book, Encyclopedia of the Dead, the title of which is taken from
one of the stories in the collection. As the title of the entire volume, encyclopedia takes back its generic meaning,
and the stories become entries. Retroactively, this defines the form of Tomb as well.

more effective than [the] stylization of an encyclopedia to bring reality to light.


The process of writing at the boundary of reality and imagination allows Ki to
reveal the basis of a still unknown History. (Czarny 281)
Even before Tomb, the obsessive cataloging of his fathers international timetable (alluded to
ironically in Birth Certificate as the basis for his ironic cosmopolitanism) is a recurring motif
in Ki. The various father figures in his work, Eduard Sam of Garden, Ashes, E.S. of
Hourglass, and their demiurgic attempts to write larger and larger timetables, become a recurring
motif in essays on Ki as well. The attempts on the part of his interpreters to describe the
elements that make up Ki are reminiscent of the interdisciplinary lists in the mission statements
of Cross Currents, and the project that follows them:
His novels combine a classical narration, an essay, a biography, the summary of
an interrogation; they play on different levelsFor him listing is as much a poetic
exercise as a mnemonic process. It is a way of inscribing forever by accumulating
names and things. It shows a will to define a whole, not letting anything escape.
(Czarny 281)
From these kind of analogies, it might seem that Ki is the prototype of the Central European
intellectual, and a successful ambassador from his native realm of Southeastern Europe to the
mythical Central Europe. Perhaps this was even true for a certain period of time. By the time of
Variations on a Theme, however, and the publication of his next cycle of stories, Enciklopedija
mrtvih (Encyclopedia of the Dead ), Ki carries with him a critique of the encyclopedic project
articulated above.
The essay (and even that generic description is up for debate) Variations on a Theme of Central
Europe warrants a close reading that it will not get in this space, unfortunately, as Ki wrestles
with the risks entailed in speaking about Central Europe as a homogenous geopolitical and
cultural phenomenon (1987, 6), although he clearly would like to. Each of the 38 paragraphs is
preceded by a number, which effectively prevents the reader from reading the piece as one,
logical argument; instead we are given 38 points to consider, all related to the larger whole. The
essay alternates between evaluating the more general claims of the Central European project (5.
Whether one favors a centripetal or centrifugal theory; 29. Psychoanalysis, that typically
Viennese product, is today) and considering specific, biographical, even anecdotal examples
(10. We would need to determine whether Bartok obstinately used the expression Eastern
European; 26. The wife of a Hungarian wrier, a happy product of mixed blood, was asked
by the widow of Kosztolaniy). Ki occasionally quotes Kundera directly, and approvingly.
For the most part, however, his paragraphs address Kunderas (and others) claims, consider the
possibilities, and very subtly undermine any previously stable positions in the myth of Central
Europe. The best description of the resulting miasma is paragraph 1:
With no precise borders, with no Center or rather with several centers, Central
Europe looks today more and more like the dragon of Alca in the second book of
Anatole Frances Penguin Island to which the Symbolist movement was
compared: no one claimed to have seen it could say what it looked like. (1)
Is this lack of definition truly damning? Can anything be recuperated from the lack of coherence
between the different claims about Central Europe? Ki does make a claim himself, in the last
paragraph, number 38:
If I say that the awareness of form is a characteristic shared by all writers from
Central Europe, form as desire to give meaning to life and to metaphysical

ambiguity, form as possibility of choice, form that is an attempt to locate points of


fulcrum like those of Archimedes in the chaos around us, form that is opposed to
the disorders of barbarism and to the irrational arbitrariness of instincts, I am
afraid I have only generalized my own intellectual and literary obsessions. (38)
This claim, like the others, is proposed, and then demonstrated to be the product of a personal
obsession, which does not render it untrue, just subject to the subversive influence of
biography,16 as everything is, encyclopedic or not. It is the gesture of a house painter who paints
himself into a corner, but then exits through the window, where there was a ladder waiting all
along.
The possibility of a book of fiction cross-referencing itself, as Czarny suggests about Tomb
above, does not occur automatically; in a way it is a gesture left-over from the sheer excess of
historical details in two modernist novels that tried to catalog the human mind from almost
opposite poles: Joyces Ulysses, Musils Man Without Qualities. At least these two earlier
encounters between literature and the encyclopedia, if not dozens of others, haunt the work of
Ki with the question: can this even be done? Can the totality of human experience be accounted
for according to rationalist means? This is the premise behind the encyclopedia in Encyclopedia
of the Dead it contains the most minute detail of every life that has ended.17 Ki envisions the
Central Europe in a similar way: it is an imagined entity within a literary text, already a hybrid of
reality and imagination (the dragon of Alca, to be precise).
With this view, Ki departs from the rationalist project of the first Encyclopedists, and rewrites
Mioszs and Kunderas return to Enlightenment values as a phenomenon in literary history. Ki
has even written this perspective into his Birth Certificate, when he describes his arrival in
Yugoslavia at the age of twelve:
Immediately after my arrival [in Cetinje, in 1947] I took the examination for the
art school. Petar Lumbarda and Milo Milunovi were on the examination
committee. The bust of Voltaire which we drew a plaster of paris casting from
Hudons portrait statue reminded me of an old German whom I had known in
Novi Sad; that is how I drew him. Still, I was accepted, probably on the basis my
of other works. (cited in Matvejevi 348)
What causes Ki to redraw Voltaire?18 The subversive influence of his own biography, no doubt.
The questions raised by Dedijers historicism of Andri are also contained in this question. Ki
challenges the possibility of creating a coherent history of Central Europe through literature
16

This phrase of Jean-Paul Sartres is another hidden link between Dedijer, Ki, and Kundera. Dedijer uses the
intellectual par excellence several times anecdotally in his essay on Andri, to prove the universality of his claims,
and the legitimacy of his brand of Westernized Marxism (as well as his friendship with Sartre, with whom he cochaired the Russell Tribunal). Ki is cited as being fond of Sartres phrase about the subversive influence of
biography (Matvejevi 338). In Tragedy, in the absence of any great cultural figure, Kunderas philosopher
friend sends a letter to Sartre requesting intellectual support. Kundera proceeds to complain that Sartre is, in fact, the
one responsible for the absence of great cultural figures, but then grudgingly admits that the default philosophe did
get the job done.
17
It is another incarnation of Madame Bovarys wedding cake, which can only exist in its literary form because it is
impossible to realize; it exceeds the boundaries of critical realism, and spills over into symbolism.
18
Even in this description we are faced with an unknown, personal quantity. No matter what the level of historical
detail, we cant know who the old German of Novi Sad was, and therefore we cant know whether Ki is creating
a memorial, comparing Voltaire, perhaps, to a German-Jewish victim of the Novi Sad massacre; demonizing
Voltaire by painting him as a war criminal; or just remembering a face that would otherwise have been forgotten.

because of the inextricability of fact from fiction. According to Ki, Dedijers analysis, no matter
what his biography, is only going to create another fiction.
Conclusions
Ki and Dedijer both anticipate Central Europes loss of currency, in radically different ways.
On the one hand, the ethnic specificity of Dedijers work does predict his more recent
publications, and similar publications from all sides of ethnic Yugoslavia that, according to
some, let to the outbreak of violence in that region. If we consider that some of the most extreme
nationalist voices came from inside the universities, from people formerly known as writers and
intellectuals, then this explains quite clearly the loss of faith (even internally) in the
intellectually-based myth of Central Europe. On the other hand, Ki point echoes Todorova: that
the concept only ever worked in its mythic dimensions, and any attempt to realize it was
predestined to fail. However, Ki probably goes beyond Todorova, and most historians, in
suggesting that the basic task of collecting information to create a single, overarching, and
coherent story the totality of the historic process in Dedijers title is an unrealizable
endeavor; even if it is one that we all must continue to pursue. One question that remains is this:
is it a coincidence that the two most prominent Southeastern Europeans in Cross Currents are the
ones that deflate the myth of Central Europe, whether intentionally or not? I would continue my
revision of Todorovas statement that Central Europeans are writing against Southeastern
Europe by answering that Central Europeans are writing despite the very real problems posed
by Southeastern Europe: by the possibility of ethnic divide, and by the relativity of different
historical accounts of the region. It is no coincidence that Danilo Ki, who has access to both the
Central European and Southeastern European identities, would be the first of the Central
European intellectual to see those problems clearly.

Works Cited
Artmann, H. C. et al. The Budapest Roundtable. Cross Currents 10: 17-30.
Ash, T.G. 1986. Does Central Europe Exist? New York Review of Books 33:15 (October 9),
45-52.
Benda, Julien. 1969. The Treason of the Intellectuals, trans. Richard Aldington. New York,
London: W.W. Norton.
Birnbaum, Marianna. 1989. History and Human Relationships in the Fiction of Danilo Ki.
Cross Currents 9, 345-360.
Borsody, Stephen. 1993. The New Central Europe. New York: Columbia University Press.
Brodsky, Joseph, and Vclav Havel. 1994. The Post-Communist Nightmare: An
Exchange. New York Review of Books 41:4 (February 17); 28-30.
Czarny, Norbert. 1984. Imaginary-Real Lives: On Danilo Ki. Cross Currents 3, 279-285.
Dedijer, Vladimir. 1951. Dnevnik. Beograd: Jugoslovenska knjiga, 1951.
----------. 1953. Josip Broz Tito : prilozi za biografiju. Zagreb : Kultura.
----------. 1972. Istorija Jugoslavije. Beograd: Prosveta.
----------. 1976. History of Yugoslavia, ed. Marie Longyear, trans. Korda Kveder. New
York: McGraw Hill.
----------. 1983. Literature and History in the Totality of the Historical Process. Cross
Currents 2, 241-272.
----------. 1985. My Two Comrades and An Exchange of Letters. Cross Currents 4, 387452.
----------. 1992. The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican: the Croatian massacre of the Serbs
during World War II, trans. Harvey L. Kendall [from German]. Buffalo, N.Y., Freiburg,
Germany: Prometheus Books; Ahriman-Verlag.
Jennings, Jeremy, and Tony Kemp-Welch, eds. 1997. Intellectuals in Politics. London, New
York: Routledge.
Ki, Danilo. 1978. as anatomije. Beograd : Nolit.
----------. 1988. Variations on a Theme of Central Europe. Cross Currents 6, 1-14.
----------. 1989. Simon Magus. Cross Currents 7, 361-374.
----------. 1997. The Encyclopedia of the Dead, trans. Michael Henry Heim. Evanston, Ill. :
Northwestern U. Press.
Kundera, Milan. 1984. The Tragedy of Central Europe. New York Review of Books 31:7
(April 26), 33-38.

Matvejevi, Predrag. 1988. Danilo Ki: Encyclopedia of the Dead. Cross Currents 7, 337353.
Miosz, Czesaw. 1982. Looking For a Center: On the Poetry of Central Europe. Cross
Currents 1, 1-11.
---------. 1983. The Witness of Poetry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
---------. 1986. Central European Attitudes. Cross Currents 5, 101-108.
Said, Edward. 1996. The Representation of the Intellectual. New York: Random House.
Schpflin, George, and Nancy Wood. 1989. In Search of Central Europe. Cambridge, UK:
Polity.
Shishkoff, Serge. 1987. Koava in a Coffee Pot. Cross Currents 6, 341-371.
nejdrek, Antonn. 1986. La nouvelle Europe centrale. Paris: Imprimerie nationale.
Todorova, Maria. 1997. Imagining the Balkans. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willett, John.1991.Is There a Central European Culture? Cross Currents 10: 1-16.

Table 1: Articles on Southeastern Europe Appearing in Cross Currents (1982-1993)


CROSS CURRENTS 1 Ivo Vidan, Krleas Glembay Cycle in its European Context
Jelena Milojkovi-Djuri, Hbas Microtonal Theory in Yugoslavia
(1982)
CROSS CURRENTS 2 Vladimir Dedijer, Literature and History in the Totality of the Historical Process
[re: Andri]
(1983)
CROSS CURRENTS 3
(1984)
Norbert Czarny, Imaginary Real Lives: On Danilo Ki
Section 4
Irina Livezeanu, Excerpts From a Troubled Book: An Episode in Romanian
Literature
Mihail Sebastian, excerpts from For Two Thousand Years
Thomas Butler, Between East and West: Three Bosnian Writer-Rebels: Koi,
Andri, Selimovi
CROSS CURRENTS 4
(1985)
Vera Clin, Romanian Contributions to the European Avant-Garde
Section 5
Thomas C. Carlson, An Interview with Poet Mircea Ivnescu
Mircea Ivnescu, Selected Poems
I.R. Titunik, Dragutin Tadijanovi
Section 7
Dragutin Tadijanovi, Selected Poems
Vladimir Dedijer, My Two Comrades
Djilas-Dedijer, An Exchange of Letters
CROSS CURRENTS 6
(1987)
Danilo Ki, Variations on the Theme of Central Europe
Section 1
Section 6

Section 7

Marguerite Dorian, A Visit with Ion Caraion


Ion Caraion, Selected Poems
Ji Veltrusk, Brancusi and the Principles of Sculpture
Drago Janar, Terra Incognita
Serge Shishkoff, Koava in a Coffee Pot [re: Ki]

CROSS CURRENTS 7
(1988)
Boris Paternu, Slovene Modernism: upani, Kosovel, Kocbek
Section 6
Predrag Matvejevi, Danilo Ki: Encyclopedia of the Dead
CROSS CURRENTS 8
(1989)
Frank Getlein, Zoran Music, The Descent into Hell
Section 7
J.V., A Surrealist on Poetic Grounds [re: Radovan Ivi]
Radovan Ivi, AIAXAIA
Marianna Birnbaum, History and Human Relationships in the Fiction of Danilo
Ki
Danilo Ki, Simon Magus
CROSS CURRENTS 9
(1990)

Section 9
CROSS
(1991)

CURRENTS

CROSS
(1992)
CROSS
(1993)

CURRENTS
CURRENTS

Eugen Simion, Eugene Ionesco: Childhood and Light


Lorenzo Buj, Luko Paljetak
10 Alina Clej, Between Dada and Marxism: Tristan Tzara and the Politics of
Position
Thomas Butler, Ivo Andri, a Yugoslav Writer (1892-1975)
11 Thomas F. Magner, The Dream That Was Yugoslavia
12 Paul Magosci, Carpatho-Rusyns: A Torturous Quest for Identity
Damil Kalogjera, The Destruction of Dubrovnik
Thomas Butler, Muslim Singers of Tales in the Balkans
Aneta Georgievska Shine, Annunciations out of the Dark: A View of Macedonian
Art Today
Dubravka Ugrei, Yugo-Americana
Priscilla Meyer, Scholarship and Art: An Interview with Dubravka Ugrei