Slot:       28B-5         Dec. 28, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                                              

Panel:     “East” European Literature and Culture

Chair:     Craig Cravens, University of Texas at Austin


Title:       Reading Ocular Reading Self-reflexively, or a Postcolonial Examination of Central and Eastern European “Minor” Literature

Author:   Todd Miller, University of Colorado

In the span of the 20th century alone, a procession of now-extinct states and empires—Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian, Czechoslovakian, Ottoman—has grazed upon the land and culture of Central and Eastern Europe.  These state-ghosts inscribe colonies of memory that incessantly (re)atomize peoples and (re)introduce new states—Croatia, Slovenia, Albania, Slovakia.  Though critics often discuss the almost serialized ethnic and religious clashes, waves of emigrations, and crises of personal identity through the rhetoric of nationalism, they tend to gloss over the potential utility of reading through the lens of postcolonialism (whether militarily, economically or culturally).  However, the tradition of 20th century literature and film that includes Gombrowicz, Kristof, Pavić, Kiš, Kundera, Ugrešić, and Kusturica, among others, incessantly engages with the relation of national, cultural and linguistic domination, economic subjection, and to that of personal identity formation, for which the tools of postcolonialism are well fitted.

Using the works of two authors that bookend World War I and the Yugoslav Wars, the late modernist novel Ferdydurke (Polish, 1937) and two recent postmodern pieces, In the Jaws of Life (Serbo-Croatian, 1993) and The Culture of Lies (Serbo-Croatian 1998), I intend to examine the function of narrative in the creation of national and other identities by positioning Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of minor literature and linguistic territorialization as a backdrop against which to work.  Ferdydurke, though not explicitly about either nationalism or postcolonialism, extends Deleuze and Guattari’s scheme of reterritorialization into a model of identity-creation in which the subject seeks to interpret the logic system of the gaze that writes their identity.  Six decades later, this subversion of reading remains apparent in Ugrešić’s fictional and non-fictional work.  She begins her fictional volume, In the Jaws of Life, with a story that deconstructs Deleuze and Guattari's theory of minor literature, revealing the hegemonic complicity of their analysis through the constructedness of its narrative.  Throughout both of her pieces, Ugrešić demonstrates how narratives trap themselves within an initial form, which in turn exploits its participants in their belief of the narrative as truth.  Together, Ferdydurke’s anticipatory ocular reading and Ugrešić’s self-reflexive deconstructions of narrative function as new models in a geographic space that has been repeatedly de- and reterritorialized, colonial and postcolonial.  They offer a useful alternative to Deleuze and Guattari’s enlightening, yet ultimately paralytic and exploitive analyses of so-called minor literature.



Benjamin, Walter.  “Critique of Violence.”  Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings.  Trans. Edmund Jephcott.  New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.  277-300.

Bhabha, Homi.  Location of Culture.  London: Routledge Classics, 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari.  Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature.  Trans. Dana Polan.  Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Derrida, Jacques.  “Psyche: Inventions of the Other.”  Reading de Man Reading.  Vol. 59 (Theory and History of Literature).  Ed. Lindsay Waters and Wlad Godzich.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.  25-65.

Foucault, Michel.  The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language.  Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith.  New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993.

---"Preface on Transgression."  Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology.  Ed. James D. Faubion.  Trans. Robert Hurley.  New York: New Press, 1998.  69-87.

Gombrowicz, Witold.  Ferdydurke.  Trans. Danuta Borchardt.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Kundera, Milan.  “The Tragedy of Central Europe.”  The New York Review.  31.1 (1984): 34-37.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty.  A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

The Cuckoo.  Dir. Aleksandr Rogozhkin.  Perf. Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Ville Haapasalo, Viktor Bychkov.  DVD.  Columbia / Tristar, 2003.

Ugrešić, Dobrovka.  In the Jaws of Life and Other Stories.  Trans. Michael Hendry Heim and Celia Hawkesworth.  Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993.

---The Culture of Lies: Antipolitical Essays.  Trans. Celia Hawkesworth.  University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

Underground.  Dir. Emir Kusturica.  Perf. Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Jokovic, Slavko Stimac.  DVD.  New Yorker Video, 2003.


Title:       Metaphors, Models, and Self-expression in Personal Literature

Author:   Irena Avsenik Nabergoj, Scientific Research Center, Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts

The paper deals with the topic within the context of the works of the greatest Slovenian writer, Ivan Cankar (1876-1918). Often called a psychologist, Cankar claimed he was a realist in the higher sense, as, for instance, Maupassant or Dostoevsky. The use of metaphors and the variety of literary genres and themes in his numerous short stories, novels, dramas and poetry reflect the profound influence of the classical tradition of European and American literatures on his writing. Though Cankar was a keen observer of social life, he is nevertheless unique in his manner of defending personal identity, in expressing an intensively personal way of feeling and in delineating passion. Ivan Cankar also ranks among the few classics of world literature to have focused all of his writings on universal, biblical themes, such as sin, guilt, punishment, forgiveness, and reconciliation, and to have described the workings of the human spirit in the space between the external law of society and the supreme divine law inscribed in the human inner core – a law which reveals itself through the voice of conscience. These facts challenge literary critics of all directions: Was he a pessimist, tortured by an excessive sense of guilt, or a true prophetic voice among victims of extreme situations? A holistic interpretation yields the conclusion that most of Cankar’s works are confessions that purport to be true to his personal life as they really happened in relation to his mother, to  women, to society, and to God. Cankar’s inclination to self-disclosure, alongside the objective disclosure of imperceptible reality, implies that expressive language and musical style are vital to him.


Nabergoj, Irena Avsenik. Ljubezen in krivda Ivana Cankarja / Ivan Cankar’s Love and Guilt. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga 2005.


Title:       Effacing Ideology: Politics, Sexuality, and Obscenity in Witkiewicz’s The Shoemakers

Author:   Elek Lehoczky, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s The Shoemakers (Szewcy), completed in 1934, is the Polish playwright’s last and arguably most topical work.  This paper will investigate how the romantic subplot supports both the dramatic structure and thematic content of the play, with sexuality both propelling the action and serving as satirical allegory for class consciousness.  The theme of the impotence of class conflict and the degradation of the utopian ideal emerges from politico-sexual intrigues between the aloof, yet lascivious Duchess and her bourgeois and proletarian suitors.  However, it is through the amplification and distortion of sexuality – obscenity – that Witkacy emboldens his critique of ideology, mounting a rhetorical and linguistic attack on the very discourse in which monolithic ideological systems – and the play itself – function. 

My discussion follows Daniel Gerould in identifying politics, sexuality, and art as the three vectors of the creative force in Witkiewicz.  This paper concurs that in Witkiewicz, the frustration of the creative impulse in social and sexual milieux limits its efficacy to the artistic sphere.  Thus, the Shoemaker Revolution at the end of Act II, an orgiastic frenzy of manual labor, sublimates both Scurvy’s sexual lust and Sajetan’s socialist will to power.  I will attempt to extend this analysis, however, by focusing on the play’s meta-dramatic and rhetorical strategies for confronting ideology.  Faced by the inevitability of dialectical materialist contextualization, Witkiewicz concedes that the work of literary art is informed by ideological change.  He confronts us with violence, perverse imagery, and vulgar neologisms as an anti-artistic gambit to disrupt that discourse and thus preserve the purity of creativity.  While Witkacy constructs theme via the elaboration of parallel plot and subplot, he employs obscenity to frustrate and deconstruct that theme at every point in the play.  These rhetorical and linguistic strategies resist the exercise of critical exegesis and defend the work from entrenched ideological discourse.


Title:       Karol Irzykowski’s The Tenth Muse: Aesthetic Considerations of Cinema as a Work of Film and Literary Theory

Author:   Sheila Skaff, University of Texas at El Paso

Novelist, literary critic and essayist Karol Irzykowski (1873-1944) wrote The Tenth Muse: Aesthetic Considerations of Cinema as a piece of film theory commissioned by the Polish government between 1922 and 1924 in an attempt to help domestic filmmakers understand film aesthetics. Elusive, difficult to interpret and even more difficult to translate, the book-length essay (available only in Polish) has sparked the curiosity of film theory scholars throughout the world. In The Tenth Muse, Irzykowski encourages the separation of theater and prose from cinema, which, he claims, is an entirely visual medium. For this reason, little attention has been paid to its relevance to literary scholarship. This paper seeks to examine the book’s significance to literary theory. It claims that while The Tenth Muse is ostensibly about cinema, it is also a defense and explanation of its author’s identification with an intellectual tradition that considered an organic desire to overcome linguistic barriers an essential element of Polish national culture.

In the multitude of languages spoken in the partitioned lands, words were understood by some, including Irzykowski, amorphous, insubstantial and detrimental to communication. He writes in The Tenth Muse that cinema was undergoing, “the same sort of basic cultural transformation of the soul that happened in the invention of writing or script.  However, those changes took place slowly while this one is occurring abruptly and before our own eyes.” (Irzykowski, 53) This paper examines Irzykowski’s struggle to cut short this transformation, which is one of the major issues in the region’s cinema and a key to understanding Polish literary theory in the interwar period.