SEE Theories and Postcolonial Studies - Part 2

posted by sabine Ballata on 2005/09/13 18:26

[ SEE Theories and Postcolonial Studies ]

Here now finally the abstract of my presentation at the kakanien-weblogs workshop, which is at the same time some more information about the idea of this weblog.

That idea was born while I was working on my thesis about Carmine Abate, a writer of the Albanian minority in Southern Italy (Arbëreshë). Trying to apply certain aspects of Postconial Theory on an inner-European situation like that of a bi-(tri-)lingual writer, whose texts are mainly about the over 500 year old Arbëreshë community and migration, fascinated me; and since in his novels there were many allusions to the role that imagining the “original” homeland, Albania, plays, I found myself flirting with the idea of “going East”, to “the balkans”, and ask similar and more questions there.

I wondered whether there was a similar “writing back” from these regions that are often subsumed under definitions which highlight the (our?) perception of them being marginal (see for example the title of the collections of texts from SEE by Karl-Markus Gauß, “Buch der Ränder”).

How does this “writing back” find its way back to the imaginary centre, and what strategies does this “centre” use to “tame” it? The often mentioned “Balkan-boom” in music, films and literature usually follows very clear lines of how the balkans were and still are imagined – where are these images generated, how do artists and writers in and from “balkan-countries” respond?

After more and more questions of that sort kept arising, it became clear that this was going to be the main topic of my doctoral thesis – and that I had to find a way to mould all my questions into a useful concept. There are many similarities and also differences between postcolonial mechanisms and the construction of “the balkans”; using Maria Todorova’s “Imagining the Balkans” and similar works, such as f.e. Bjelic/Savic’ “Balkan as Metaphor – Between Globalization and Fragmentation” as theoretical ground, I want to look at the attribution of images to SEE and the selective reception of so-called “authentical” material.

“A persistent paradox infuses most of the negative stereotypes entertained in the self-styled West: the Other is hopelessly diverse, fragmented, and internally divided-so much that in the end all such peoples seem radically alike. Who can make sense of so much difference? It is easier to dismiss it as all the same.
This is recognizably the other side of a familiar coin: the Western self-characterization in terms of individualistic genius. Whether celebrating the emergence of possessive individualism modeled on the ownership of material property or of transcendent intelligence metonymically reproduced in moral and intellectual properties, the politically and economically dominant nations of Europe (and, later, of North America) have had their cake and eaten it too. Nowhere is this clearer in the countries now subsumed under the redolent title of “the Balkans”. It is here that the picturesque individualism of the European Other becomes the atomistic fractiousness and insubordination of the Oriental within.”

(Michael Herzfeld, Foreword of “Balkan as metaphor – Between Globalization and Fragmentation”, ed. by Dusan I. Bjelic and Obrad Savic, Massachusetts 2002, p. ix.)

What Herzfeld says here about dismissing everything as all the same is – sadly – true; the symptomatic shrug and sigh – who knows why all this happened, so close and yet so far away, and why can’t those people live happily and peacefully together...

In “Elegy for Kosovo”, Ismail Kadaré writes about the battle on the Field of the Blackbirds and the fugitives’ fate on their way towards the “centre”, when they meet the so-called “Great Lady”:

”And that is exactly what happened. The map and the barbarian spear with its tufts of fur and the mysterious inscriptions on its shaft connected with each other. The whole European continent was there: the lands of the Gauls, the German regions (...) the peninsulas of the Pyrenees, the Apennines, and the third peninsula, which had initially been named Illyricum and Byzantium and now was being called “Balkan”. She saw clearly the regions from which the poor wandering fugitives had come: Croatia, Albania, Serbia, Greece, Bosnia, Walachia, Macedonia. From now on they would have to carry this new name, fossilized and ponderous, on their backs like a curse as the stumbled along like a tortoise in its shell.

The barbarian spear had always been like a sign at the borders of the continent, but they had been quick to forget, like a nightmare that scatters with the approach of dawn. (...)”Your apprehension is a great surprise to me,” Baron Melanchthon had said to her a few months earlier. “You are worried about something that does not exist, and therefore cannot be threatened. Europe – Asia – are but entities in the barbarians’ minds, or on their parchments. They are figures of legend, half woman, half God knows what.”

She had taken offense and made no reply. “How dreadful,” she said to herself, her eyes fixed on the darkness as if she were speaking to the night. “The Ottomans have burst into the outer court of their mansion and they look the other way. They are reinforcing the gates of their castles, posting more guards on their towers, but when it comes to looking farhter, their eyes are blind.”

”Europe,” she said to herself, as if she were trying to seize this word transformed by ridicule and neglect. (...)One by one she brought to mind her powerful connections: princes, cardinals, philosophers, even the pope of Rome. She tried to recollect their faces, their eyes, particularly the lines on their foreheads, where the worries of a man are drawn more clearly than anywhere else. Were they racking their brains how to rally together to defend themselves, particularly now that the southern barrier had been breached, or were they thinking no further than their next banquet?”

To be continued....



The imagineSEE-weblog is a space about ideas, images, (re)inventions and (re)constructions of and about the Balkans, from outside and within SEE.

Any comments or suggestions are welcomed and appreciated, please use "Reply" at the end of each posting or post directly to Sabine Ballata.

This is a part of the collage 'The Black File' by Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovic, who will be represented at documenta 12 (16/6-23/9) in Kassel this year.

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