Montenegro - Part 13

posted by usha on 2006/01/06 18:29

[ Montenegro ]

Finally, since the conference on "Borders and Border Spaces in Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918" is getting closer, I had to write an abstract about what I am maybe presenting. Well, here it comes, although in its present general form it is more a sort of a summary of my research interests than of an actual paper.

Mapping Montenegro: The Production of Knowledge and the Construction of Cultural Spaces

The first part of the title refers to Michel Foucault, as well as to Edward Said when announcing maps or the mapping of Montenegro. The subtitle is exemplifying the respective techniques of mapping, which are at the formost the production of knowledge about Montenegro in the 19th and 20th century. The curiosity for foreign countries and cultures has been constantly growing within the centuries of pracitsed colonialism and imperialism and so did the urge to travel that became more and more common. The professional and official travellers – military and diplomats – are substituted by a different class of professionals, (dilletant) geographs, ethnographs, and collectors of cultural fragments either familiar or alien, and step by step they are joined by tourists who just want to be "a step ahead" of others in adventurous experience and knowledge.

For long, the Balkans have been a famous destination for such travellers. Situated close to those countries which had a understanding of themselves as being at the core of European civilisation and culture these countries are relatively easy to approach even for ordinary people. The desire for adventures is nurtured by the constant upheavals taking place there against the all-over Muslim Ottoman rulers, and by the neighborhood of interests and alliances to Russia. Those cultural and trans-national (Pan-Slavism) intersections that had been producing political and territorial conflicts of interest and influence within European empires, such as Italy, Germany, and Austria-Hungary for a long time, stimulated the travellers to pre-judgements and partly absurd fantasies of the Balkan countries. The first cultural space thus created is the status of the Balkans as the space of in-between Europe and the Orient. Though one could suspect that it was the second aspect in particular – the Balkans offering oriental experiences, the contact to the European Other, had the biggest seductionary effect on Western travellers, the study of German and Austrian travelogues proves that wrong. Any curiosity for oriental habits and life-style went together with the praise of the Balkan's Europeanness, despite of the three Oriental F's:"fanatism", "fatalism", and "cultural fatigue", to be found there, too.

The country most promising for travellers with a cultural mission was tiny Montenegro which had the fame of being the most ardent defensor of ancient European culture and values against Islam. Especially German travellers were interested in correcting the false judgments about uncivilised, barbaric Montenegro and to establish at the same time a new knowledge about that country as being the repetition of ancient European strength, democracy, and originality. Thus, Montenegro became an event: Sparta and the Ur-Switzerland occured at the very margins of Europe: in Montenegro, at another time.

In a second step, since these times are mordern times busy with the construction of nations, international relationships, roads and communications, Montenegro thus becomes the heterotopy of the central European modernity. Central Europe is situated in another time-space aging faster than the European borderlands, where "mythic" and "modern" times still interact in landscapes which seem to be pure "nature", idyllic and pictorial and barren and dead at the same time.

The attempts of German-speaking travellers to relocate Montenegro in the (historical) centre of Europe (present now) are lop-sided, though. The incompatible times of modernity and myth collapse in Montenegro which in the end is vituperated for both being modern (diplomacy and force, territorial desires, prudent demonstrations of the own marginality, and so forth) and being anachronistic (gender roles, family structures, superstition, inability to tame the nature, etc). The borderland Montenegro in this way gaining borderline-symptoms bears characteristics of another Atlantis, drifting away in space and time, and it has to make place for the actual political and territorial mapping and re-mapping within the Berlin Congress, and under Austrian-Hungarian occupation (1916-18), at last.

The knowledge produced about Montenegro by tourists and emissionaries, esp. the military, is quite heterogeneous. As already touched upon, discourses of civilisation, archaic societies, clan and family structures, about centrality and marginality, the West and the East, communication(s) and the landscape, about time and space do interact in sometimes unforseeable ways.

My own revisiting of the complex mappings of 19th and 20th-century Montenegro adds more discourses and fantasies about space, time, and knowledge. From the vantage point of the study of literature from the perspective of the "postmodern" 21st century, I approach the military fantasies about a whole nation of heroes, eager to fight face-to-face, yet unable to think and act strategically and thus imagined as being a bunch of furious, de-centered warriors with the instruments of the machine of war and nomadology offered by Deleuze/Guattari and which are based on ethnological and spacial fantasies originating in the 18th century again. The discourses about space, war/desire, movement and territorial claims are thus doubled and reflected in each other and they are repeated, although there is no new knowledge about the "real Montenegro" produced again. The "real Montenegro" is indeed hidden under such a huge amount of layers of literary, national, and spatial fantasies of its travelling and fantasising visitors that it can't be excavated.

What can be extrapolated by re-reading and re-fantasising Montenegro, as it is documented by those travellers from 1858-1918 are the seldom "adiaphoric spaces" which still bear traces of perception before seeing (as an act of exclusion, interpretation and judgement). The manifold broken and reflected "voice" of Montenegrins – confronting the Western travellers, going along or interacting with them, ignoring or avoiding them – sometimes is the co-author of the errors, contradictions and detours of mapping, and of the photographs of the travellers.



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