THE UNIVERSE OF INTIMACY
translated from Bosnian by Irena Žlof
When a journal decides to do a stock-take of its literary production, it is a telling indication of their intervention in a dominant, central literary canon and of their attitude with regard to literary practice. When this is done by a magazine which is in every regard atypical, and has already established itself as one of the most relevant in the South-Slavic inter-literary community, such action inevitably destabilises the prevailing orthodoxy, the interpreted, normative literary canon. Besides, this decision of Sarajevo Notebooks is by all accounts, it would appear, unambitious. This selection of texts has no intention to collect and valuate the total literary production of the South Slavic literatures, from Slovenian in the northwest to Macedonian in the southeast. Nor does it intend to justify itself by a theoretical concept which would lead to the destabilisation and collapse of the central literary canon. Similarly, its aim is not to step out of its own editorial concept, which was perhaps best determined by the way in which the magazine was started. Sarajevo Notebooks were born out of a desire to cross borders between South-Slavic cultures established by history and past wars. And this selection is no different – it crosses borders, only those are no longer borders created by politics and ideology, the cruel practice of political power, but borders set by the academic authorities, those same ones that establish the canon and strive to reproduce it as far as possible throughout cultural practice. This means that Sarajevo Notebooks have realised their primary goal – for them borders between South-Slavic cultures no longer exist as impassable topoi, they are not points of ideological and political bans, but points of communication. The word "region" was introduced into the language and from there it entered literature from the ideological echelons, professedly ideologically neutral, but in fact constructed in the heart of neoliberal ideology in order to become acceptable to different, even conflicting national ideologies. It became commonplace overnight, precisely because of its ostensible neutrality, but in its semantics it assumes a context far more than it describes it. In the South-Slavic context, the word “region” substitutes for a country which has disappeared in a dramatic historical act. Following that apocalypse, the region gradually breaks free from the centuries-old ideological shackles whose key purpose was to keep it together, fundamentally determining all forms of intercultural communication in the region.
And, whilst in the past the region had always been determined in its intercultural communication by some ideological meta-narrative, often groaning from underneath its boot, the choice which is apparent in this post-apocalyptic period does not have an ideological meta-narrative, which is not to say that it does not have an ideological platform. For a rejection of any prevailing ideology is in itself a first-rate ideological act, whereby the process of de-ideologisation appears on the social horizon as a yearning for a post-ideological state of new liberal ideas and, ultimately, unrestrained intercultural dialogue. It is therefore not driven by an ideologically defined spirit of togetherness shaped by the idea of South-Slavness which had taken different forms from its early nineteen-century projection to its Communist variants.
Under these post-ideological auspices, this selection made by the Notebooks is a very subversive act. Its subversiveness is contained in its intention to decentralise and cancel out the region's orthodox literary canon, which is primarily a national one. Its normative, self-centred nature, its ambition to be commonly accepted, stems precisely from its national determinant which is legitimised by the academic authorities as the ultimate verifier of all cultural knowledge. When a canon is decentralised and pluralised by marginal canonical norms in the context of individual national literatures, this process still remains contained within the borders of national culture.
Here, however, in the selection made by Notebooks, the national has stepped down and made place for something far greater – the uniqueness of authors guided exclusively by their sensibilities, their talent, insight into human intimacy, their horizons including those of interpersonal relationships, their drama, and different misunderstandings among individuals who are searching for themselves, in themselves and in others, whilst the object of their search keeps eluding them. And that is perhaps the best point from which to start the unpredictable duel with the central, orthodox, national canons of the region. The best, because it reflects poetical changes in the story which indicatively allude to the changes in literature as such; the best, because this selection reflects the flow of poetic and creative energies, the conferring of literary minds; the best, because the selection does not represent authors and writers who are central to orthodox, national literary canons.
The production of fiction published by Sarajevo Notebooks is such that this selection represents a kind of its easthetical crowning, and the choice of stories not only pays tribute to the new poetics, but in fact sets foundations for a new canon: the intercultural canon of the region.
Here I would like to emphasise several, I believe important poetical points. The neo-intimism on the horizon of new sensibilities, which have also promoted a new male sensibility in literature, very much reminds us of what took place in the post-expressionist era of South-Slavic literatures after the First World War. If analysed at a macro-cultural level, it is evident that the post-war state of literature back then similarly de-heroised the male figurein the social and cultural context. But these new stories do not appear to be harbouring the same ambitions. They are born out of a legacy of the so-called (anti-)war writing which had already exhausted the work of searching for catharsis. Literature, over and above any other social discourse, was dealing with the problem of war and the ideological meta-narrative and narrative, and in that dystopian gesture, the utopia of a new sensibility was revealed, defeating the ideological narrative and the underlying culture which had produced the war in the first place, and securing its moral justification and acceptability on the social horizon – turning it into a central historical and cultural event. As far as neo-intimistic writing was concerned, its emergence was aided by novels which, by their nature, aim to capture the totality of human society. Drama and film too contributed to the demilitarisation of male identity and pacification of the cultural space. The scene was thus set for neo-intimistic writing.
And then Vojka Đikić turned up, free from all particularism and marked by a desire to describe universal situations from the perspective of an inner drama of individuals trapped by their inability to communicate with others, by their yearning for love which can never be realised, the stress of an existential dilemma with no solution in sight, or by nostalgic memories of the old world which cast dark shadows over the desert of the present, or indeed by any other narrative which transcends all types of particularism. She chose to tell stories about the universe of the human psyche, the cosmos of an individual entangled in a complex relationship with an equally complex individual. Particularism has therefore been suppressed to make way for the story of an individual absorbed in his or her inner world, which exists irrespective of the social and cultural context and can take place anywhere on the planet, in any language. This is therefore a new chronotopic situation in the writing of this region, and judging by the type of problems its characters face, the manner in which they resolve their dilemmas or by their inability to resolve them, they could be living in any culture, anywhere in the world, in the realms of the universal human drama.
This selection is therefore testing entirely new boundaries. These are no longer ideologically constructed boundaries within the region, but the boundaries of the region with respect to its surroundings. These surroundings are now a collection of all languages, because the language has withdrawn from the social, historical and cultural context and has applied itself to describing human emotions, psyches, mental dramas, ethical dilemmas and a whole range of other phenomena which are common to every culture, every society, every era, every human situation. In its neo-intimism the story has touched upon the universally human situation, seeking authentic values which are independent of the rule of any external social, ideological, political or historical power, but determined by the sphere of human intimacy.