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This report is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

on Nationalism Danilo Kiš

This glittering polemic first appeared in 1973, and quickly became well known. Kiš himself relishing the disapproval called the text 'notorious'.

In 1978 he reprinted it in
The Anatomy Lesson, a book-length refutation of certain highly-placed critics of his previous book, the masterly collection of linked stories called A Tomb for Boris Davidović (1976). These critics (Kiš dubbed them the 'Cosa Nostra': the old-boy network of favoured literati who superintended Belgrade's cultural institutions) had accused Kis of shameless plagiarism: decanting motley odds and ends into preset narrative moulds.

This moribund anti-modernist scolding bore, in the Yugoslav context, a two-fold political attack. Firstly, the stories in
Boris Davidović were blatantly anti-Stalinist, which was acceptable in Tito's 'non-aligned' federation; but implicitly they were, perhaps, anti-socialist too. As if this weren't dubious enough, there was the matter of Kis's poetics. Aesthetically, Stalinism and nationalism are twins under the skin. Cosmopolitanism is a mortal enemy of both, and Danilo Kiš was cosmopolitan to his roots. Being half Hungarian-Jewish and half Montenegrin, the epic and surrealist traditions of Serbian culture were merged in him with the ironic reflexes of Mitteleuropa. He was a polyglot; he translated from Russian, Hungarian and French into Serbo-Croat. He was much influenced by Russian formalism, and used its methods of montage and 'estrangement' in his own fiction.

All of this was inherently offensive to the official guardians of Yugoslav (especially Serbian) literature, who thought that
Boris Davidović furnished their chance for revenge. Despite ...


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