The Balkan Themes Of Dusan Puvacic

The Balkan Themes of Dušan Puvačić

By Predrag Palavestra

Balkan Themes is a collection of essays and treatises by Dusan Puvacic (1936) in England, during the time he was lecturing on Yugoslav culture and Serbian literature at several Universities (Lancaster, London and Cambridge). He made his name in literary criticism in the Belgrade publication “Knjizevne novine”, where he worked as a prominent young translator of Anglo-Saxon literary criticism theory. Puvacic was one of the first of the new generation of Serbian critics who, in their daily practice of literary criticism, without boastful philosophising and pomposity, managed to outgrow im-pressionism, rhetorical ambiguity, “bubbly” equilibrium, dogmatic classification, the Party Committee’s obstinacy and loud media pomp. Instead of impressions they offered convictions. They were not afraid of clear and resolute views, harsh words and sharp tone. They used logical conclusions in logical sentences, where, in the typical Anglo-Saxon style “a spade is called a spade”. The freedom of literary criticism is not the freedom of anarchy but the freedom of acquired right. “The right to criticism”, Puvacic says, ”is not a given, to be used indiscriminately by anyone, for purposes that lie beyond the boundaries of literature and outside the real aims of literary criticism. The right to criticism is something which is acquired and which is then, through constant reacquiring, defended, re-inforced and expanded.”

It is from these foundations that Dusan Puvacic’s most prolific years as a literary critic evolved. In addition to the literary criticism written in the daily papers, from time to time he also wrote essays and treatises. As well as daily critiques, he occasionally wrote essays and papers. He was the one to offer initial direction to the interpretation of the posthumously published Kuca na osami (The House on Its Own) by Ivo Andric and also the one who linked Andric’s observations of Jews and the role of Jews as intermediaries between the Balkan and Levantine cultures. He analysed the distrustful and embittered attitude of Milos Crnjanski towards the English, not only on the pages of the emigrant novel Roman o Londonu (A Novel about London) but also in his scattered notes from England, where he spent a good number of years as a British citizen. He also directly contributed to the literary return of Branko Lazarevic, after many years of imposed isolation. Puvacic wrote his daily literary criticism in clear and measured sentences; his style clear, his thought concise, his taste reliable. He knew how to find themes and how to read them from a specific slant, which other critics usually did not do.

In the book Balkan Themes, as in his interpretation of the main characteristics of Serbian prose from the 1960s and 1970s, Puvacic has recognised certain details which had escaped many other critics – the fact that, with the spread of a more realistic literary style and the transformation of the legacy of realism, those very same themes that were attracting Serbian authors were also dominant throughout the rest of the world. These are: confrontation of the individual with the destructive force of historical reality, “distrust of the moral and psychological stability of the world, an active suspicion of reality which offers no protection from the feelings of anxiety and hopelessness; a universal contamination with evil, hatred and insecurity; an attempt to defeat one’s own destiny by either contemplation or violence”. The resistance to history, says Puvacic, “the energy of negativism, the dark impulse of resistance and defiance” and “the cult of the victim” give powerful stimulus to modern Serbian prose, inhabited by “a lonely, alienated man, broken inside and wounded on the outside, frustrated by feelings of helplessness, insignificance and worthlessness, haunted by hate, guilt and absurdity”. He looks for a common denominator to the Serbian prose of that time and recognises the effort made to discover and demystify historical and social reality through literature. He acclaims the sharpening of the critical consciousness of writers who “arrogantly enter into dialogue with direct forms of existence, discover new areas of evil and violence, examine the reverberations of internal emptiness or revive wounded memories.” He found the material for the poetics of sacrifice and negation in the majority of prose writers about whom he wrote as a literary chronicler. For the ten or so years during which he wrote daily literary criticism, Puvacic has left an authentic testimony of the evolution of Serbian prose within the process of freeing itself from dogmatism. He has clearly marked the literary co-ordinates of this new kind of poetics, which undermined the existing aesthetic norms and gave character to the Serbian prose of that time.

Referring to the profession of literary criticism as a kind of “pact with the Devil”, to the unenviable position of critics during an era of softening Party singlemindedness, Dusan Puvacic has performed a concise and precise cultural, stylistic and morphological analysis of literary criticism. He has given us a kind of moral and professional expert opinion on the nature of daily literary criticism and with time his findings have gained documentary value. Therefore, this book, Balkan Themes, as well as having theoretical and literary value, also has a moral value for the understanding of contemporary Balkan, Yugoslav and Serbian culture and literature.

Prof. Dr. Predrag Palavestra – Head of the Department for Language and Literature of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

From: Dušan Puvačić, BALKAN THEMES, Tradition and change in Serbian and Croatian literature, Editions Esopie, 41, rue Olivier Metra, 75020, Paris

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