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«A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Slavic Languages and Literatures) in the ...»

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History and Remembrance in Three Post-Yugoslav Authors: Dubravka

Ugrešić, Daša Drndić, and Aleksandar Zograf


Vladislav Beronja

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

(Slavic Languages and Literatures)

in the University of Michigan

Doctoral Committee:

Associate Professor Tatjana Aleksić, Chair

Associate Professor Kerstin Barndt

Associate Professor Herbert J. Eagle

Associate Professor Andrew H. Herscher Professor Tatjana Jukić, University of Zagreb ©Vladislav Beronja In the memory of my grandmother Desanka Beronja ii Acknowledgments This dissertation owes it completion to many mentors, colleagues, family members, and friends. First, I’d like to thank Herbert Eagle for seeing in me a potential scholar and encouraging me to apply to the graduate program six and a half years ago, when I was still a bookish undergraduate furiously finishing my thesis. The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, under Herb’s direction, has been a welcoming, warm and generous home, which I will be sad to leave. For all the encouragement, crisis management, and creative freedom I’d like to express my undying gratitude to Prof. Tatjana Aleksić, my main advisor. I am especially indebted to Prof. Kerstin Barndt from the neighboring German Department for simulating conversations, intellectual encouragement, and continued support in the context of the AvantGarde Group and, in particular, the graduate seminar on museums and memory. In many ways, this seminar was the jumping board for this study. I would also like to thank Prof. Andrew Herscher for his willingness to be a part of this project. Needless to say, I take full responsibility for all the missed marks and gaping absences, while maintaining hope that I will have the chance to correct them in the near future. I owe no small debt to Jean McKee, especially in the last stretch, where every word of encouragement, e-mail, and phone call, meant the difference between finishing and not finishing. I am grateful to my colleagues in the field Stijn Vervaet, Renata Jambrešić-Kirin, and especially Prof. Tatjana Jukić for her willingness to be on the dissertation committee on such a short notice. I look forward to exchanging ideas and texts with them in the future.

iii This dissertation would not have been possible without the generous support from the Rackham Graduate School, the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and several other sources of funding, in particular, the ACLS Dissertation Fellowship in Eastern European Studies and the Mellon Summer Dissertation Writing Fellowship. I’m not sure about the return on investments with respect to literary scholarship, but I’m glad institutions such as those listed above still exist and continue to provide financial support for the advancement of critical thought. In the same vein, I’d like to thank Mrs. Mona Stolz for setting up a grant in the memory of her late husband Prof. Benjamin Stolz and for allowing young scholars working on the former Yugoslavia to advance their research. As a recipient of this grant for two consecutive summers, I hope that this dissertation will in some small way honor the memory of Prof. Stolz and his legacy.

I ‘d like to thank my mom and dad for the freedom they’ve given me to explore the roads less traveled; for their courage to venture into the unknown, with all the risk, pain, and potential hope that such a leap ultimately entails. For all the late night conversations, I’d like to thank Aleksandar Bošković and my brother Boris, although I could not always keep up with all the dazzling arguments and references to Žižek and Deleuze. A special line has to be reserved for Justine Adema, who has broken up periods of despair with levity and peals of laughter, even if these too were often tinged with darkness. And finally, I want to thank Emil Erdec for those careless moments of togetherness, when the world seems unbearably light: “it’s wonderful /to get out of bed/ and drink too much coffee/ and smoke too many cigarettes/ and love you so much.”

–  –  –



List of Figures

List of Abbreviations




Souvenirs of Communism: Allegory and Mourning in Dubravka Ugrešić's The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (1997) CHAPTER 2:

Transnational Spaces, Diasporic Times: Memory and Affect in Dubravka Ugrešić’s The Ministry of Pain (2005) CHAPTER 3:

The Holocaust Archive and Democratic Pedagogy:

Daša Drndić's Sonnenschein (2007) and April in Berlin (2009) CHAPTER 4:

Chronicles of the Dream Nation:

Aleksandar Zograf’s Regards from Serbia (2007) Conclusion


–  –  –

Figure 1.1: Roland the Walrus

Figure 1.2: Title page, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (1997)

Figure 1.3: Thomas Hoepker, EAST GERMANY.

Berlin, 1990.

Figure 3.1: Sonnenschein, page 186

Figure 3.2: Sonnenschein, page 136

Figure 3.3: Sonnenschein, page 433

Figure 3.4: April u Berlinu, page 237

Figure 3.5: April u Berlinu, page 264

Figure 4.1: Regards from Serbia, page 90 (unnumbered)

Figure 4.2: Regards from Serbia, page 13 (detail)

Figure 4.3: Regards from Serbia, page 39

Figure 4.4: Regards from Serbia, page 41

Figure 4.5: Germany, 1923.

Figure 4.6: Regards from Serbia, page 47

Figure 4.7: Regards from Serbia, page 270 (detail)

Figure 4.8: Regards from Serbia, page 208 (detail)

–  –  –

SW = Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. 4. Vols. Cambridge, Mass. And London: Harvard University Press, 1996-2003.

MS = Ugrešić, Dubravka. The Ministry of Pain. (trans.) Michael Henry Heim. New York: Ecco, 2006.

SON = Drndić, Daša. Sonnenschein. Zaprešić Fraktura, 2007.

AB = Drndić, Daša. April u Berlinu. Zaprešić Fraktura, 2009.

RS = Zograf, Aleksandar. Regards from Serbia. Atlanta: Top Shelf Productions, 2007.

–  –  –

This dissertation analyzes the multimedia works of three post-Yugoslav authors— Dubravka Ugrešić, Daša Drndić, and Aleksandar Zograf—against the historical background of Yugoslavia’s violent dissolution and the emergence of hegemonic nationalist narratives in Serbia and Croatia based, in large part, on the practice of historical revisionism, selective remembering of the past, and politically motivated myth-making. It argues that these works disrupt the dominant grammars of national memory by foregrounding rupture, fragment, and discontinuity, thereby refusing to structure the nation as a unitary and homogeneous ethnic community with a stable history. In this sense, these works also reveal the inherently constructed and fragmentary nature of national traditions, and hence their potential for transformation. Through a series of close readings, this study reveals these text as spaces of intersecting historical legacies—such as fascism, communism, and ethnic nationalism—that are critically recollected in the space of the present, as well as of emergent, textually and visually mapped geographies of immigration, exile, and transnational existence, appearing in the wake of Yugoslavia’s dissolution.

Drawing on the work of the Jewish-German philosopher Walter Benjamin, I view these works as textual and visual spaces of remembrance that gather the past, present, and the future into a critical constellation. By rejecting the unity inherent in epic narrative connected, in particular, to the historiography in service of nation-building, these works make visible both the radical historical breaks, losses, and uneasy continuities which, in turn, call for new cultural forms of memory. On the one hand, the aesthetic transformation of traumatic historical

–  –  –

past. On the other hand, the recuperated and reworked, albeit fragmentary and unstable, past becomes a new ground for a critique of exclusionary nationalisms and the concomitant emergence of civic consciousness.

–  –  –

This dissertation examines the poetics of remembrance and loss in three post-Yugoslav authors: Dubravka Ugrešić, Daša Drndić, and Aleksandar Zograf. It focuses on five works produced as an aesthetic response to the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the wars that ensued in its wake. I suggest we view these works as symbolic reactions to blocked mourning, more specifically, an attempt to symbolize the wartime loss of civilian lives, as well as the destruction of multinational spaces and common cultural heritage during the violent dissolution of the socialist state. Blocked mourning emerges here as a dominant paradigm of nationbuilding in Croatia and Serbia during the 1990s and a cultural condition against which these works should be read. The main features of blocked mourning are: 1.) a defensive, narcissistic image of the nation, which sees itself alternately as either victim or hero, 2.) an inability to mourn the losses of those who are constructed, within ethno-nationalist ideology, as constitutive national others, and 3.) selective remembering, which constructs the past in terms of a teleological narrative that necessarily culminates in an ethnically pure nation-state. The works examined in this dissertation represent a challenge to the dominant—victimological and heroic— grammars of national memory in Croatia and Serbia instituted in the 1990s and continuing into the present; they shatter what Walter Benjamin has called “the empty, homogeneous time”1 of nationalist historiography by recovering lost cultural fragments, past commitments, and Illuminations, p. 262 traumatic absences that open up history and collective memory to symbolic reworking. These memory works consequently acquire a political and collective dimension; they call not so much for a transformation of national identity, but for a deconstruction of the boundaries that constitute a given political and cultural community. Viewed as a symbolic and political practice, memory work and mourning introduce plurality, antagonism, and difference into the imaginary “we” of the nation in in a way that makes visible its historical and present-day exclusions.

Set during or in the aftermath of a series of historical events that can be described as catastrophic—the Yugoslav wars and mass atrocities committed in its course, refugee crisis, the collapse of an ideological system and formation of new ones—the works Dubravka Ugrešić, Daša Drndić, and Aleksandar Zograf attempt both to witness catastrophic history as it is taking place and to preserve the traces of the past in the wake of destruction. While these authors occupy different subject-positions, employ different media, and significantly diverge in their approach to cultural memory, all of them foreground the fragmentary and incomplete nature of the past’s material archive, refusing to produce a single, authoritative, and unified narrative of history.

I. Identities, Historical Legacies, and Critical Geographies In contrast to the rest of Eastern Europe, where non-violent revolutions following the fall of the Berlin Wall secured a largely peaceful transition from state socialism to liberal democracy, Yugoslavia experienced a rise of ethnic nationalisms in its respective republics, eventually culminating in a series of brutal and drawn-out wars, the worst Europe has seen since WWII. 2 The Yugoslav wars—consisting of a series of localized conflicts, namely, the Ten-Day War in Slovenia (1991), the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995), the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and Kosovo War (1998resulted in the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the creation of seven The Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), a largely secular, multicultural welfare state with a ‘soft’ socialist system that incorporated elements of capitalism, thus quickly splintered into seven different, mutually antagonistic nation-states. After a period of virulent wartime nationalism in the 1990s, especially in Serbia and Croatia, all of the states have been gradually accepting the Western model of democracy and free market economy, although nationalism remains a prevalent and visible element in public life, as well as “very usable spare basis of legitimacy”3 for national politicians and cultural elites. While this study does not purport to explain the causes of the wars, nor does it assume that art and literature can answer these questions, it does touch upon selective remembering and mythical national narration that prepared the ground for the destruction of the previously shared multicultural and civic spaces, which continues into the present.

As I mentioned earlier, I limit this study to three authors whose work is especially marked by memory work and mourning as politicized practices, namely, Dubravka Ugrešić, Daša Drndić, and Aleksanadar Zograf. While the works of these authors should not necessarily be taken as paradigmatic of contemporary Serbian and Croatian literature, nor are they united by a common poetic form, they do share a certain exilic sensibility, a desire to step outside of the interpretative context of the nation and a concomitant position of marginality vis-à-vis the dominant collective identifications. In all three authors, this ‘marginality’ is discursively performed within the works themselves and one of its main functions is to preempt and regulate their double reception ‘at home’ and ‘abroad.’ Marginality should be therefore seen as both a form of situated knowledge, affective disposition, and a strategic maneuver of a decentered and independent nation-states on the territory of the former confederation. According to independent reports, in the course of the wars, around one hundred and thirty thousand (130, 000) people died and around four million (4,000,000) were displaced.

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