In-between Borders and Central European Life Writing

by
Steven TÖTÖSY de ZEPETNEK*

While national literatures and/or main-language literatures possessing a decisive number of elements such as a historical locus, established parameters of tradition, and power bases of politics and economics obviously determine their visibility and importance, there is a significant "other" corpus of literature, namely that of diaspora and ethnic writing. This type of writing is by no means small and depending from the point of view of its readership and critics, it is either with focus on the original literature wherefrom the text is created -- either in thematics, or language, or in any further or other parameters and in this case it is designated as "diaspora writing" -- or with focus on its new location in which case it is designated as "ethnic writing." In other words, Chinese or Hungarian literature written in Canada is designated as diaspora writing in Chinese or Hungarian literary scholarship and it is designated as ethnic writing in Canadian literary scholarship. And such literatures are, in recognition and in function within the system of culture, peripheral in all cases.

Diaspora and ethnic literature is difficult to account for, difficult to canonize, difficult to recognize. As recognition and canon formation of literature occurs in a complicated and fragmented way based on various factors and in areas such as critical and academic attention, readership, production and distribution parameters, sales figures, literary historical attention, etc., diaspora and ethnic writing is and remains hard to assess and, and consequently, to accept as a significant corpus of literature in the scholarship of literature and culture. However, in recent years there has been increasing interest in all aspects of diaspora and ethnic writing in all major Western literatures. In the North American English-speaking theoretical and critical landscape, Charles Bernheimer's (ed.) Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam's Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media, Gurbhagat Singh's (ed.) Differential Multilogue: Comparative Literature and National Literatures, Susan P. Castillo's Notes from the Periphery: Marginality in North American Literature and Culture, Winfried Siemerling and Katrin Schwenk's (eds.) Cultural Difference and the Literary Text: Pluralism and the Limits of Authenticity in North American Literatures, David Palumbo-Liu's (ed.) The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions and Interventions, Sneja Gunew's Framing Marginality: Multicultural Literary Studies, or Satya P. Mohanty's Literary Theory and the Claims of History are good examples.

It has been argued that the discipline of comparative literature has always paid attention to the peripheral, to alterité, to the "Other." I agree with this perspective of the discipline and stated that this as the discipline's seventh principle in my recent position paper, "From Comparative Literature Today toward Comparative Cultural Studies": "The Seventh General Principle of Comparative Literature is its theoretical, methodological as well as ideological and political approach of inclusion. This inclusion extends to all Other, all marginal, minority, and peripheral and it encompasses both form and substance" and I again refer to the notion in the tenth principle of the discipline: "Because I believe that scholarship where interdisciplinarity, the recognition and inclusion of the Other, and where the in-depth knowledge of several languages and literatures are basic parameters advances our knowledge in a particular as well as advantageous manner. I prefer the multi-faceted approach of this discipline, that, at the same time, is based on scholarly rigor and multi-layered knowledge" (Tötösy 1998, 17; for a further developed version of the notion, see Tötösy 1999) (I should also like to note that the said inclusion must not occur by Eurocentrism, however). To me, it is evident that comparative literature is historically, theoretically, and in application best equipped to study diaspora and ethnic writing, and demonstrably so (see, for example, Gnisci; Gnisci and Sinopoli, among many others). As I have proposed elsewhere (e.g., 1998), in my opinion it is misguided that literary scholarship continues to conduct research and study in a metaphoric, hermeneutic, and narratological manner, all without or, at best, with limited and/or oblique taxonomy and methodology. This basic approach to the study of literature determines that I favor frameworks such as the systemic and empirical approach, the polysystem theory, or similar theoretically and methodologically more explicit frameworks (see, for example, Schmidt; Even-Zohar; Bourdieu). Further, that the systemic and empirical approach would provide advantageous theoretical and methodological properties for the study of diaspora and ethnic writing, I will underline by an analogy. Toril Moi's well-known article, "Appropriating Bourdieu: Feminist Theory and Pierre Bourdieu's Sociology of Culture" contains, although not explicitly, an argument for the advantages of the systemic approach in the study of literature. In Moi's words: "Bourdieu's sociology of culture, I would argue, is promising terrain for feminists precisely because it allows us to produce highly concrete and specific analyses of the social determinants of the literary énonciation" (1018). Of course, Bourdieu's proximity to the theoretical framework of the systemic approach to literature is well known (see Bourdieu 1991, 1991; on the approximation of Schmidt's, Even-Zohar's, and Bourdieu's frameworks, see Tötösy 1997). In addition, Moi argues that the dislocation of doxa is particularly advantageous with an approach as with that of Bourdieu. Thus, Moi's recognition of the "systemic" approach for the study of feminist writing is conceptually similar to the suggestion that the systemic approach would be useful for the study of diaspora and ethnic writing in that these types of literatures, feminist and diaspora, are traditionally peripheral literatures. In the case of diaspora and ethnic writing they have been on the periphery mainly because literary scholars -- in very genereal terms -- approached diaspora and ethnic literary texts with a point of view focused on the texts' aesthetic properties only. Because the systemic and empirical approach allows for the study of diaspora and ethnic literary texts in the context of social communicative action, the use of the framework will result in a more inclusive view of culture and literature. In other words, I rate highly the framework's ability to avoid the mistake of downgrading (marginalizing) the literary, indeed, polyvalence and consequently canonical value of some, if not all, diaspora and ethnic writing.

Recently, I developed the notion of "in-between peripherality" for the study of Central and East Central European literatures (see Tötösy 1999). Briefly, my theoretical postulates are that Central and East Central European literatures traditionally exist on the periphery of the major European literatures, following their historical, economical, and political marginalization, including the field of literary scholarship. However, because of their cultural self-referentiality, they are not only "peripheral" but also "in-between," that is, in-between their own national cultural self-referentiality and the cultural influence and primacy of the major Western cultures they are influenced by. While my notion may be understood as a macro theory because it deals with "national" literatures, the notion of in-between peripherality can be also applied to diaspora and ethnic writing as a parallel macro theory based on the large corpus of writing in existence. The parameters are similar: the diaspora author and text is "in-between" the original culture and literature the author and his/her text emanate from and both are "peripheral" with regard to the original culture and literature and their location. My notion is not new, in principle. For example, Homi K. Bhabha writes in his The Location of Culture that multicultural writing "is the "the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture" (38). And in English-language scholarship in general, there are many further examples and attempts to define diaspora and ethnic writing as I suggested in my introduction. In American scholarship the notion of "border writing" (see, for example, Jay), or Amin Malak's "ambivalent affiliations" and "in-betweenness," François Paré's "exiguity" and the "margins of literature" may serve as excellent examples. However, as I mentioned above, these frameworks all lack methodology and/or precise taxonomy.

It appears to me that in particular the systemic and empirical approach and its framework's ability to avoid the mistake of downgrading the literary, indeed, polyvalence and consequently canonical value of some, if not all, diaspora and ethnic literature is most advantageous. In other words, the systemic and empirical approach allows us to take into account extra-literary factors which often mark, indeed, designate, the perception of diaspora and ethnic literature. As I already mentioned, in very general terms, diaspora and ethnic literature appears to be more often than not having difficulties in the overall canonization process in the sense of primary or even secondary recognition. The reasons for this are manifold and here are some examples of the why of this marginalization. For example, Robert S. Newman writes that "it is safe to say that we normally expect exile or refugee literature to be transparent. That is, we assume that those who encounter it will accept it at face value and perhaps even understand its subtextual implications. But the varying reception of exiles and refugees over the years should make us wonder about this model of transparency" (87). An alternative is proposed, for example, by Francesco Loriggio, who suggests that "One of the more interesting aspects of ethnic literature as a field of study is the obligations it entails. The critic is forced to work on many levels simultaneously. S/he must name the texts, disseminate them, and, at the same time, at this particular stage of the game, define them, situate them within the agenda of the century and the debate it has fostered" (575). This a priori positioning of the study of diaspora and ethnic literature is among other reasons why I designate the approach and its object of study as "systemic." More to the point, once the "systemic" positioning of the diaspora/ethnic text is performed, it already obtains a higher order of perception with regards to its more sophisticated analysis, and hence, possible recognition toward canonization. Because in a systemic context the text is located within the framework of the interrelation between its function as a peripheral text that is related to both the "home" literature and the literary origins based in its location of production. Following Loriggio's argumentation that the positioning of an ethnic text involves historical strategies, in which "ethnicity is active disemia, disemia congenital to one's biography and behaviour, historically and institutionally overdetermined" (585), the systemic positioning of diaspora and ethnic writing with reference to what appears to be the criticized historical and autobiographical element, becomes, evidently, multi-layeredness and creative sophistication. In other words, the tenets of the systemic and empirical approach to literature and culture which proposes to observe and to describe the extra-textual factors of a literary text in a specific manner are appropriate as well as advantageous for the study and legitimization of diaspora and ethnic writing.

Following the above outlined theoretical and methodological presuppositions, next I apply my postulates to a particular aspect of Central and East Central European literature and culture. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989-90, Central and East Central Europe gained new currency in general social discourse, in politics, economics, as well as in literature and culture. In general social and political discourse, the designation of "Central Europe" and the discussion around it has been at times fierce; nevertheless, the discussion itself raised many questions about identity and culture. Milan Kundera, Timothy Garton Ash, Czeslaw Milosz, György Konrád, Péter Esterházy, Claudio Magris, Adam Michnik, Danilo Kis, and scores of other prominent intellectuals and writers discussed and discuss the notion of Central Europe and whether it exists in various shapes and forms or not. More often than not, the debate ends, in an affirmation of the notion of Central Europe. Perhaps the most astute and informed as well as impartial piece of writing being Garton Ash's 1986 article, "Does Central Europe Exist?" The current interest in the idea of a Central Europe -- as well as its tandem notions of East Central Europe, South Eastern Europe, the debate on Mitteleuropa in Austria and in Germany, the historical relevance of Zwischeneuropa, etc. -- relates to the economics and the political aspects of Europe and the European Union and the larger problematics of globalization and markets. Central European nation states make great efforts to join the European Union and they wish to join clearly for economic reasons. Germany is interested in the countries of the former states of the Iron Curtain for historical reasons as well as current economic and market considerations. Austria, itself the quintessential Central European country and culture debates fiercely whether to support its successor states of the Danube monarchy in their efforts to join the European Union or not (see, for example, Gauss). And clearly, behind these economic and political factors culture plays a crucial role in the argumentation for the joining of Central European states with the European Union.

With regard to the history of the notion of Central Europe, we must pay attention to Milan Kundera, who argues that

"the geographic boundaries of Central Europe are vague, changeable, and debatable ... Central Europe is polycentral and looks different from different vantage points: Warsaw or Vienna, Budapest or Ljubljana ... Central Europe never was an intentional, desired unit. With the exception of the Hapsburg emperor, his court, and few isolated intellectuals, no Central European desired a Central Europe. The cultures of the individual peoples had centrifugal, separatist tendencies; they far preferred to look to England, France, or Russia than one another; and if in spite of that (or perhaps because of that) they resembled each other, it was without their will or against their will...." (12)

If the history and genesis of a Central Europe or a Central European culture is questionable as Kundera suggests, the notion, as he states, "that they resembled each other" is a more accepted idea. Virgil Nemoianu, for instance, argues in his 1993 article, "Learning over Class: The Case of the Central European Ethos" that there is a structure of Central Europeanness which he calls an "ethos" and which explains as being a specific configuration of education and the Roman Catholic religious imagination, resulting in a specific cultural and behavioral value system. Another recent example is Louis Rose's The Freudian Calling: Early Viennese Psychoanalysis and the Pursuit of Cultural Science (1998) where he argues in many aspects similarly to Nemoianu that humanist education (Bildung) in a context of traditional aesthetic culture and the leadership by a Roman Catholic aristocracy created a specific characteristic and cultural space of and in the region (28-29). In my book, Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application (1998), I too argue for the existence of a Central European cultural space and I propose the said theoretical designation of "in-between peripherality" -- a framework that takes into account the 40-year impact of Soviet communist rule over all previous Habsburg lands except Austria and where I argue for cultural specificities and a common cultural character of Central Europe. The framework is then applied to contemporary Hungarian and Romanian literary texts: the result of the application makes it clear that the argument for the existence of a contemporary Central European literature as representing certain characteristics specific to the region may be valid. Further, in recent years, the theme of Central European philosophy, connected with but independent of literature, has been given more thorough attention. The Polish logical school, logical neopositivism, phenomenology, the Prague school of linguistics, and analytic philosophy, Gestalt psychology, the Vienna economics school -- as well as individual thinkers -- are all movements and groups specifically Central European and continuing to make a strong impact on thinking and artistic expression today.

In general social discourse about culture, the existence and location of a specific Central European space (a cultural noyau) is generally accepted, it appears, despite Kundera's and many others' more cautious and differentiated view. The difficulty arises when it has to be explained in detail and exemplified. What is needed, therefore, is a comparative and synthesizing approach and method which take into account several areas of cultural expression from a good number of cultural regions of Central Europe. In addition, it may also be of some importance from which location the observation is performed. For instance, while Kundera is right in his assessment of the history of the notion and idea of Central Europe, what his argument lacks is the perspective from the outside. True, the Hungarian in Hungary or the Slovak in Slovakia is foremost Hungarian and Slovak, respectively (that is, "still" but perhaps not as homogeneously as before). And he or she would certainly pay more attention to Germany or the USA than to a notion of Central Europe when he/she is in Hungary or Slovakia. And the same observation can be made in scholarly discourse. The perspective changes, however, once the individual is outside of his/her original location, cultural or other. In other words, when Milan Kundera lives in Paris, or Josef Skvorecky or George Faludy live in Toronto, that is when they often become of a dual intellectual and personal hybrid: Hungarian or Czech and Central European. It is common knowledge that members of nationalities -- ethnic groups in Canada, the USA, or other locations of emigration and/or exile -- interact in many aspects when before they would not. Thus, Czechs and Hungarians, for example, discover kinship and the Central European dimension when they are together in Toronto or Berlin. This perspective of the "removed location" is both an important aspect of the Central European designation as well as an important force of the construction of the Central European designation. Clearly, the voices of a "removed location" in the sense I suggest applies very strongly to the designation of Central Europe, simply for historical reasons: the wars and revolutions and the economic hardship that was experienced in the region we call Central and East Central Europe created large waves of exile and emigration to all countries in Western Europe as well as North America, as we know.

Now, I would like to briefly explore and discuss several recent memoirs by Jewish-Hungarian women authors whose writing serves as an example for my proposed theoretical framework as applied to Central European literature and culture, in turn in the proposed framework of in-between peripherality. But why the specific attention to Jewish-Hungarian writing? John Willett, in an editorial entitled "Is There a Central European Culture?" writes that

"the elements of a new Central European culture must come from even farther afield than they did before Hitler and Stalin. We certainly cannot expect them to depend on the spontaneous German-Jewish-Yiddish tradition that once seemed to link the comedian Peischacke Burstein in Vilnius with the writer Ettore Schmitz in Trieste: however unforgettable, the source is barred, buried under the masonry of the great concentration camp memorials. But the essence of mid-Europe surely is that its cultural inspiration must come from both East and West, and its role be to test ideas against one another and use the result in its own creativity." (15)

The importance and impact of Jewish culture in its varied forms on and in Central Europe is well known (see, for example, Johnston). However, while I understand the cultural importance of Central European Jewry tragic as Willet suggests and as seen and understood because of the Second World War and the Holocaust, I do not find it "barred" and "buried." First, I understand Central European Jewishness as of a quintessential synthesis and expression of the said Central European culture. Second, memoirs represent a genre that connects the past and the present and thus it is an advantageous cultural and literary genre to gauge and to understand the problematic at hand, namely Central Europeanness, and third, as it happens, diasporic Jewish-Hungarian women's memoir writing has produced some of the most interesting and exciting texts for the said problematic of Central European culture. And the genre of Jewish-Hungarian memoir writing is of relevance for my discussion for another reason. It is curious that much memoir writing of minority groups, for instance, that of Hungarian Germans reflecting on post-War expulsion often concentrates on "good" memories (see, for example, Murk). It is, then, even more curious that Jewish-Hungarian memoirs contain so much positive about life in Hungary before the Holocaust, when, in truth anti-Semitism has been increasing gradually and in intensity in Hungary since before the First World War! Here, I would also like to mention, with specific relevance to the designation of diaspora what Ella Shohat so convincingly argues for, namely that the homogenizing parameters of Israel and the erasure of Arab-Jewish identity in consequence is lamentable (see Shohat). In other words, there is such a thing as appropriation and, consequently, diasporic Jewish-Hungarian women's memoir writing connects several factors of the proposed notion of Central European culture.

In North America, memoir writing is today one of the most prevalent genres and this can be gauged also with regard to Jewish-Hungarian women's memoirs. There are, in particular in American and Canadian English-language writing many examples of such memoir texts. (I should add that the designation "Jewish-Hungarian" is of course in itself problematic: I am certain that most first-generation Jews now living in North America would not readily accept the designation up front, let alone the second-generation. I am using the designation to indicate the cultural and personal background of the writers I am discussing here as per reflection on their own memoir writing.) For the present study, I selected Julie Salamon's The Net of Dreams: A Family's Search for a Rightful Place (1996), Elaine Kalman Naves's Journey to Vaja: Reconstructing the World of a Hungarian-Jewish Family (1996), Susan Rubin Suleiman's Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook (1996), Magda Denes's Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War (1997), and Judith Kalman's The County of Birches (1998).

In a geographical context, Salamon's The Net of Dreams is perhaps the most "Central European." Her idea and research of the book began by the impetus of reading, in 1993, about Steven Spielberg's plans to film his Schindler's List (Salamon 6) after which she travels to Poland and other areas of East Central Europe such as Huszt, now in the Ukraine, and formerly a town with a substantial Hungarian-speaking population. Salamon's description leading into the history of the mixture of nations is intriguing itself: "This was the land of the shtetl -- and of Gypsies, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Ukrainians -- an ignorant backwater that had been annexed by the USSR after World War II. Now Communism was finished and the place where my parents were from had been reshuffled again. Their birthplace had lost the status of affiliation with Czechoslovakia or the former Austro-Hungarian Empire" (13). What is significant in this brief excerpt is the reference to Czechoslovakia (the interwar period) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the period prior to the 1919) and thus the setting of the notion of Central Europe, geographically and culturally. The family history of Julie Salamon stretches across Central and East Central Europe in time, in space, and in cultural parameters. It includes the particularities of their education (Gymnasium) and university, their knowledge of languages, and the necessities of manoeuvring from one cultural context to another but altogether being in a Central European space. Salamon's interpretations and explanations of matters and things Central European -- be those Slovak, Hungarian, Ruthenian, Jewish, or Czech -- extend over much detail. For instance, at one point she explains a specific instance of the usage in Hungarian of the familiar (te) and polite (maga) forms of address and other forms of address they used such as the Ukrainian-Czech mixture of zolotik ("little golden one") in their social and individual contexts (205). Salamon's narrative of memory is concentrated on family and family history and the memory of the horror of the Holocaust runs through it. Yet, the Central European cultural space as well as spaces the family's history and the histories of individual members occupy in the book's narrative involve us as readers not only as historical evidence but also as evidence for a literature of the region.

Elaine Kalman Naves's Journey to Vaja: Reconstructing the World of a Hungarian-Jewish Family is the most historical text among the text I am dealing with here. It also has the least mistakes with Hungarian diacritics and the translation of phrases and terms. The Jewish-Hungarian families whose history is told in the book, the Schwarz-Székács, the Weinbergers, the Rochlitz, etc., belonged to that stratum of Jews in Hungary who assimilated and became members of the educated upper-bourgeoisie of the country. In this case, they produced members who were members of the Austro-Hungarian officer corps and upper-government officialdom, landowners, industrialists. One member of the family (Aggie Békés) is also of interest because she earned a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of Debrecen in the 1930s (section of photographs, n.p.). It is well known that Jews in Hungary underwent perhaps the most wide-spread and deepest process of assimilation, for the reason that Kalman Naves describes as "During the forging of Magyar nationalism, they cast their lot wholeheartedly with that of the emerging Magyar nation -- only one of the many ethnic groups in the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire which included Slovaks, Ukrainians, Slovenes, and many other nationalities. Even the orthodox among Hungarian Jews described themselves with self-conscious pride as Magyars of the Israelite faith" (15) and the access of numerous Jewish-Hungarian families to both non-titled nobility and the ranks of the aristocracy is a particular characteristic of Hungarian history which, again, explains much of the said Central European culture and its Jewish aspects (for the Jewish nobility of Hungary, see McCagg; Lukacs 91-93; see also Molnár and Reszler).

Magda Denes's Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War is a doubly sad book in view of its author's recent death in 1996 -- all other authors of the memoirs under discussion here are alive today. The story of Denes's family is particularly poignant because of her father's act of abandoning his wife and daughter in 1939. The story of this Jewish-Hungarian family, again in the context of its position as educated upper-bourgeoisie, is of particular interest for my argument of Central Europeanness because the story unfolds in "travel." What I mean is the telling of the tale when Magda Denes -- after surviving the Holocaust in hiding -- flees Hungary in 1946 with her mother and grandmother and how she perceives and experiences life as a refugee with and among all the other nationalities in the refugee camps. The narrative contains much of the self-confidence of the Central European educated. Here is an excerpt: "I always suspected Ervin of having a bit of the prole [proletarian] in him. Anyway, now he wants to emigrate to Palestine with her, and he wants to fight for a Jewish state. I don't even know what that means. Jews are intellectuals, not farmers or soldiers" (147). Magda eventually ends up in New York where she becomes professor of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy at Adelphi University.

Susan Rubin Suleiman's Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook is similarly bitter-sweet in many instances of recollections of Budapest life and death during the war and the Holocaust, with a good dose of narcissism in the author's narrative when self-reflective. The book's title itself is intriguing: Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook and it is similar to Tibor Fischer's (another second-generation Hungarian) Under the Frog (1992, Betty Trask Award of 1992 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993), in that it contains a translation from the Hungarian. Fischer's un-English Under the Frog is a translation of the Hungarian phrase describing when one is in bad circumstances (as in quality of life): a béka segge alatt ("under the arse of a frog"). Suleiman's Motherbook is a translation of anyakönyv, the official name of one's birth certificate in Hungary and a term laden with references of nostalgia and patriotism in Hungarian literature and even in general discourse. Thus, the title of the book sets the scene, the author's search and re-discovery of her Hungarian background and history. In the first chapter, "Prologue: Forgetting Budapest," Suleiman describes her escape from Hungary as a ten year old, in the last months when the border was still open to Czechoslovakia. After stops in Ko[sinvcircumflex]ice and Bratislava -- Kassa and Pozsony (the Hungarian names of the cities), and Pressburg (the German name of the city), respectively; -- the Rubin family of three arrived in Vienna, free. The author then earned a profession and her life with clear distance to her ethnic background in the American melting pot. Although with a brief interest in Hungary during the 1956 Revolution and its aftermath of Hungarian refugees in the United States, it is only in the early 1980s -- upon the illness of her mother, her own divorce, and the stress of raising two sons as a single mother -- that Zsuzsa (the Hungarian version of her name) again takes to Hungary and her unresolved past. After the 1989 Changes, she is invited to Budapest as a guest professor and she spends an extended period in Hungary. In Budapest -- and it is in these chapters where the cultural reading I am interested in is written -- Suleiman immerses herself in the intellectual life of scholars, writers, and artists and makes many interesting observations. Her descriptions of life and letters in Budapest is valuable for the North American reader because it is the description of something that does not exist in North America and even in Western European cities it is at best only somewhat similar: it is specifically a Central European situation. Thus, among the many interesting aspects of Central European and, within that, specifically Hungarian scenes, situations, and cultural specifics, some may be of particular interest to the English-speaking and North American reader. For example, descriptions and references to the situation of feminism and women runs throughout the book and it reminds me of a situation I was in when giving a paper using feminist criticism at a Hungarian Studies conference in 1991 and where both men and women in the audience attacked my paper saying that feminism is nonsense and inappropriate for the situation in Hungary. Evidently, not much changed in the few years since: Hungary is and remains a profoundly patriarchal society. Another theme in the book is the situation of Jews in Hungary. Suleiman describes the situation with some accuracy and when I was a guest professor in Hungary in 1995 I too found that in Hungary one is either a "Jew-friend" or one is an anti-Semite, there is no in-between. Interestingly, there is one instance where Suleiman falls prey to that most Hungarian feature, cultural nationalism. In Suleiman's case this could perhaps be better described in terms of enthusiasm and over-valuation of things Hungarian: "I felt elated by the beauty of the city. `It really is a great capital; it really can be compared to Paris.' I told myself as the cable car rose above the river." Well, yes, Budapest is a beautiful city, indeed, but in my opinion and despite the often repeated comparison to Paris it was never like Paris or Vienna and it is not comparable to them today either (while Paris and Vienna may be over-valued and over-mythologized, too...).

It is the cumulative effect of these books and of several others published in recent years that prove relevant for the argument of the existence of a Central European culture. It is also worthy of attention that many of these narratives are written by women. In sum, the life writings discussed here suggest evidence for the notion that the Central European "character" exists indeed -- at least in the imagination and cultural construct of these authors including their families. What is even more remarkable is that the said Central European cultural space and construct apparently survives at times into second-generation families now living in North America, thus in both instances as well as the two interconnected the evidence of "limen" texts. And in this context it is also of importance that despite the historical break and horrific separation created by the Holocaust, the culture of the region includes Central European Jewry and Jewish history in all of their facets, most importantly by their own expression and relevance and as demonstrated by women's life and memoir writing at hand.

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* Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek works at present in communication and media studies at Northeastern University, Boston. Previously at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 1984-2000, his areas of interest and publications include articles and books in literary and culture studies and theory, modern and contemporary European and North American fiction, diaspora and ethnic minority writing, audience studies, aspects of postcolonial literature and culture, film and literature, bibliographies, new media scholarship, etc. His most recent book is Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application (Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1998) and he coedited with Milan V. Dimic and Irene Sywenky Comparative Literature Now: Theories and Practice / La Littérature comparée à l'heure actuelle. Théories et réalisations (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1999). His current work and interests include new media scholarship and technology in secondary and higher education, audience studies, and various applications in comparative cultural studies. He is founding editor of CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal published by Purdue University Press at http://clcwebjournal.lib.purdue.edu) and he is publisher of webbooks in the humanities and social sciences in http://www.cultureonline.org.
totosy@lib.purdue.edu

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