The essay is synopsis of my research interest and my doctoral dissertation.

 

 

WOMEN’S WRITING AND THE POLITICS OF READING

Discourse Analysis of ‘Other’ History of Ex-Yugoslav Literature

During the XX Century

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The purpose of the essay is to outline the narrative features of South Slavic women’s writing during the XX century from the viewpoint of female subjectivity. The goal is to discover the possibilities of reading and interpreting models of female subjectivity and experience in Yugoslav/Ex-Yugoslav literature in the context of three very significant periods of XX century strongly determinate by wars (WW1, WW2 and civil war during the last decade of XX century). Research questions are formed in specific ways and will be finally formulated during the research: the material of the analysis required constant revision of theoretical assumptions, which are largely based on theories of Western women’s writing. Those theories are not always compatible and easy applicable to Yugoslav/Ex-Yugoslav material witch is produced in different cultural settings and literary tradition, but they are good starting position for analyzing the texts as women’s writing, even if such research on Yugoslav material is so far quite rare.

 

The mainstream of literary history noted small number of women writers (about twenty) represented by one of two sentences, with the few exceptions who favored as the main women figures in man’s literary tradition (for example: Isidora Sekulić, Desanka Maksimović, and so on) or as very successful creators of children’s literature such as Mira Alečković. Disproportion of women to man writers in literary history is common place of literature in general and could be explained in the context of feminist critical analysis. Referring to that criticism, literary history represents kind of imaginary space which is created more by social influence and standards than by aesthetics’ criteria. Social network of power (where literary relations are also included as narcissistic reflection) prescribe who deserve to be remembered. This point of view is very useful for social and cultural dimension of women discourse analysis, but quality of their writing has to be reexamined by new methods of literary theory and criticism. That is the standpoint where new theoretical approach should be created with specific research tasks and questions. Before those two important entries in discourse analysis of women’s writing in Yugoslavia/Ex-Yugoslavia (feminist and literary), it is necessary to deconstruct also other traditional interpretations of many issues related to the geopolitical context. Analysis of historical, social, political circumstances is very important for the tempestuous period of XX century marked by several wars and by various socio-political ideologies. Reconstructed and refreshed backgrounds will be used for the semiotic representation of women’s writing and for literary anthropological approach to women writers. 

 

The context of women’s writing, manner of its realization (genres, narratives models, rhetorical argumentation…) and creation of textual meaning (in the relation between: author/text/reader) will be discussed in the scope of discourse analysis. Intersection between discourse analysis and literary theory could be base for the new politics of reading of women’s writing and position from which is possible to generate literary history of ‘other’, far away for traditional and hegemonic literary discourse.

 

LITERARY BACKGROUNDS AND SOURCES

 

Literary material for the research of women’s writing during the XX century in Yugoslav literature will be divided at three specific periods:

 

I

Period from the beginning of XX century until the WW2 (divided by war period from 1914-1918. and defined by creation of the 1st Yugoslavia – The Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians).

 

Literary background: Women authors from the beginning of XX century was conscious of marginalized position of theirs literary creativity, and of theirs absolutely absence from public discourse and social spheres. The article: Women and literature (editorial for the edition: Srpkinja from the 1913) represents the document about women’s writing and the first attempt to collect and organize women discourse where all creativity of women should be saved and improved. Under the name: women writer (in the extended meaning of women scholars, publicists, and women of letters in general) was noted about 50 famous women from that period. There were noted some women authors from the end of XIX century as predecessors, such as Milica Stojadinović-Srpkinja and others, with the idea of creation of new literary history. The following historical events and the mainstream literary history covered the attempt of women authors to achieve women writing. The second attempt of ‘inventory’ of women authors was made 1936 by Nadežda Petrović in the edition of The Association of College Graduate Women, which was also published in Bibliography of Women Writers in Yugoslavia, made by several women contributors from all over the country. That Bibliography contains about 500 authors’ titles and about 300 translated items, as well as information about women publications and their other public activities. After that, in 1941, there was one more analytic approach to women writing and another more attempt to establish the history of feminine literature. But war begun; power enough to change social and ideological discourse and to forget past.      

 

Literary sources/women authors: Julka Hlapec-Đorđević, Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja, Anica Savić Rebac, Jelena Dimitrijević, Isidora Sekulić, Milica Jakovljević Mir-Jam, Jela Spiridonović Savić, Milena Pavlović Barili, Ksenija Atanasijević, Danica Marković, Jovanka Hrvaćanin and others.

 

II

Period from the WW2 until civil wars at the beginning of the nineties, period of 2nd Yugoslavia – The Socialistic Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (the communist period until 1948, and  following ‘soft communism’ called socialism, including very important changes after the revolutionary ‘68).

 

Literary background: Large and various period after WW2 reflects on literary discourse all socio-political changes (communist, Marxist ideology), significant events and technological development, as well as some of the western trends in the culture and in the humanities in late years. Thematic, theoretical and ideological limitations of literature represents dichotomy between tradition and modernism. The first one continued the well-known patriarchal tradition, the second one created new patriarchal models in literature. The main ideological phrase after WW2 was: fraternity and unity which points out the main value of the society, and that was: equality in every context. In that way the women became ‘brothers’ equal to their man. New way of women’s writing in the following period could be marked as companion’s writing which denied women space in the name of common utopia and equal criteria. In spite of that, women authors stayed behind the main stage. There were only several women writers who were recognized by mainstream literary critique (the most famous were: Isidora Sekulić, Desanka Maksimović).  At the beginning of seventies, under the influence of Western feminism (particularly French), Zagreb and Belgrade academic centers met with the revival of women writing and feminism, thanks to elite group of women writers. Women experience was talked by women and that was socially unacceptable, because of exposed taboo themes of the patriarchal norms such as women’s place and women’s role in the society, because of unconventionality, intellectual wit and above all, the freedom to say everything that used to be taboo, and those were social, ideological and sexual norms, but also literary conventions. The number of women in literature was growing, and all of them had the opportunity to choose between the ‘common’ mainstream literary space where they could take the role of companion’s writers, and between the women’s literary space where it was possible to be authentic.

Literary sources/women authors: Isidora Sekulić, Desanka Maksimović, Vesna Parun, Saša Božović, Milena Jovanović, Dara Sekulić, Mirjana Stefanović, Radmila Lazić, Biljana Jovanović, Slavenka Drakulić, Dubravka Ugrešić and others.

III

Period from the beginning of nineties, until the end of XX century; period of nationalistic wars, disintegration of SFRY and creation of new nationalistic states in the region.

 

Literary background: The well-known events at the last decade of XX century was represented in different ways, inside and outside borders, in public and in the alternative space, in women and in men discourse. If it takes into consideration previous dichotomy between tradition and modernism and between women companion’s literature and women’s writing, it would be possible to explain new approaches to literary public space that reflected on the media, on the regime’s ideology and on the (anti)war discourse in general. Because of that, women’s writing and (anti)war women discourse in the nineties in ex-Yugoslavia can be discussed only in the context of historical and social changes, in the context of nationalist wars and in the context of political transformation: from socialist to nationalist society. Women’s literature was clearly different, and differentiating in the war situation, proposing a specific literary approach, including the choice of genres, narratives models, and ways of rhetorical argumentation, but also in the manner of literary reconstruction of the war history. All of this was done under pressure of the nationalistic policy, and opposing the brave speech of national warriors. There were no such situations in which an institution or a critic would approve of such writing, and there were no international supporters for these women authors. The discourse, both artistic and documentary, did not have access into the media, culture, and general public during the war years, and the authors were publicly attacked. Some of these women writers retired in a kind of voluntary asylum and wrote often autobiographical prose, an authentic historic document on its own. The others dared to appear in public discourse, using irony and allegory, which then was accepted in ghettoized circles that did not share the opinion of creators of national myths in the Balkan area. On the other side, there was continued tradition of companion’s literature mostly caused by fear from the term women writing or feminine literature. The term was usually defined as sentimental writing or as prophetic literature of feminist movement, literature less valuable and more forgettable, literature from the margin of society. That hegemonic point of view was extended by new aspects of women literature, writing in order to achieve mainstream ideological purposes and to include women into the machinery of nationalism. That contribution to radical nationalist discourse arose directly form the manipulation of women’s writing. The manipulative side of women’s writing fits more effectively to the prevailing stereotype production, often presented by official sources and propaganda machines.

 

Literary sources/women authors: Svetlana Velmar Janković, Ljiljana Habjanović Đurić, Irena Vrkljan, Dubravka Ugrešić, Alma Lazarevska, Daša Drndić, Biljana Jovanović, and others.