TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. April 2010

Sektion 5.3. Sharing in / out Culture(s)
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Vladimir Biti (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Rural apocalypse. The Other as an Enemy in South East Europe

Davor Beganović (University of Konstanz)



Distinguishing between culture and civilization has always been a question that divided the European continent in two almost clear-cut camps. It is therefore not astonishing that Geoffrey Hartman adds the adjective “fateful” to the title of his influential book on the concept of culture and its circulation on the European continent.(1) For Hartman the fatefulness begins at the very moment in which culture is connected with a nation, especially if this nation is, in a sort of an exaggeration, seen as a “great”. By analogy, “the “great” nation should have a “great” culture, which means great art, too. “The historical record … should provide proof not only of past independence or ethnic unity but of imaginative vigor.”(2)  The beginning of the political instrumentalization of the term culture is therefore to be sought in the Romantic era and its usage of art as a means of justification of and motivation for the formation of the modern nation state. “Romanticism, as a movement, is far less interested in nationalizing classical models than in discovering distinctive native sources of poetical energy attributed to the genius loci […] After being reduced to the status of minor deity in the neoclassical verse, to the merely picturesque and decorative, the genius loci, or spirit of place, evolves in a radical direction to figure as muse and guardian of each nation’s collective memory.”(3) Genius loci, most certainly, are bound to the romantic vision of a nation as constructions reaching out to the place of common origin.

Where should one then seek the previously mentioned differentiation which is thought to be in the core of Europe? The sociological definition of Norbert Elias situates both concepts on account of their national affiliation. On the one side there is German Kultur, on the other French civilisation. According to Elias “der französische und der englische Begriff ‚Zivilisation’ kann sich auf politische und wirtschaftliche, auf religiöse oder technische, auf moralische oder gesellschaftliche Fakten beziehen. Der deutsche Begriff ‚Kultur’ bezieht sich im Kern auf geistige, künstlerische, religiöse Fakten, und er hat eine starke Tendenz, zwischen Fakten dieser Art auf der einen Seite, und den politischen, den wirtschaftlichen und gesellschaftlichen Fakten auf den anderen, eine starke Scheidewand zu ziehen... der spezifisch deutsche Sinn kommt am reinsten in seinem Derivat, dem Eigenschaftswort ‚kulturell’ zum Ausdruck, das nicht Seins-Werte eines Menschen, sondern Wert und Charakter bestimmter menschlicher Produktion bezeichnet.“(4) Elias wants to say that nation-state building took different turns in France and England than in Germany exactly as the consequence of different interpretation of these two ideologically highly loaded concepts. At the same time, this creation is closely connected with an act of “exporting” some cultural and respectively civilization values across one’s own border. In a historical sense French civilisation is prone to an inclusion of the foreign as a possible part of national-building process. On the other hand Kultur is inclined towards the exclusion of the other. The economical process of exporting/importing is mirrored in the cultural process of inclusion/exclusion inasmuch as the French (and to some extent the English, too) variety tends to spread in every direction independently of geographic proximity or distance, whereas the German one takes its position in the immediate neighbourhood, on its own borders. It is necessary to note the almost fatal interdependence of politics, geography and culture here. In this distorted meaning culture starts to serve as a determining factor of bondage between people and land taking a direction of the so-called Blut und Boden ideology.

To verify such an assertion one should turn to the etymology of the two words. While civilization points to the citizen (the Latin root word is civis), culture has more interwoven meanings. Now, let me point to some of them in a short digression, especially those that stress the relation between man and land. In Keywords Raymond Williams observes that the root word for culture, colere, has “a range of meanings: inhabit, cultivate, protect, honour with worship.” And still more: “Culture in all its early uses was a noun of process: the tending of something, basically crops or animals.”(5) It is impossible not to see that agriculture builds foundation for this usage and that precisely because of this the dream of a golden age, with its apocalyptic connotations returns over and over in connection with it. The very political and ideological sensibility of the question of rural apocalypse is at the heart of this specific application dispersing in different contexts and different epochs of human history, especially in connection with the revival of allegedly lost valuable traditions.

The strict German Kultur, a concept developed in the late 18th century by Herder, expands from this very usage. Herder emphasised the significance of climate in the creating of something that can be called local cultures. Robert Young points out that these local cultures “necessarily have the virtues of homogeneity, uniformity and sameness. With the emphasis on the relation of culture to indigenous, localized peoples, within a general argument espousing of human diversity, Herder provides the basis of many conservative, racist doctrines of the 19th century…”(6) At the same time Herder’s position cannot be confined to simple racism. According to Young he is operating in a highly ambivalent way, “offering on the one hand rootedness, the organic unity of a people and their local, traditional culture, but also on the other hand the cultural education of the human race whereby the achievements of one culture are grafted on to another, sometimes occurring via revolution, or change of state, or through migration.”(7) Herder’s analysis is thus fixed between two models of circulation of culture; diffusionist and isolationist, and can accordingly represent a conservative as well as a liberal tendency in defining culture and civilization. In a way, he can be used both for racist attacks on uprooted, mechanical civilization of the nineteenth century, but at the same time as a basis of liberal anthropology attempting to “discriminate between culture and civilization, and to use the former to describe ‘savage’ and ‘barbarian’ cultures that civilization comes to destroy.”(8) It is important to see that this position culture vs. civilization is strongly supported in England by Coleridge who himself was influenced by German classic philosophy. In his opinion, civilization is a “mixed good” which creates “a varnished [rather] than a polished people; where this civilization is not grounded on cultivation, in the harmonious development of qualities and faculties that characterize our humanity … a nation can never be too cultivated, but may easily become an over-civilized race.”(9)

We should stop here for a moment and look at the consequences of this community of people as culture-building and respectively nation-building. If the only (or at least the most important) condition for the gathering of a particular group of people is their proximity to one location, the necessary consequences would be that exclusion follows as some other group is situated at a more or less large distance from the chosen ones. At the same time, they attempt to reinforce their exclusivity through closing the borders which are always already determined. The historic dimension additionally supplements the topographic dimension that is strongly situated in the presence of national culture. The diachronic position of the cultural subject points to the direction of lost past that could be gained only in the messianic recurrence of the golden age. The golden age itself is, as we have seen, a construction deeply involved with land, its cultivation in an act of tilling ofinnocent land areas through diligent workers full of self-abandonment. This ideologically defined position is always manipulated by actual policy in order to blunt the population’s consciousness and lead it to a state of complete mind control. Geoffrey Hartman stresses this fatal connection of Kultur and politics in stating that “in Europe, the pernicious influence of politics of converging pastoral and apocalyptic perspectives usurps the concept of culture and reinforces an anti-urban provincialism, or a sentimental belief in a golden age, or other resentful evocations of a prior and original greatness.” This belief gains its most dangerous impetus through the extension of the golden age in a symbiosis with the lost heroic past.

The strongly dual division between active warriors and passive handlers, unable to replace the glorious tradition was emphasised by the German sociologist Werner Sombart in his work Händler und Helden, written at the beginning of the WWI.(10) It brought this discussion to the point of distinguishing the German nation as a nation of heroes, ready to sacrifice their lives on a battlefield between culture and civilization and the English nation as uprooted, unable to reach the deeper values contained in the well of the past. Sombart says: “Der Hauptkrieg ist ein anderer. Dass haben am deutlichsten unsere Gegner ernannt, als sie der Welt verkündeten; was im Kampfe miteinander liege, seien: die ‘westeuropäische Zivilisation’, ‘die Ideen von 1789’ und das deutsche ‘Militarismus’, das deutsche ‘Barbarentum’. Ich möchte ihn nur ein wenig anders fassen, wenn ich sage: was in Kampfe steht, sind der Händler und der Held, sind händlerische und heldische Weltanschauung und dementsprechende Kultur.“(11) Following this historical development, one can conclude that the extreme interpretation of culture as a predominantly topographic component led to the pernicious creation of fascist ideology that coordinated the moment of affiliation to land with the myth of eternal heroism originating from one’s alignment with one’s own past, historically defined as a cradle of identity, incorporated in a vanished golden age of perfect unity.

At this moment, I would like to concentrate on a specific problem that the appropriation of the notion of culture projected on the concrete geographic and historic space in southeast Europe, notably Serbia. Serbian development – economic, political and cultural – in the late 19th and early 20th century clearly shows affection to social Darwinism. This can be seen in scientific papers of Jovan Cvijić or Vladimir Dvorniković as well as in, for example, the literary criticism of Jovan Skerlić. This fact is so obvious that no further analysis is necessary. But at least two independent questions appear in their full virulence in this context and both of them are approached with deep insights by the Serb author and philosopher Radomir Konstantinović in his seminal study Filosofija palanke (The Philosophy of Parochial). Filosofija palanke is an extremely interwoven work consisting of three parts that have a different level of abstractness. The first one, Filosofija palanke itself, offers a deep structure examination of palanačko iskustvo (experience of the parochial). The second, under the heading Bilješke (Notes) is more specific in approach to its theme and correspondingly essayistic. The last one that flows into the body of text itself consist of footnotes describing concrete historical, aesthetical, ethical and political problems of contemporary Serbian culture. This strategy empowers Konstantinović in his purpose of deconstructing the false construction on all levels.  What is of interest here is not the often repeated discussion of the mythological basis of nation-building, rather an intrinsic analysis concentrating on some aberrations demonstrated in the Serbian variety of the Kultur-notion. 

The first question, or rather – cluster of questions, I have already mentioned, concerns the origins of the patriarchal structure of Serbian culture. The Rječnik (Dictionary) of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić is, according to Konstantinović, the Discours de la Méthode of this patriarchal culture, some sort of point of departure for the whole complex nation-building process that starts with a language renewal. The language was supposed to be renewed in the numerous political and linguistic actions concerning changes in vocabulary as well as grammar, orthography and deep cultural structures. Through this process, most of the values dealing with high-brow intellectual practice were abolished and substituted by allegedly folkish ones. As a consequence these language politics led to the impoverishment of the vocabulary and its adjustment to a corpus of folk songs now seen as a real treasure of the Serbian culture. The rigid elimination of words deriving from the old church Slavic language and their replacement with new old ones resulted in some “strange fruits”. Decontextualised, they nested in a new environment as a sign of cultural revival and heralds of new values that were to be implanted upon a sick and decadent semiotic system.

One of old words brought to new glory is Ćiril filozof (Cyril the philosopher). It is a bird, a symbolic bird which, according to Konstantinović, strongly mirrors the anti-philosophic nature of Serbian civilization. This entry is worth quoting: “Srblji pripovijedaju da tice na Ćirilovdan traže druga svaka sebi da gradi gnijezdo i da nose jaja; pa koja ga ne nađe ona se objesi.”(12) One may assume: The dead bird is a philosopher, patriarchal thought can accept only family love (the nest as its symbol) and the other lonely ones, unable to experience real love, are doomed to not love, or, as the last consequence, to death. The logical conclusion is that only those ready to accept the norms of patriarchal behavior, life in a rural community as an ideal of a family, can survive in a newly founded political society. Rod, genus, is a mass-giving unit, a kernel of culture that is supposed to fill a largely empty construction with new/old meaning. Therefore the philosopher is the enemy. He is the person who retreats into loneliness, into acts of thinking, and is somebody who opens the outer perspective, views across the border, into the world and universality. “Nepogrešnom nagonskom slutnjom, pleme oseća da je usamljenost, kao bespredmetnost, sama universalnost, svet.”(13) And here is the place at which the specific treatment of the other opens itself in a completely new perspective. Perhaps the most important fact of perception and representation of the other in all of the Balkans is the fact that this other actually stands not for a distance but for proximity. And the most proximate person whom is to be thought of is me, myself. By killing that part of me that is other genus performs an action of interior purification. That acts enables it to take a firm position in respect to more distant but still proximate other – namely the neighbour. I would again like to let Konstantinović speak for himself: “Zahtev za nacionalnom, oslobodilačkom akcijom, za 'osvetom Kosova', koji će da progovori kroz srpske romantičare (kroz Đuru Jakšića pre svega), nije samo (iako je i to) delo romantičarskog nacionalizma kao nekakve čisto istorijske kategorije koja nema i svoju mentalnu istoriju, ovu istoriju plemenskog stvaranja: on je i zahtev za akcijom koja nije samo u cilju nego i u udruživanju na putu ka tom zajedničkom cilju.”(14) The central point of romantic ideology is unification as an aim, unification that could be realized in two different steps: first, the elimination of one’s own other and, second, the elimination of the other from outside. In this endeavour there is no will to project one’s culture on the other, the foreign. There is no desire to assimilate it or absorb it, because an act of assimilation or absorption always has the danger of counter-reaction. An assimilator can, theoretically, be assimilated and an absorber absorbed. Therefore, the borders should be closed. But - and this is a key paradox in romantic cultural construction - how can I at the same time close the borders and export my Kultur into the neighbourhood. If we want to think further with Konstantinović, the last logical consequence of this exporting without opening the borders is to be sought within the specific patchwork structure of the Balkans themselves. My export is then aimed only at those who are the same as I, i.e. the members of my own nation. They are already assimilated and absorbed, or that at least is the train of thought, and the small traces of foreignness should be erased by moving the real others away. The Culmination of the ghost of the parochial is ethnic cleansing.

Perhaps this is an over-interpretation of Filosofija palanke caused by its positioning in an area of actual politics. But let me then, as a sort of excuse, move to the last part of my argument by opening the second question of particular virulence dealt with by Radomir Konstantinović. It is the question of an organic culture. “Pojam organske kulture je vrhovni pojam. Kultura koja je organska došla je prirodnim putem stvaranja čitave zajednice; ona odgovara njenom duhovnom iskustvu i potvrđuje ga, na taj način što jedinstvo zajednice postaje još očiglednija nego pre. Organska kultura je prirodna kultura jer je kultura jedinstva.“(15) It is extremely important to see that the unity of a particular is a product of culture that is moreover organic. The way of translating Darwinist ideas from an original natural science to a cultural level was always used as a proof of purity of autochthon and authentic culture, free of foreign influence and contamination. Dame Gillian Beer stresses in her wonderful book Darwinian Plots that “[organicism] asserts equivalence between natural and social process, the organic interdependence of all the parts within a whole, as well as the interdependence of a whole and its parts. That is, it is both a holistic and an analytic metaphor.” And one step further: “Organicism is more space than time oriented. It describes an organization – it provides a means of studying development.”(16) The Organic approach to culture certainly cannot be equated with Darwin, but the idea of “development” that seeks its parallel in the theory of natural selection is eventually, when applied on a social science, a racist one and can therefore be accounted for as a violation of his thought.

Let me approach how Konstantinović deals with the border issue one more time, this time from a standpoint of an organic culture. “Nema zla duha za sam duh, u njegovom sopstvenom 'vilajetu', ne postoji samo-rodno zlo duha, već postoji ili zlo u svetu, i u istoriji, koji su izazovi, jemci ove zabune duha, ili, najčešće, zlo u duhu s one strane brda. Zlo je od toga drugog, tuđinskog duha, tako da taj tuđinski duh, koji se protivi organskom jedinstvu, ovom duhu apsolutne kontinualnosti i apsolutnog tipa (koji je jemstvo ali i veza između zajednice i kulture u ovoj primitivno-organskoj kulturi), jeste jedinstven način (bitno plemenski) isterivanja duha zla, ili zlog duha, iz sopstvenog duha.“(17) With a specific symbolism Konstantinović chooses not the notion of a border to denote the foreigners, but the notion of the mountain (on the other side of the mountain, he says). This metaphor is used to express extreme distance created by elimination of the visual sense – what is beyond the mountain cannot be seen because there is a physical obstacle. Through this rhetorical action it becomes doubly unapproachable: one cannot see it and cannot think about it. Those who inhabit the room “on the other side” are not able to and are not allowed to partake in the organic culture, mythology or to be part of the unique collective identity. This exclusion is definitive, but let me pose a final question and extend Konstantinović’s thought on this point. What happens, namely, if the people beyond the mountain are intrinsically thought to be part of “us”?  This category of people across the border does not have a chance to be other, although it seems more than possible that they really are. The organic culture of the “motherland” is not willing to allow them such a freedom. They must accept the unity, and so find their long lost cradle, or should disappear together with the people with whom they shared the quality of the same room for such a long time and who are at the moment in question denounced as the unapproachable “other”. The last consequence of this doubling is the paradox of a colonizing act whose victims are those that are not supposed to be colonized, but lose the right to choose their destiny for themselves primarily through this act of paternalization. This act of appropriation demands absolute obedience. It is a twist in a colonial approach to culture specific to the Serbian conquest politics in the late 20th century. Anticipated by Konstantinović, this colonizing of “one’s own race” is a rather new occurrence tending to amalgamate two diametrically opposed movements: on the one hand, the conquest of the apparently foreign territory, but on the other, the turning of this foreign land ostensibly into one’s own through the mediation of, again ostensibly, the own people. This identity shifting was used by Serbian ideologues and politicians in the nineties as a perfidious technique of veiling the real reasons hidden behind the alleged liberation of oppressed “brothers” in temporarily “lost lands”. The colonization process whose beginnings were clearly recognized by Konstantinović at the end of 19th century found their completion at the end of 20th. Their failure was, at least partially, a consequence of the misconception of culture and civilization.

If we return to Geoffrey Hartman, the question of culture really becomes faithful in this constellation. As he was at the beginning of my presentation, I would like to end with his words: “What takes the place of the universalist idea are subcultures, each of which makes an identity claim in the form of an intensely conscious and ideologized localism. The indefinite article in “a culture” then points to something as definite as the definitive absence of any article preceding “culture”. The traditional antithesis of culture and nature gives way to an opposition between culture and cultures.”(18)    



1 Hartman, Geoffrey H., The Fateful Question of Culture, New York 1997.
2 Hartman, 3.
3 Ibid.
4 Elias, Norbert, Über den Prozess der Zivilisation. Soziogenetische und psychogenetische Untersuchungen. I und II. Frankfurt/M 1997. I, 90-91.
5 Williams, Raymond. Keywords. A vocabulary of Culture and Society. London 1988, 87.
6 Young, Robert J.C. Colonial Desire. Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London and New York 1995. 39.
7 Young, 42.
8 Young, 43. One should note that “liberal” here was not conceived as an axiological term for showing that something is more valuable than something else, but as a category for distinguishing between two, in this context, value neutral concepts – civilization and culture.
9 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. On the Constitution of Church and State, quoted in: Williams, Raymond, Culture and Society. 1780-1850. London 1958. 76
10 According to Williams, negative implications that the word “culture” had in English were, at least for a certain time, connected with the hostility toward Germans that developed on the eve of the WWI, which lasted well after its end. Cf. Williams Keywords, 92. 
11 Sombart, Werner, Händler und Helden. Patriotische Besinnungen. München und Leipzig 1915.
12 Karadžić-Stefanović, Vuk Rječnik; quoted in, Konstantinović, Radomir, Filozofija palanke, Belgrade 1981. S. 204. “The Serbs say that the birds on Saint Cyril's day seek to build themselves a nest and put the eggs there; the one that doesn't find it hangs itself.”
13 Konstantinović, 208. ”With unerring instinctive foreboding the tribe feels that the loneliness, as well as superfluousness, is the very universality, the world.”
14 Konstantinović, 211. ”The claim for national, liberation action, for the ‘vengeance of Kosovo’, that will  be asserted by the Serbian romanticists (Đura Jakšić particularly), is not only (although it is it, too) the work of the romantic nationalism as a pure historical category, which doesn’t have a mental history of its own: it as at the same time claim for an action that is not only to be found in the aim, but in the unification  on the way to this common aim.” 
15 Konstantinović, 197. “The notion of organic culture is a supreme notion. The culture that is organic came by natural way of creation through whole of the community; it is appropriate to the spiritual experience of the community and it confirms it in a way that the unity of community becomes more visible than ever. Organic culture is a natural culture because it is a culture of unity.”
16 Beer, Gillian, Darwin’s Plots. Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Fiction. Cambridge 2000. 101.
17 Konstaninović, 202-3. “There is no evil spirit for spirit itself, in his own ‘vilajet’, there exist no native evil of the spirit; evil exists either in the world, or in the history, that are the challenges, the guarantees for this confusion of the spirit, or the evil in the spirit beyond the mountain. The evil comes from this other, foreign spirit, so that this foreign spirit, that opposes organic unity, those spirit of continuous and absolute type (that is guarantee and bondage between community and culture in this primitive-organic culture) is the unique way (essentially tribal) of exorcising of the evil spirit, out of the spirit of evil, out of ones own spirit.”   
18 Hartman, Geoffrey H., The Fateful Question of Culture, 10

5.3. Sharing in / out Culture(s)

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