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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

 | 
Ahmet Ersoy
, 
Maciej Górny
, 
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. The “Critical turns”: Subverting the Romantic narratives

The new youth magazines and our new generation

Jovan Skerlić
Traduction de Linda Krstajić, Krištof Bodrič et Vedran Dronjić

Texte intégral

1Title: Novi omladinski listovi i naš novi naraštaj (The new youth magazines and our new generation)

2Originally published: Srpski književni glasnik, 1913, XXX/3, pp. 212–224.

3Language: Serbian

4The excerpts used are from Jovan Skerlić, Pisci i knjige, vol. V (Belgrade: Prosveta, 1964), pp. 263–277.

About the author

5Jovan Skerlić [1877, Belgrade – 1914, Belgrade]: literary critic, historian of literature. He was born into a middle-class family with origins in Šumadija and Vojvodina. While attending the gymnasium in Belgrade, he was introduced to the socialist ideas of Svetozar Marković. In 1895, Skerlić began to work for various socialist and opposition newspapers, such as Socijaldemokrat (Social democrat), Radničke novine (Workers’ news), and Delo (Work). At Belgrade University, he studied history and French philology. There he met professor Bogdan Popović, who would have a strong impact on his personality. After graduating from Belgrade University, Skerlić continued his studies in Lausanne, Paris and Munich, becoming a specialist in French language and literature, and in literary theory. In 1905, he was appointed as a professor at Belgrade University and became the editor of the respectable literary magazine Srpski književni glasnik (Serbian literary messenger). As a critic, he stood for the importance of the content of the literary text, and less for its expressive and artistic form. The method of his analysis involved the reconstruction of the social, cultural and political circumstances that formed the background and context of literary creativity. Skerlić became famous for his style of writing, which was clear, picturesque, and concise. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he became a member of the Independent Radical Party (a group which had broken off from the Radical Party; see Pera Todorović, Speech at the Assembly of the People’s Radical Party in Kragujevac). As such, he was one of the ideologists of Jugoslavenska nacionalna omladina (Yugoslav national youth), and advocated a common Serbo-Croatian language and national unity. Skerlić is considered to be one of the most prominent names of Serbian modernism, and remains a key reference point within the field of literary criticism.

6Main works: Pogled na današnju francusku književnost [A view of contemporary French literature] (1902); Jakov Ignjatović (1904); Omladina i njena književnost [The ‘Youth’ movement and its literature] (1906); Srpska književnost u 18. veku [Serbian literature in the eighteenth century] (1909); Svetozar Marković (1910); Istorijski pregled srpske štampe [Historical overview of the Serbian press] (1911); Istorija nove srpske književnosti [History of new Serbian literature] (1912, 1914); Pisci i knjige 9 vols. [Writers and books] (1907–1926).

Context

7The text in question, concerning the new youth magazines and the patriotism of the new generation, was published in 1913, simultaneously in Serbia and Croatia. It was written in the period when Serbia was engaged in the Balkan Wars, thus a substantial part of it was dedicated to the rise of patriotic feelings among the younger generation. Skerlić compared the attitudes and feelings of youth in the first decades of the twentieth century to the Romantic ‘Serbian Youth’ movement, which he had already examined and criticized extensively. The critique of the cultural and political conditions of the period between the 1840s and the 1860s in Serbia had already been the subject of Skerlić’s Omladina i njena književnost, which was a part of Skrelić’s longlasting investigation of the literary and political history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Serbia.

8Omladina i njena književnost particularly examines the dynamics of literary and political life at the late 1860s and early 1870s. According to Skerlić, the period marked the heyday of Serbian Romanticism, with a strong and long-lasting resonance in Serbian politics and literature that he sought to challenge. At the end of the 1860s, through the activities of the United Serbian Youth (see Draga Dejanović, To Serbian mothers), the idealization of national cultural traits had gained popularity. The representatives of this National Romantic movement worshipped everything that could be connected to village life, peasant culture, folk customs, “ancient traditions” and folk heroes. The ‘Youth’ generated a large stock of representations, ideas, literary and political texts, which consolidated “the new cult of nationality.” Skerlić was critical of these mythical political ideas and identified himself with the enlightened, rational, and realistic traditions in Serbian literature, epitomized by Dositej Obradović and Svetozar Marković.

9In many, if not most of his writings, Skerlić reiterates his criticism of the Romantic mythologies of the 1860s, arguing in a modernist vein for individualism, which he regarded a fundamental value. Skerlić’s analysis of literary and political circumstances during the “age of the Youth” betrays his faith in reason, science and progress. Deeming reason and culture to be universal values, he argued against the Romantic idea of a unique “Serbian national culture” which had never been precisely defined. Skerlić criticized “the myths of the Youth,” not just because he believed they were unreasonable, but also from a different standpoint. He believed in a new, powerful, informed and modern patriotism, while arguing that the Romantic cults limited the national energy and restrained the development of the nation. According to Ivan Čolović, Skerlić deconstructed romanticist myths, while simultaneously regenerating them with new and more solid foundations—an achievement that makes him a genuine representative of modernism in Serbia. His modernist position can also be described as an effort to combine progress and reason with the subjectivity of identity, reconciling aspects that are always related to one another in an ambiguous fashion.

10IE

The new youth magazines and our new generation

  • 1 The authors were Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde.
  • 2 Émile Henriot (1889–1961): French poet, writer, and literary critic.
  • 3 Edmond Gaston Riou (1883–1958): French writer and politician active during the Third Republic.

11An extremely interesting and important enquiry has been underway recently in France on the spiritual and mental state of the minds of the younger generation. On the basis of this, a prognosis has been made for the near future of France from a national and social point of view. Thus, the eminent fighter against the “New Sorbonne,” who hides behind the pseudonym Agathon, has created the work Jeunes gens d’aujourd’hui (The youth of today)1 and Emile Henriot2 has written: A quoi rêvent les jeunes gens (What young people dream about). A young French writer Gaston Riou3 has written the book Aux écoutes de la France qui vient (Listening for the France to come) in which he endeavored to expound upon the way the younger French generation feels and what France can hope from them. He demonstrated that pessimism, skepticism and boredom, which are “social facts, class feelings,” all those characteristics of previous generations, were disappearing and that the younger generation of the time was “free from incertitude,” that it had a healthy love of life, the energy to fight, readiness for action and a deepseated and fruitful national sense.

  • 4 Stradija—‘Land of tribulation.’
  • 5 Radoje Domanović (1873–1908): Serbian writer and teacher, most famous for his satirical short stor (...)
  • 6 Božidar Knežević (1862–1905): philosopher and writer.
  • 7 This refers to Dimitrije Mitrinović (1887–1953), who was a philosopher and poet, theoretician of m (...)
  • 8 Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962): famous Croatian sculptor. One of the works he has planned, but never r (...)
  • 9 Marko Kraljević was one of the heroes in Serbian epic poetry, characterized by great strength and (...)
  • 10 Nikolaj Velimirović (1880–1956): Serbian archbishop, whose controversial biography still provokes (...)
  • 11 Milan Rakić (1876–1938): famous Serbian poet, known for several poems dedicated to the Battle of K (...)
  • 12 Veljko Petrović (1884–1967): one of the most important Serbian modernist poets working in the inte (...)

12Those same characteristics can be clearly seen in our younger generation, amongst “Serbia to Come.” Our younger generation too has, first and foremost, faith in life and hope for a better future. Circumstances in the country have changed in recent years, without doubt for the better; events have gone ahead and people have followed them. Today, Serbia does not look like the dark and hopeless Stradija4 as it seemed to Radoje Domanović5 ten years ago, at the time when Božidar Knežević6 was writing his doleful Misli (Thoughts). Who today would wish for a “good, dark, tomb and eternal peace,” who would today sing of graves, De Profundis, Finale, Miserere, Nirvana, “odes to death,” “ashes of the heart,” “the nightmare of life,” “the land of dead requiems,” the “stench of old, rotten putrefaction”? Who today is writing books backed in funereal black and with tears of blood? All those costumes and decorations have been dispatched to the museum of literary antiquities, together with the “sublime maidens,” “pale moons” and “tender shepherdesses” of old Romantic poetry. It is evident that the wind of life is blowing strongly over our lands. Heads are held high and backs are straight. Instead of the “static” of the still recent mournful, anemic and bowed age, as Mitrinović7 would say, there is a gust of the “dynamic” of life today, a new spirit of faith in life, love of work and creation and of national energy. This is the new spirit that was inspired by Ivan Meštrović8 when he created in stone the epic poem of Kosovo and incarnated in Kraljević Marko9 the inexhaustible spiritual and physical strength of our nation, a nation that has descended alive from its own Golgotha and has not yet had its last say in the world. It is that same new spirit that is reflected in the tellingly optimistic orations of Nikolaj Velimirović,10 in Milan Rakić’s Kosovo cycle,11 in Aleksa Šantić’s patriotic poetry, in the Rodoljubive pesme (Patriotic poems) of Veljko Petrović12 and in Mirko Korolija’s national songs. It is the same spirit of strength and enthusiasm that emerged like a stroke of lightning in the great autumn of 1912 at the battlefields on the Pčinja, Ibar and Vardar and which brought the Serbo-Croatian nation days the likes of which have not been seen since the fourteenth century.

13Moreover, the younger generation is, in its best and most active works, deeply national, with a cult of national energy and action. And there is nothing more natural and nothing more necessary today than that faith in oneself and the determination to sustain that right with one’s own strength. We are living in an age of cultural decline, of the revival of the hated “right of the fist,” when humanistic ideals, rights and justice are being trampled upon and when a barbarian cry is heard in the merciless stamping upon the small and the weak: woe be it to the small and the gravely defeated. Brute force alone can be heard and, where the right of small nations to life is concerned, the offices of the Great Powers speak in a language from the age when the Teutonic knights exterminated Baltic Slav tribes “with sword and fire.” Mankind is entering into one of those mindless maelstroms when state borders and the future of nations are being changed amid rivers of blood. The present day all too closely resembles the blood-soaked periods of the first years of the nineteenth century and the period between 1848 and 1871. The world has seen four great wars in ten years, and everyone can sense a storm in the air. Five-century-old empires are crumbling like worm-ridden trees, and no single nation can be sure of its future. And who, in these grievous and dangerous times, could dream, together with the noble idealists from the first half of the nineteenth century, that mankind has come of age and that the age of universal peace, an age of international justice and human brotherhood, has come! Who today could claim, together with Heine, that democracy is the great homeland, and that there are no homelands other than parties and classes? Who dares repeat the words of Lamartine’s magnificent Marseillaise of Peace?

14I am a fellow-citizen of each soul that thinks.

15The truth, that is my homeland!

  • 13 Lukijan Mušicki (1777–1837): bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, prose writer and poet.
  • 14 Novi Serbin—a socialist journal published prior to the First World War, edited by Vasa Stajić.

16Our prospects are dark, narrow and low today; all reasonable men can clearly see that we must first endure and live as a nation and, in expectation of more humane and more just times, we must, speaking in the language of the people, first save our own skins. And young people can see this clearly, and they have placed nationalism in the first place. But there are different kinds of nationalism. The nationalism of the younger generation should not be taken in the narrow sense of a political direction, or in the sense of that romantic, anti-Western, but more verbal nationalism of half a century ago. The new nationalism is of a higher order and with broader perspectives; it is, in fact, the vital force of a race capable of life, the self-defense of a powerful national organism, the manifestation of the inalienable right of one nation to live its own life and to be the master of its own destiny, the elevated sense of solidarity that unites all generations and all parts of one nation into one harmonious entity. This is not that old, traditionalist and fatalist nationalism that fed itself on dreams of the past, placed all its hope on a European cataclysm that never happened and believed that salvation would come from meetings of emperors and congresses of diplomats. The new nationalism means faith in oneself, reliance on one’s own forces, “dismissal of all servitude” both in oneself and around oneself and a reliance on the old and eternal truth that “in matters of freedom one only has what one has taken.” This nationalism of self-sufficiency, individuality and general endeavor could have as its slogan the words of old Lukijan Mušicki13: “Woe unto me without me!” And it is an important fact that the younger generation is paying such attention to its physical and spiritual education, the Sokol society spirit and sobriety (which is a gymnastic exercise of the will). The new nationalism is rational, realistic and democratic. Its first sources lie in the gentle and noble Dositej Obradović, “the founder of our consciousness” according to Novi Serbin14; it is not a matter of imagination but of awareness and reason, not of lamenting the past and wishing for some dreams of the future, but of what can be and has purpose in being, not of lack of culture and ignorant hatred of the “rotten West,” but a conscious ambition that the Serbo-Croatian nation can lift itself to the heights of the developed Western nations and enter into the great community of modern civilization as a free and equal member. In its realism, the new nationalism is democratic and social, not out of love of eloquent words and fine phrases, but because it relies on the broad national mass of the people, who are the source of the nation’s strength, and because it considers the full, material, intellectual and moral raising of those foundations and pillars of the nation as its natural goal. The younger generations are showing a merrier visage, a healthier soul and a stronger will. Young men are firmer and more masculine; they are men of determination and action. They do not stand around weeping beside the river of life but throw themselves into its strongest current. They are the sowers and the reapers of a great harvest.

Notes

1 The authors were Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde.

2 Émile Henriot (1889–1961): French poet, writer, and literary critic.

3 Edmond Gaston Riou (1883–1958): French writer and politician active during the Third Republic.

4 Stradija—‘Land of tribulation.’

5 Radoje Domanović (1873–1908): Serbian writer and teacher, most famous for his satirical short stories.

6 Božidar Knežević (1862–1905): philosopher and writer.

7 This refers to Dimitrije Mitrinović (1887–1953), who was a philosopher and poet, theoretician of modern painting.

8 Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962): famous Croatian sculptor. One of the works he has planned, but never realized, was a set of statues for a Yugoslav national temple that would be erected in Kosovo to commemorate the battle that took place there in 1389.

9 Marko Kraljević was one of the heroes in Serbian epic poetry, characterized by great strength and endurance.

10 Nikolaj Velimirović (1880–1956): Serbian archbishop, whose controversial biography still provokes debates in intellectual circles. Within the liberal intellectual and public scene, his writings are considered to have antisemitic implications (and in turn to inspire today’s right-wing attitudes and sentiments), while the nationalist politicians and public figures praise him for his original spiritual achievements. The Serbian Orthodox Church has elevated him into sainthood, something which has provoked further public debate.

11 Milan Rakić (1876–1938): famous Serbian poet, known for several poems dedicated to the Battle of Kosovo, which have further solidified the cult of the Serbian martyrs, and the importance of the Kosovo myth and its legendary fame for Serbian national identity.

12 Veljko Petrović (1884–1967): one of the most important Serbian modernist poets working in the interwar period.

13 Lukijan Mušicki (1777–1837): bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, prose writer and poet.

14 Novi Serbin—a socialist journal published prior to the First World War, edited by Vasa Stajić.

Auteur

Linda Krstajić (Traducteur)
Krištof Bodrič (Traducteur)
Vedran Dronjić (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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