Inkret Andrej :
Melancholy Meditations on Slovenian Literature
It would be impossible for this essay to be anything other than a brief simplification of some of the characteristics of Slovenian literature, intended chiefly for the interested non - Slovenian. Slovenian literature is almost unknown beyond the region encompassed by the language, the historical exceptions of individual writers notwithstanding.
However, the fact is that none of the poets and other men of letters who have contributed to the almost two hundred years of Slovenian lay literature, from the Enlightenment and Romanticism onwards, have ever managed to break through in a decisive way to the general consciousness of European literary and spiritual tradition. Presently, all have remained only and solely Slovenian writers. Even those celebrated poets and writers evaluated by literary history and current criticism in Slovenian have only experienced brief, sporadic, more or less cursory translations into other languages. But though this is true, some of these, in their ingenuity and appeal and - if one wishes - in the universality of their artistic vision, are by all measures up to the standard of so - called European literature. While the European canon, as it were, is extremely approximate and in some profound, historical sense arbitrary, Slovenian literature has never had any influence upon it. This fact is bemoaned, be it silently or publicly, by all of us here who have dealings of any kind with literature in Slovenian, especially since literature historically has enjoyed a special national and social regard. Also known only too well to us is that the history of literature in Europe is, in both essential ideas and stylistic parameters, the history of Slovenian literature. Sadly, literature in Slovenia has lived in this one way communication with the European literary and spiritual complex for too long.
Early utilitarian and religious Slovenian literature had its beginnings in the Protestant Reformation of the 16’" century. However, the first truly literary texts in Slovenian came into being only two centuries later. Though Slovenian literature has been bound by its language borders, it has never been insular or claustrophobic and only rarely has shown flashes of xenophobia. To paraphrase Wittgenstein: the boundaries of one’s language are not the boundaries of one’s world. This has been profoundly true in Slovenian.
Ideas and stimulation from Europe have been used openly and without prejudice in Slovenian literature, but within its own geographical, historical and spiritual context. However, Slovenian ideas have had less impact on European letters. Considering the special national and historical fate of Slovenians, this was objectively impossible for a long period, at the same time perhaps, it was also undesired. Revealing its own main task and significance as inner witness to the specific actualities and authentic perspectives of the Slovenian community, Slovenian literature devoted itself to its own forms with particular perseverance and intensity.
It is precisely literature that has in some profound, subtle sense safeguarded the Slovenian community from the imperialistic appetites of stronger and more expansive nations in the region. Numerically small, with historical, geographical and political deficiencies, Slovenian has often participated in various pan- and south - Slavic movements (largely in the interest of self-preservation), some of which have originated here. Other ideas—particularly some generated after WWII—have suggested a gradual dissolution of national identity into some kind of international working-class ethos that would become the sole social reality in some approximated communistic future. Ideas about the abolition of the Slovenian nation are frequent and relatively broad in dimension. It is unnecessary to emphasize that ultimately it all has the same demoralizing effect, whether these ideas appear under the name of some universal liberating or eschatological vision or originate from some political party appetite. Sooner or later their end result is the same. From this modern social, political and ultimately economic point of view, the Slovenian national existence is marginal, unproductive and perhaps even irrelevant.
As the principal expression of the Slovenian language, Slovenian literature was for a long time, perhaps right up to the end of the First World War, the primary, fundamental and most representative form that Slovenians had of a legitimate national community. It was as well an important substitute for the historical State that Slovenian was often unable to secure for itself. It was certainly the chief generator of the Slovenian collective consciousness in the ethnic and psychological sense. Literature was the highest national institution and authority. Ironically, biographies of the most important Slovenian writers as a rule don’t sell well because Slovenians almost always detect their significance only posthumously.
It is therefore possible to say that we Slovenians are in some way a literary nation, or that we value our literary tradition. For a longer period the national question in Slovenian was also the literary one, and the history of the Slovenian national spirit can be seen in the history of Slovenian literature. Even today the anachronistic idea of literature’s constitutive, redemptive character and mission can still be found in Slovenian. And Slovenian writers are still obliged to address every social and moral deficiency of the prevailing political power through their letters. For here in Slovenian lands, literature has been our lifeblood.
The most important works in Slovenian literature stand up even to so-called European standards. Slovenian literature can never, ever be comprehended as an instrument administered by some a priori religious or political idea, as the manifestation of some nationalistic will. In fact, the opposite is true: Slovenia’s celebrated works contain tales of original yet universal human problems. National identification (descent, language, political or social affiliation and spiritual tradition) is but one of the elements that make up man’s humanness in Slovenian literature.
Frequently in literature and poetry, that vulgar, nationalistic ideology asserting that man’s essence is defined and determined by his group association, is expressed. For example in the following absurd statement ≈I am as much a man in as much as I am Slovenian, or a German or a Turk«. This tradition is completely foreign to Slovenian. It is clear in our literature that the metaphysical starting point of every valid literary work or poem is completely the opposite. Only in my essential humanness is my Slovenian essence also realized. In other words, my existential truth is not formed solely by the truth of my Sloveneness, however binding and fateful this may be for me. There is always a difference between my existential soul and my Slovenian being .
This difference is due to man’s irreducible humanness, at its living and individual core constituting the consciousness of boundless liberty, as well as the irrevocable notion of end and death. Similarly, human affiliation to collective traditions and cultures, to this or that form of social or historical power or institution, where freedom and death lose their status as man’s ontological definitions, decisively alters ideas and ideologies, will and power. It is here, in this gap, that the space opens up into which literature or artistic articulation of the complex truths of the human world can flourish.
As I see it, the authentic Slovenian dimension of literature lies in its willingness to wholly address existing human problems. Slovenian literature is, of course, essentially defined by its national element, and expressed in its own language (the sole instrument of every literature). And although the question of the nation is indistinguishably linked to that of literature, the fact is that Slovenian literature knows precisely that man does not belong genetically to a particular nation but simply regards it as a system of arbitrary cultural and social values. Such categorization is of course based on free, open, critical decisions, which can be radical and offer writers the unique position of one who stands outside of social boundaries. Also ultimately true is that among Slovenian writers who have made their name, there are none who have abandoned Slovenian to write in any other language. Though other languages have always had a place in Slovenian—out of necessity and pragmatism—these only appear sporadically in our literature and rarely solely on account of deficiencies in the Slovenian tongue. The two hundred years of Slovenian literature is testament to writers here that their fated Slovenian essence is more powerful than the original political and military strides that made Slovenian a modern nation. Or can it be that freedom reveals itself here, in their persistent, stubborn and certainly irrational (and impractical) fidelity to the Slovenian language, in which they enclose themselves in the narrow confines of Slovenian, the only language they can possibly write in?