Autumn-winter 2004
 

 

  Autumn-winter 2004

  LAST WORDS/FIRST WORDS
  Keith Doubt
 
 
There are many books recently written on South Eastern Europe. They are written from historical, political, journalistic, philosophical, and sociological points of view. One such book is Maria Todorova's Imagining the Balkans. It is worthwhile looking closely at the concluding sentence of this work. An author's last words are the most difficult but also most revealing, like a patient's last works while departing a long therapy session. By the end, an author earns the right to say whatever she wants however she wants. Here is Todorova's concluding sentence.

"If Europe has produced not only racism but also antiracism, not only misogyny but also feminism, not only anti-Semitism, but also its repudiation, then what can be termed Balkanism has not yet been coupled with its complementing and ennobling antiparticle" (Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], p. 189).



There are problems with this statement. First, Balkanism is correlated with racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. The correlation is unduly negative. Racism evokes hatred; misogyny primitiveness, and anti-Semitism prejudice. There may be negative attributes associated with Balkanism, but that negativity does not fall into the same category as racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. Balkanism is hardly guilty in the way that racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism are. Indeed, there is nothing for which Balkanism is inherently guilty. There may even be something decidedly positive about Balkanism
Second, Todorova suggests at best an ambivalent relation between Balkanism and Europe. Indeed, he suggests there is no relation. The Balkans are non-European. While the Balkans stand parallel to Europe, at the same time they also stand other to Europe. If anything, Europe uses the Balkans, not to know the Balkans, but to help to define Europe Edward Said calls this Orientalism: “This book tries to show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self” (Edward W. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient [London: Penguin, 1995]), p. 3). Later, Said says:

"I do not think that this idea can be overemphasized. Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West. He is never concerned with the Orient except as the first cause of what he says" (Edward W. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient [London: Penguin, 1995], pp. 20-21).



What is significant to the Balkans itself? Is what is significant to the Balkans its exteriority to Europe? Is what is significant to the Balkans that it simply stands as a first cause for what is significant to Europe, a thing in itself rather than a being in itself?
These problems are significant, but there is an even more pressing problem with Todorova's concluding sentence. Balkanism, Todorova says, cannot be grasped with dialectical thought. Todorova indicates that the complementing and ennobling antiparticle, that is, the positive and compelling notion that counters the stipulated negative notion that is Balkanism, has not yet been constructed. Dialectical thought is alien to the character of the subject referred to with the term Balkanism. Although Todorova imagines a future when the complementing and ennobling antiparticle will be recognized, such understanding, she believes, does not yet exist.
What, then, does it take to recognize the equivalent of antiracism, feminism, and the repudiation of anti-Semitism that is coupled as the complementary and ennobling idea in contrast to the unduly negative term, Balkanism? To turn the issue on its head, might Balkanism be itself a complementing and ennobling antiparticle? Might it be a complementing and ennobling antiparitcle to Europe? Might Balkanism be something positive balances Europe, something that is intrinsic to as well as extrinsic to what Europe is? In their writing, scholars such as Rusmir Mahmutecehajic and Dzemal Sokolovic have developed such an argument.
The above problems suggest that the title, Imagining the Balkans, is a case of double-speak. The epistemology stipulated and the ontology asserted in the last sentence preclude the possibility of imagining the Balkans. We cannot imagine the Balkans if its content is inherently negative in the way that racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism are negative. We cannot imagine the Balkans if its content is not a representation but a simulation of what is other to Europe. We cannot imagine the Balkans if the Balkans are impervious to dialectical inquiry because its contrasting antiparticle remains concealed. Todorova puts the reader in a double-bind. The resources for achieving what is proposed are withheld.
What is to be done? Let us retract, let us take back, to some degree, the critique that is put forth. Responding to negativity with just negativity perpetuates negativity. The subject and object merge. No concept is developed. Let us recognize that there is something positive, something incisive, in Todorova's concluding sentence.
If Europe is the soil upon which racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism flourished as well as their complementing and ennobling antiparticles, that is, the repudiations of racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, what flourished on the soil of the Balkans? Balkanism did not father itself. Progeny are not their own parents. This impossible process, Marx says, occurs under capitalism in the construction of exchange value. Capital produces itself as if sons were their own fathers.
What corresponding category to racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism has flourished on the soil of the Balkans? We first recognize and grasp this category before we can begin to construct and develop its complementing and ennobling antiparticle that stands as its repudiation.
The thesis of this research is that, if racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism have flourished on the soil of Europe, scapegoating has flourished on the soil of the Balkans. Scapegoating, of course, is Biblical in its origins. A goat is sacrificed to purge a community of its sins. The transgression of a community are projected on to another who is both external to and internal to the community itself. When this other is then destroyed, so are the transgressions of the community. The scapegoat is a vicar through whom a community seeks to purge itself of its guilt. Infamous examples are the lynching of African Americans in the United States and the genocide against European Jews during World War II. Throughout history examples of scapegoating are ubiquitous. Said has said that, in the creation of the Israel state, Palestinians, their history, heritage, and community, become the sacrificial scapegoat for the guilt of Europe for the genocide against European Jews. This dynamic continues to structure the relation between Israel and the West and to sustain the unconscionable violence in the Middle East. Rene Girard describes the perverse logic of scapegoating this way: “Because the victim is sacred, it is criminal to kill him--but the victim is sacred only because he is to be killed” (René Girard, Violence and the Sacred [Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1972], p. 2).
Scapegoating is not generic to the Balkans. There may not even be a word in Serbo-Croatian that corresponds to the scapegoating in English. Perhaps the social pathology of scapegoating spread more easily on foreign soil like influenza from Europe spread more easily among vulnerable native North American populations. The argument is put forth then that scapegoating flourishes in the Balkans. Think of the dramatizing of scapegoating in the short stories of Danilo Kis. After developing this argument, the task will be to construct the completing and ennobling antiparticle to scapegoating. The task will be to demonstrate the repudiation of scapegoating and how this antiparticle grows in the Balkans as well as anti-racism, feminism, and the repudiation of anti-Semitism grow in Europe.
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