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On Nationalism Author(s): Danilo Kis Reviewed work(s): Source: Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, No.

2 (May, 1996), pp. 13-17 Published by: Performing Arts Journal, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/05/2012 04:57
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Danilo Kis

all, paranoia, envy. as a resultof an individual's lost consciousness. Therefore,collective appears paranoiais nothing else but a summaryof many individualparanoiasbrought himself together to a level of paroxysm.If an individualis not able to "express" of his givensociety,or if that givensocietydoes not stimulate within the framework him as an individual, or if disqualifies him-that is, if the societydoes not allowhim to discoverhis own entity-then that individualis forced to look for his entity In so doing, the outside the society's socialstructures. identityand outsidesociety's individualbecomes a memberof a clandestinegroup whose goal and task is, or of monumentalimportance: seemsto be, to solveproblems a survival and prestigeof its nationaltradition,values,and relics,its that group's nation. It seeksto preserve nationalfolklore,philosophy, etc. Obsessedwith that secret,semiethics,literature, or Mr. X our becomes a man of action, a nationaltribune,a public public mission, And now, when he is broughtdown to earth, to his own size, pseudo-individual. when he is isolatedfromthe faceless crowdand removedfromthe post wherehe has or where others have himself, placed placed him, we have before our eyes an a nationalist,Cousin Jules. He is the same Jules individualwithout individuality, Sartre wroteabout,Juleswho is no one in the family,a nil, and whose only virtueis to turn red wheneverthe word "Englishmen" is mentioned.That pale face, that of his to know how to become pale when Englishmen are fever, that "secret" mentioned, that is his only social entity. It makes him importantand proveshis

_irst of all, nationalismis paranoia-collective and individualparanoia. As a ^F collective nationalism is born out of fearand But above it

For god'ssakedon'tmention English tea beforehim. Immediately all of the people at the tablewill startto giveyou signals,to kickyou underthe tablebecauseCousin Jules is very sensitiveabout the Englishmen.They all know Cousin Jules hates As a matterof fact, Julesbecomes Englishmen.He loves his own, the Frenchmen. tea. individual,someone, thanksto English This picturecould be an accurate and could be definedas portraitof all nationalists follows:a nationalist,almostby rule, as a social being and individual,is a negative figure-a nothingness.That is, by definition, he is a cipher. Actually, he has
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neglected his home and family, his job (usually he is a bureaucrat), his literature (if he is a writer at all), his community service and public responsibilities, because all these things are insignificant in comparison to his messianism. Needless to say, he is an ascetic by choice, a potential warrior who awaits his moment. Nationalism is, as Sartre would put it arguing about anti-Semitism, "a total and free choice, a global stand that one has not only toward other nations, but toward people in general, and toward history and society as well. It is simultaneously both a passion and a world view." A nationalist is, by definition, an ignorant. Nationalism is therefore a stage of spiritual laziness and conformity. For a nationalist everything is easy because he knows, or he thinks that he knows, his qualities, values, and abilities. That is, he knows the qualities of his nation, he knows his nation's ethical and political values. And of course he is not interestedin and does not care about the others. The others are hell (other nations, other tribes). And he does not need any information about them. The nationalist sees and recognizes in the others only himself-the nationalist. As we said earlier, it is a very comfortable situation. Fear and Envy. According to the national matrix, the nationalist believes that not only the others are hell, but everything which is not his (Serbian, Croatian, French .. .) is alien to him. Nationalism is an ideology of banality. Nationalism, therefore, is a totalitarian ideology. Nationalism, in fact, is not only in its etymological sense, but by definition as well, the last remaining ideology and demagogy which addresses the nation'. Writers know that very well. That is why every writer who declares that he writes "from and for the people," who says that he subordinates his individual voice to that higher call-the national interest-should be suspected as a nationalist. Nationalism is kitsch. In the Serbo-Croatian version it is a struggle for dominance over the national origin of Ginger-Bread Heart2. Usually a nationalist neither speaks any foreign language nor knows a variation of his own, nor knows anything about other cultures. He is not interested in them. But this is not that simple. If he speaks by some chance some foreign language, and accordingly, as an intellectual, has some knowledge about the cultural heritage of some other nation, then he uses that knowledge only to draw analogies which will undermine that other nation. Kitsch and folklore, or rather folkloric kitsch, is nothing else but disguised nationalism. It is fertile ground for nationalistic ideology. The expansion of folklore in the world today is not a product of increased interest in anthropology but of the rise of nationalism. Insisting on the outspoken phrase couleur locale (especially if it is out of some literary context and if it does not serve the artistic truth) is also nothing else but one version of hidden nationalism. Nationalism is therefore and, above all, a negative spiritual category, because nationalism is based on and lives by denial and on denial. We are not those people who they are. We are the positive pole; they are the negative one. Our national values, our nationalistic values, have some function only if we compare them with others: we are nationalists, but they are worse than we are. We slaughter (only when



we have to), but they slaughter even more than we do. We are drunkards, but they are alcoholics. Our history is accurate only in relationto theirs. Our language is pure

to theirs. only if compared

Nationalism is fed by relative notions. There are no general ethical or aesthetic values. For the nationalists there are only relative values. In that sense, nationalism is a rigid conservatism and a return to the past. You just have to be better than your brother or half-brother; the rest is not important at all. A nationalist does not care about anything else. What he wants is just to jump a little bit higher than his brother. Who cares about the others!!That is what I call fear.The rest of the world has a right to be better than we are, to get ahead of us; we don't care about that. The goals of nationalism are always achievable goals. They are achievable because they are ordinary, and they are ordinary because they are sly. You do not jump or shoot to score a point, to reach the peak of your abilities, but only to defeat, to kill the others, those so similar and, at the same time, so different from you. They are the main reason for the whole game. A nationalist is not afraid of anything or anyone but his brother. He is scared of his brother pathologically and existentially: the victory of his chosen enemy is to him his own, absolute defeat. It means annihilation of his entire being. Since he is a coward and zilch, a nationalist does not have higher goals. The victory over his chosenenemy, that other one, is his highest victory. That is why nationalism is an idea of misery, an ideology of a possible victory, a guaranteed victory, and not quite definite, final defeat. The nationalist is not afraid of anyone, "anyone but God," and his god is made on his own terms and in his own image-his pale Cousin Jules. And he is: his brother who lives next door, his neighbor who is as incapable as he himself is, his cousin who is a "pride of the family," who is a good citizen, an organized member of the family and/or a conscious part of the nation-that pale Cousin Jules. We have said that to be a nationalist means to be individual without obligations. "The nationalist is a coward who does not like to admit that he is a coward; a killer who suppresses his affinity for killing, incapable of suppressing that feeling but also incapable of committing such crime in public. He can do that, he can kill only if he is hidden, only from the unanimity of the crowd. He is an unsatisfied individual who is afraid to rebel because he is afraid of the consequences of his rebellion"these are the real features of Sartre'santi-Semite mentioned earlier. And we wonder now where does this cowardice, this rise of nationalism come from in our time? Suppressed as an individual by different ideologies and thrown on the fringes of social movements this person is in fact smashed and lost between confronted ideologies. By the same token he is immature and incapable of individual rebellion because he does not possess real intellectual drive for that. In that way this individual has found himself in a crack, in a limbo, because he is a social being who does not participate in social life. As an individual, he needs to participate in social life, but his individualism is suppressed in the name of ideologies. What is left to him in that situation is nothing else but to look for his

KIS / On Nationalism *


social being somewhereelse.The nationalist is a frustrated and confused individual, while nationalism is a collective expression of frustratedindividualism. It is ideology and anti-ideology at the same time. (Excerpted from Kis's book Cas Anatomije [The Anatomy Lesson], pp. 29-33, Nolit. Beograd, 1978)

in Serbian in termsof ethnos 1. Kis usesthe word "nation" or Croatian) ("narod" (a group of peoplebound togetherby the sameethnicspecifics),not nationin termsof demos (people of differentethnic backgrounds). 2. Ginger-Bread Heartis a homemadecolorfulcookie in the shapeof a heartand sold at fairs Serbian and Croatian peasants from Vojvodina and Slovenia. Like country by it is Valentine's Day gifts, exchangedas a sign of love.

DANILO KIS (1935-1989), best known abroad for his novel A Tombfor Boris Davidovic, was one of the most eminent novelists and most daring anti-Stalinist thinkers in the former Yugoslavia. Shortly after the book was published, the Yugoslav Writers Union impugned Kis's reputation by accusing him of plagiarism, a claim politically motivated and initiated by Serbian nationalists. The author counterattacked by publishing his brilliant collection of polemical essays The Anatomy Lesson.He lived out the rest of his life in exile in Paris.

PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL, NO. 53 (1996) PP. 13-16: ? 1996 The Johns Hopkins University Press

Sarajevo 1993. Postcard by Dalida Durakovic and Bojan Hadzihalilovic.