Scholarly article on topic 'Historical Impact on Individual's Identity in Central-European Prose'

Historical Impact on Individual's Identity in Central-European Prose Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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{"Resent-laden discourse" / Past / Present / Memory / Identity}

Abstract of research paper on History and archaeology, author of scientific article — Georgiana Ciobotaru

Abstract History is a recurrent theme in Central-European literary works written by Hermann Broch, Robert Musil, Milan Kundera, Witold Gombrowicz or Josph Roth and it is often expressed through a resent-laden discourse. As for Central Europe, the present depends on the past and the “remnant” history of a space characterised by a variable geometry is bound to be received not only from the urban architectural perspective, but also through the nostalgic filter of the people dwelling in it. History is also closely connected to memory, this being perceived as a wide vision of the past which is projected at present. Over time perception of events alters as individuals change themselves, their memories and experiences becoming more or less vigorous according to the context. The present paper deals with the interdependence of history and memory as well as their impact on the future evolution of individuals.

Academic research paper on topic "Historical Impact on Individual's Identity in Central-European Prose"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 63 (2012) 296 - 306 —

The 4th Edition of the International Conference: Paradigms of the Ideological Discourse 2012

Historical Impact on Individual's Identity in Central-European Prose

Georgiana Ciobotarua*

aPhD Student "Dunarea de Jos " University, 47Domneasca Street, Galati, 800008, Romania


History is a recurrent theme in Central-European literary works written by Hermann Broch, Robert Musil, Milan Kundera, Witold Gombrowicz or Josph Roth and it is often expressed through a resent-laden discourse. As for Central Europe, the present depends on the past and the "remnant" history of a space characterised by a variable geometry is bound to be received not only from the urban architectural perspective, but also through the nostalgic filter of the people dwelling in it. History is also closely connected to memory, this being perceived as a wide vision of the past which is projected at present. Over time perception of events alters as individuals change themselves, their memories and experiences becoming more or less vigorous according to the context. The present paper deals with the interdependence of history and memory as well as their impact on the future evolution of individuals.

© 2012 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dunarea de Jos University ofGalati

Keywords: resent-laden discourse; past; present; memory; identity;

1. Introduction

In a study entitled Europe and Its Memories. Resurgence and Conflicts, history is defined as "a critical discourse of the past" [1] and that is why in order to express a vision over the past, one must analyse it outwardly as if it were a past experience. This is the essential condition which distinguishes it from the present although the history vein is mapped out at present. Memory is also "a representation of the past" [2] which crystallises itself at present since it has "a series of vectors" [3] which are interdependent, mutually influencing each other through the relationships they establish together. Individuals share their experiences and memories, the latter ones losing or regaining their relevance according to the afferent circumstances. As for the Central-European universe evoked both in the confessional and fictional works, in turn it refers alternatively to the image of the imperial Centre, "the image of Vienna-Centre [...] where <<each inhabitant became imperceptibly a citizen of the world>>" [4], the politically changing climate in Vienna and Prague, the individuals being forced to exile due to identity displacements.

One of the main ideas put forward by Tzvetan Todorov's study The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (1982) is the fact that the conquistadors' history is representative for us since it offers us the possibility to ascertain our position towards our inner self in order to identify the differences as well the similarities: "However, I believe that becoming aware of relativity, that arbitrary nature of a certain trait belonging to our culture means you

* Georgiana Ciobotaru. Tel.: +4-074-307-6108; fax: +4-0236-494-599. E-mail address:


1877-0428 © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dunarea de Jos University of Galati doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.10.042

have already modified it a little, and I also believe that history is nothing else but a series of such imperceptible modifications" (my translation) [5]. Actually, the text illustrates the fact that history brings about only a metamorphosis of the cultural phenomena, a transformation which is hardly perceptible. Moreover, the same researcher raises the question of uprooted intellectual's status due to the fact that throughout history the Central-European space is characterised by an obvious phenomenon of displacing individuals because of the political circumstances they experienced: "In his work The Intellectuals' Politics, Tzvetan Todorov attempts to answer questions concerning the intellectual's attitude towards the left-wing political space dominated by the communist model where he came from [...], answers concerning the freedom of expression, racism, Nazism and thus projecting the portrait of an intellectual according to the theory of the three roles played by an intellectual as they were described by the philosopher and sociologist Christopher Lasch whom he quotes: <<the intellectual is the voice of conscience, the voice of reason, the voice of imagination»" (my translation) [6]. Taking a closer look to this statement, we realise that it reflects the status an intellectual has towards the political sphere dominated by the communist model, towards the individual's freedom of speech. Thus, the portrayal of the intellectual is accomplished by his rapport with conscience, reason and imagination.

Central Europe is a territory characterised by multiculturalism, multilingualism, border mobility, a space which suffered mutilations due to historic events which reflect the problems of self-image and pinpoint the complementary relationship between identity and memory as elements defining "the differentiation and self-actualisation" [7].

2. History in Joseph Roth's novels

The Austrian writer Joseph Roth illustrates the decline of the Habsburg empire in his novel Radetzky March, published in 1932. He relates the story of the three generations of the Trotta family and highlights the events beginning with Solferino battle and ending with the emperor Franz Joseph's death. Joseph Trotta is the son of two Slovene peasants who rescue the young emperor and consequently acquire a noble title: "The Trottas had received the noble title lately. The Grandfather had got the title after Solferino battle. He was Slovene. Sipolje - the name of his native village - had been added to the title. Fate had chosen him to do heroic deeds. However, he did his best to have the memories of his glory buried in the dust of oblivion" (my translation) [8] After saving the young emperor's life, Joseph Trotta acquires a higher rank and a noble title at the same time: "After four weeks Trotta had recovered. When he returned to his garrison in Southern Hungary, he was appointed captain and was ennobled with the Order of Maria-Theresa. He was now Joseph Trotta von Sipolje" (my translation) [9]. Marius Lazurca points out that the new status acquired by Joseph Trotta von Sipolje projects him into another sphere as he symbolically leaves the Slovene provincial space and plunges into the very centre of the imperial world : "[...] at least at a symbolical level he departs from the Slovene province and the readiness of the imperial favours familiarises him with the Central imperial life, thus becoming a close friend of the Habsburg house, actually one of the loops of the monarchy ruling power" (my translation) [10]. Marius Lazurca further highlights the fact that Joseph Trotta's metamorphosis is not fully accomplished since he experiences a "centrifugal movement" [11] towards the end of his life when he leaves the imperial domain: "He had become somehow a typical Slovene peasant. Every now and then he had his former fits of fury which shook him as violently as a delicate bush shaken by a gust of wind. It was the time when he beat the stable-keeper, whipped the horses' ribs, stroke the door handles he had repaired himself, threatened to fire or even kill the garbage collectors, flung the plate off his lunch table, fasted and kept grumbling. [...] He was just an average Slovene peasant, the baron von Trotta" (my translation) [12]. Death finds him in the hypostasis of a mere Slovene peasant and what he leaves to posterity is iconic, it is the symbol of the hero from Solferino: "Not far from the gendarmerie there was the tomb of the major baron von Trotta und Sipolje, the knight of truth. They had laid a plain soldierly tombstone on which apart from his name, rank and regiment, there had also been engraved the great inscription in narrow black letters: the hero from Solferino, the inscription from the stone placed on the tomb would dominate all the von Trottas obsessively" [13].

His son, Franz Trotta von Sipolje is the one who is meant to perform the transformation initiated by his father and to become prefect in a small town from Moravia, thus embodying the typical figure of the clerk committed to His Majesty the Emperor and distinguishing himself with his behaviour: "The prefect chose the black mahogany

walking stick with a silver hilt, not the yellow reed one which he usually took on the sunny mornings. Neither did he hold the gloves in his left hand as usual. He had put them on instead. With his semi top hat on, he left his house followed by the young man" (my translation) [14]. The high class clothing, the habits and mannerisms shown by this second Slovene baron make him become a staunch supporter of the Emperor. Carl Joseph, the third man from Trotta's family sees his father as an offspring of the bizarre hero from Solferino whose figure still haunts them obsessively: "Despite not loving his father, his heart melted in front of his parent' s melancholic mood; now it dawned on him that behind the prefect's tough shield, there was another man, a mysterious, yet sensitive human being, a Trotta, the offspring of a Slovene legless man, the weird hero from Solferino" (my translation) [15]. The Grandfather's figure, the hero from Solferino is obsessively reiterated in Carl Joseph's life, the line on his father's face being identical to that displayed in the portrait hung in the library, the expression of the Trottas' rage: "Carl Joseph could recognize this line, actually he was quite familiar with it. The grandfather's portrait from the library's wall had the same line, the sign showing the fury experienced by those belonging to the Trotta family, a heritage of the hero from Solferino" [16].

The painting motif is obsessively reiterated and when looking at the emperor's portrait, Carl Joseph has the impression that the former can step out of the frame any time. The portrait renders him a sort of pride. Von Trotta is aware of the emperor's omnipresence, similar portraits being found in the military base, the colonel's room as well as in the prefect's study room: "[...] multiplied all over the empire, the emperor Franz Joseph was as omnipresent among his subjects as God in Nature. It was the emperor himself that the hero from Solferino had rescued" (my translation) [17]. His grandfather's death and his father's ageing highlights the human ephemeral condition while the emperor seems to have suddenly grown old after his son commits suicide, which renders a certain immutability to his oldness: "[...] since that moment something like a genuine crystal armour seemed to have emerged into his implacable icy silver ageing demeanour. His body clock appeared to have stopped ticking. It was only his eyes that were going bluer and sharper. Even the favours the Trottas cherished were a sharp ice cold burden" (my translation) [18]. After the duelling between his comrades, Carl Joseph has to leave his regiment in order to transfer himself to the infantry but his father disapproves of his son's desire to reach the Slovene province.

The barracks represents a place full of symbolic meanings reminding of the past crepuscular empire. Carl Joseph's new barracks resemble quite a lot with those from his grandfather's times. Carl Joseph hardly ever tells his father about the living conditions on the border, the prefect being unwilling to ask any information about it.

The acute feeling of the imminent decay and death mars the glamour of the emperor's image: "The emperor was old. The oldest emperor in the world. Death haunted and cut away mercilessly around him. The whole field was now deserted and it was only the emperor who was standing there like a blade of silver wheat left behind by the reaper. His piercing crystal clear eyes were scrutinising a distant horizon" (my translation) [19]. Although the imperial subjects believe that the ageing process is diminishing the emperor's agility and lucidity, he is by far more aware that the empire is doomed to decay, "[...] he was more knowledgeable than others. He could grasp that his empire was falling down but he breathed no word about it. Sometimes he pretended to know nothing about certain affairs and faked to be glad to learn about them" (my translation) [20]. The image of the falling empire is prevalent in Roth's novel and the emperor Franz Joseph is portrayed during this period of the monarchy disintegration: "He could now see the huge golden Austro- Hungarian sun setting down, divided into several smaller suns which in their turn were meant to shed light as some independent celestial bodies, as independent nations" (my translation) [21].

The matching of the two characters, the emperor Franz Joseph and Franz von Trotta mirrors the "natural premise and the fruits of a long period of impeccable commitment to carrying out the same mission but at a different scale" [22] The emperor represents the God's lieutenant while the latter embodies the emperor's representative, thus creating an "exemplary couple" [23] of the Habsburg's Austria.

Carl Joseph's death is somehow derisive since he dies clinging on two buckets instead of a rifle as the context would have required. The grandson, who is obsessed with his grandfather's Solferino glory, fails to come up to the same heroic standards since his deeds, words and gestures are ridiculous. Despite the fact that he is expected to walk on his heroic grandfather's footsteps, the former only manages to take the emperor's painting from a brothel, an unholy place which could never shelter a painting like that.

The epilogue reiterates the same freezing effect of the ageing process undergone by Franz von Trotta who felt

that time flew along like "a long smooth river with a monotonous whisper" [24]. Unlike the average people, he contemplates the perspective of his approaching death in a sort of petrified posture like the grave stone "on the shore of his days" [25] : "Never had von Trotta resembled so well with Franz Joseph. Sometimes he even dared to compare himself with the sovereign. He recalled the appointment from Schonbrunn Palace and in his mind's eye he retorted to the emperor Franz Joseph as if they were two simple elderly men who were talking about a common misfortune: "What? Should anyone have told me about it then! To both of us, two elders" (my translation) [26].

Roth's second novel The Emperor's Tomb (1938) is an artificial attempt in further depicting the story of Trotta's family whose destiny he has already outlined in Radetzky March. The literary critic highlights the fact that the novelist would have liked to render a gloomier perspective on the moral inflation and the chaos governing Austria and the whole Europe from the end of the war up to the plunge "into the Nazi's swamp" [27].

The novel's opening resumes the presentation of Trotta's family and the crepuscular empire. The protagonist, Franz Ferdinand Trotta comes from a Slovene family and his father is a representative of the bourgeoisie in Vienna, "a loyal supporter of the crown's interests" [28]. The latter has both a rebellious nature and a patriotic drive, entertaining the lofty dream of reforming the empire in order to save the Habsburgs. As the finger of suspicion points to him, he emigrates to America to work as a factory chemist, but after a while he is torn apart by his homesickness and he returns to settle down in Vienna: "Father was not dreaming of a Slavic kingdom under the Habsburg's ruling power. He was dreaming of a monarchy formed of Austrians, Hungarians and Slavs. As for me, his son, I might say that I imagine my father would have been able to change the course of history if he had lived" (my translation) [29].

The protagonist of The Emperor's Tomb is the chemist's only child who bears the emperor's name, thus becoming entitled to inherit and further promote his father's ideas and political ideal: "[...] just like his father he had to be the living example of that paradoxical feature of the imperial province, namely that of fighting concomitantly both for the nations' liberties and the Habsburg' supranational ideal" (my translation) [30]. Just like Carl Joseph, Franz Ferdinand is profoundly marked by his ancestors and father's heritage and consequently, he has no choice but to resign himself: "[...] in front of the worldly evils and his passivity" [31]. He applies for the Law School despite his lack of interest in studies and he is surrounded by aristocratic young men, which makes him unaware of the imminent "sunset": "I used to share with them the sceptical frivolity, the melancholic drive, the sinful recklessness, the arrogant morgue, all the signs of the dying empire which we had ignored. [...]. Despite growing old and somehow petrified in a remote solitude, Franz Joseph was still close to us and omnipresent all over the great and colourful empire" (my translation) [32].

3. History and Memory in Kundera's works

The two creations of the Central-European writer Joseph Roth depict the image of the agonising Empire, an image perpetuated from one generation to another and each individual history is a reconfiguration of a fragment belonging to the national history.

Milan Kundera considers that history itself raises an existential issue, his novels often being constructed as a questioning of existence. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting makes use of a reflexive novel technique which deals with two major themes like memory and laughter. The novelist sees both themes as intimately connected to history and therefore he explores them by resorting not only to the evolution of the individual mechanisms, but also to the mechanisms made manifest by history itself.

In his essay The Spiritual Heritage of Prague Spring, Kvetoslav Chvatik points out the fact that the modern Czech writer best describes the Czech phenomenological thinking and the traditions of the Central-European culture rooted in that consistent national diversity characterised by tolerance and pluralism. The theme obsessively reiterated in Kundera's novels is the one placing the individual in a confrontation with history. Thus the writer highlights the manner in which every human being overcomes its traumatising effect by "sacrificing his own identity" [33].

Kundera's protagonists are implacably followed by the "history's steering wheel" [34] whose exerting power grip all of them whether they want or not: "[...] while the communists who had hardly overthrown the political power

made them believe that the ones who were about to turn twenty years old in that "historical" 1948 could idyllically inaugurate with such a pompous glory <<that stage in human evolution which would place man (any man) neither outside history, nor under history's heel, but in the position of a direct contributor to the making of history»! " (my translation) [35].

The Lost Letters which is the first part of the novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting begins with a turning point event in the Czech history, namely 1948: "In February 1948 the communist leader Klement Gottwald made his appearance in the balcony of a baroque palace in Prague in order to deliver a speech to the thousands of people gathered in the square of the old city. It was a turning point in the Czech history. A tragic moment like that could be witnessed only once or twice in a millennium" (my translation) [36]. Historical events get imprinted on collective memory and 1939 represents the invasion of the German troops in Czech Republic whose existence is revived only in 1945 when the Russian army step into this country that is to regain its status as an independent republic. As a result, the Czech are glad to see the Germans chased away by the Russians and the communist party embodies "its loyal supporting arm" [37]. The communists do not need violent means to infiltrate the Czech Republic because they have the consent of at least half of the nation: "[...] the communists proved to be more intelligent. They had a magnificent project. The project of an absolutely renewed world in which anyone could find their own place. Their opponents had no glorious dreams, but only some obsolete boring ideals by means of which they wanted to patch the holes in the trousers of the existent order" (my translation) [38]. Under the circumstances the enthusiasts can fulfil their dream as well as "the idyll of equality for all the people" [39]. Corina Ciocarlie emphasises the idea that one of the key terms in Kundera's universe is this very idyll which requires "a circular trajectory and a triumphant rhythm similar to that sung by the soviet soldiers" [40]. This "idyll of equality for all the people" shows no mercy for those who are not able to keep up with its rhythm: "But due to the fact that an idyll is by definition an ideal place for everyone, the ones who wanted to emigrate were seen as traitors of this idyll and instead of crossing the border, they were jailed" (my translation) [41]. This idyll is created in such a manner that all the individuals would long for it. It is like a garden where skylarks sing. The people also long for a harmonious empire in which the universe does not show hostility towards them, the communists are not against their fellows because "both the universe and the people are made of the same dough - the fire in the sky burnt in their soul as well" [42].

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting delineates the manner in which History stages a unique situation although the historical events seem to follow the same pattern which often show a lack of ingenuity. In the Czech history, the Prague Spring marked the moment when a whole generation of men and women stood up in arms against their own youth. This generation wanted to reinvent their own acting power, to claim it in order to empower themselves again. The 60s marked the starting point in acquiring such a power and in 1968 this influence became indivisible: "this period is generally known as Prague Spring: the guards of this idyll were forced to activate the microphones from the private homes, the borders were open and the notes from Bach's Great Fugue seemed to spring into the air in an untamed way. It was an incredible joy, it was "a real carnival" (my translation) [43]. It was Russia that in 1968 allowed the dissipation of the notes from "the great fugue" dictated worldwide by this power and as a result an "impressive army" was sent to the Czech land: "And the country's renewed idyll ought not to be shadowed by that hideous memory. Prague Spring and its invading Russian tanks spoil a beautiful history and therefore it was necessary to sweep them away" (my translation) [44]. On this background events the writer highlights the way the emigrants are treated as they are fired and reduced to silence which is meant to cast them away gradually for good. The prison surrounded by walls becomes a stage of history: "As for the prison, it was still a stage of history brightly lighted despite its surrounding walls. Mirek had known it for a long time. He had found the prison irresistibly appealing for the last year" (my translation) [45].

The fifth part of the novel Litost defines this concept which seems to have been invented by the Czech. This is not at random because the history of this nation abounds in endless rebellions against the powerful ones, it is a history of memorable defeats. The town on whose walls one could see such a slogan expressed an option by appealing to litost and not to reason. A man dominated by litost was a person who was ready to revenge even at the cost of his own life. The idyll was characterised by a circular trajectory and despite the fact that it should be protective, it had a rigid coercitive manifestation. A characteristic of this circle is exactly the necessity to stay within, nobody being able to return after stepping out of it. Once this circle was deserted, the centrifugal force was

activated and all the odds were against coming back. If history advances slowly, its few characteristic events are stored in the memory thus weaving the background known by everyone, a background on which life projects its amazing display of experiences: "Nowadays time fleets quickly. A historical event forgotten over night shines brightly the next day like a piece of sparkling news and as a result it no longer represents a narrative background but an exhilarating adventure going on the secondary level of the so common routine of life" (my translation) [46]. Milan Kundera himself states that the seven stories have a common thematic thread which enables their progressive exploration and a coherent unfolding: "For example, the first part (The Lost Letters) deals with the theme of man and History in its elementary version: the man colliding with the overwhelming History. In the second part (The Mother) the theme is reversed: the mother finds the coming of the Russian tanks insignificant in comparison with the wall from the garden [...] The drowning of the heroine, Tamina in the sixth part might be taken as a tragic end but the novel does not end at this point. It is the seventh part which presents the denouement. The denouement is neither troubling, nor dramatic nor tragic...The theme of History is quickly mentioned for the last time: <<Jan had some friends that had also left their native country in their continuous strife for regaining freedom.»" (my translation) [47].

Kundera's novel The Ignorance also tackles with history which is troubled for the whole Europe and for the Central Europe in particular. Those extremely significant events engraved in the twentieth century's European history are represented by the two World Wars as well as the fervent struggle against communist regime falling in 1989. Apart from these major experiments, there are also the secondary ones which leave a mark on the destiny of a nation: the Spanish war, the Russian invasion in Hungary, 1948 when the Yugoslavians opposed resistance to Stalin and 1991 when they started killing each other. The Check history distinguishes itself by a remarkable mathematical beauty, symbolically the number twenty being repeated thrice: "In 1918 after several decades they gained their independence and in 1938 they lost it. In 1948 the communist revolution imported from Moscow inaugurated the second period of twenty years which ends in 1968 when the Russians got infuriated by the Check insolent emancipation and invaded it with half a million of soldiers" (my translation) [48]. The third period of twenty years is highlighted by the instauration of the "conquerors' power" in the autumn of 1969 which was removed in the autumn of 1989. In this context, the novel depicts the personal history of Irena and her husband, two Check émigrés exiled in Paris. The context, however, is hostile because France does not show hospitality to the émigrés coming from communist countries. The couple decide to emigrate in 1969, thus opting for the least evil: "however terrifying a fascist dictatorial regime will vanish together with the dictator which makes people keep their hope. On the other hand, the communism which was fuelled by the immense Russian civilisation seemed like an endless tunnel for a country like Poland or Hungary (not to mention Estonia). Dictators are mortals, Russia is eternal. The misery of the countries we come from is the complete lack of hope" (my translation) [49].

The narrator underlines that the first period of twenty years (1918-1938) as well as the second period brings about a great exuberance and euphoria to the Check while the third period is governed by cowardice. On this background the emigration phenomenon is highly desirable. Irena and Martin leaves for Paris dreading the thought of returning to Prague which haunts them every night as well as the nostalgia of returning to the native country which overwhelms Irena every day. She feels uneasy when Gustaf, her Swedish friend suggests her keeping in touch with Prague. She is relieved when she realises that the police barrier between the Occident and all the communist countries is safe.

Irena, the protagonist of the novel, stays in France for twenty years and failed to return to Prague. The number twenty is obsessively reiterated. It appears in the conversation between Irena and Joseph, the latter drawing her attention on the fact that just like her, Ulysses is exiled for twenty years. Irena takes good-bye from the native Prague much later because she has no time to do it before her emigration. Now she finds Paris hostile. Wandering along the streets in Prague, the protagonist has a more acute feeling that she should have taken good-bye from the town she adored twenty years ago.

Milan Kundera considers that History is not necessarily an "ascending road" [50] due to the fact that "the new" can be steered onto another direction than that marked by the contemporary progress: "The historical background of Bach's masterpiece reveals an aspect which the future generations were about to forget, namely the fact that History does not always aim higher (towards something broader or more elevated), that the arts' standards can collide with

the contemporary expectations (the expectations of a certain modernity or another) and that ,,the new" (the unique, the genuine, the unuttered) can be found in a completely different place than the direction in which everybody believes the progress might be" (my translation) [51].

In the Check writer's view History has a series of significances and he finds some examples in this respect: firstly, the expressions in which the historic lexeme is accompanied by a different determinative, both of them having the same meaning; secondly, the phrases in which both the determinative and the meaning of the word history are different. For instance, "the history of Germany" and "the history of France" are two expressions in which only the determinative is different but the meaning of the word history stays the same. In phrases like "the history of mankind", "the history of technology", "the history of science", "the history of a certain art or another", not only the determinant is different, but also the word "history gains a different meaning" [52].

Published in France, in 2005 his essay The Curtain outlines the relationship between memory and history by recalling one of the visits in Prague after the fall of the communism when one of his friends tells him that their native country would need a writer like Balzac. His friend believes that "commercial dumbness" has been replaced by "ideological dumbness" [53], and the picturesque of the new experience is rendered by the fact that it does not sweep away the previous one: "[...] the two experiences blended together and just like in Balzac's times, history staged some incredible intricacies " [54], in other words, history repeats itself at certain intervals.

Milan Kundera considers that smaller nations adopt a perpetual defensive position in rapport with History as a power which seem to hardly notice them, more often than not overlooking and even discrediting them. He quotes the Polish writer, Witold Gombrowicz who states that only through a fierce opposition against History "as such", people are able to face contemporary History. History is the one which taught the Polish a lesson, namely the lesson of being threatened with extinction: "Bereaved of their own state, they lived in front of death's chamber" [55].

The Eastern European space is characterised by the antinomy between civilisation and history, giving rise to that kind of revolt against History which often brings about "disintegrating and chaotic forms" [56]. The essays belonging to Czeslaw Milosz depict a clear detailed picture of history as the Central-European writer focuses on biographical elements, individual destinies: "In fact, it is a strategy of using the detailed description enabling the writer to outline the antinomy between the individual and history, between the individual liberty and historic necessity" (my translation) [57].

4. History and individual destinies in Czeslaw Milosz's works

The Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz believes history cannot be reduced only to a certain period as it ought to be interpreted as an area of multiple interferences, a sphere of more coexisting epochs, if more temporal intervals. Furthermore, Milosz highlights the fact that the impact of history must not constrain people's liberties, their options not expressing the coordinates of the historic imperatives promoted and imposed by a certain group. In the preface to Czeslaw Milosz, In the Search of the Cultural Identity, the critic Constantin Geambasu highlights that the complex mechanism of History reflects the dichotomy "oblivion and memory" [58] and the inescapable necessity of oblivion is annihilated by the imperatives of memory. Czeslaw Milosz himself emphasises the fact memory is the people's power representing "the other Europe" or "the third Europe" which enables writers to reconstruct their identity. The writer wants to stress the idea that those crimes and inequities suffered by people ought not to be ignored, the oblivion phenomenon should be definitely avoided.

In the essay The Native Europe [59], the Polish writer also delineates the relationship between man and History, the individual destinies having a privileged place: "The Tough Necessity of History has made too many victims to show no sympathy to individual destinies. From Milosz's point of view, the axiological system focuses mainly on the individual values. The general concepts - Country, People, general Interest, etc., promoted widely in the romantic age and used abusively during the communist regime - have determined the individual to sacrifice himself" (my translation) [60]. Constantin Geambasu mentions that Milosz pays a greater attention to those personal values of each individual while the general values are left on a secondary level since most of the times they have represented only a pretext for the promotion of some elite representatives.

In the Polish writer's opinion, History is characterised by a certain level of instability and that is why it is

metaphorically defined as a journey. The writer's childhood was dominated by a rapid metamorphosis of towns and sceneries as he accompanied his father who would build roads for the representatives of the Russian army: "It was often the cart or sometimes the military wagon on whose deck there was a samovar which turned upside down if the train moved off abruptly. It seems to me that the lack of stability, the subconscious feeling that everything is provisional belongs to the structure of equations elaborated at a mature age and may lead to a certain contempt towards states and regimes. History becomes labial as if it resembled a journey" (my translation) [61] As for Marxism, Milosz underlines that it appeared when the whole world was hard to seize: "One could often hear: <<If we reject, History is meaningless.». When we are seduced by such a desire (so that History is meaningful), inconceivable leaps occur: the leap from Nature to History (although the issuing of <<laws>> established by laboratories is impossible whenever the experiment is excluded and the human desires colour any selection of data); the leap from the past studied in a more or less scientific manner to prophecies under a scientific guise" (my translation) [62]. The Marxists were the ones who annihilated their opponents, enemies by throwing them into "the idealists' sphere" and even Milosz himself has the feeling that he is torn apart between two entities, namely: "[... ] between the contemplation of an imperturbable point and the imperative of an active involvement in history, between transcendence and becoming. I was not able to satisfy any of these extremes and neither did I want to sacrifice any of them" (my translation) [63]. After the war, the two acute aspects: the Marxism and the Communism shifts from politics to philosophy, leading to the creation of a enigmatical doctrine which allotted to the propagandising slogans a completely different meaning from the apparently accepted one: "To a certain extent it can be compared with the Stoic doctrine. However, the stoics speculated upon the manner in which the man who was aware of the implacable order of Nature against which it would have been futile to rebel while my contemporary fellows considered that they were aware of the implacable order of History which in its turn discarded any opportunity of rebellion" (my translation) [64].

Czeslaw Milosz believes that one the most important traits of the Polish people is that profound faith in God which is decisive in the evolution of History as it helps the honest ones in their struggle with the evil. Consequently, Milosz highlights the innocence the Polish shown in their involvement in several hopeless battles so that in the end they were shocked that God did not interfered to help them to win but still holding their firm belief that they would eventually be victorious.

The district of Vistula used to bear the bizarre name of General Governement. Milosz called it "experimental workhouse" where the population was divided into two fractions, namely: the Jews and the Polish, the former were going to be exterminated while the latter were going to be destroyed or exhausted by being forced to perform the hardest duties: "We can draw two conclusions from this system. Firstly, the fact that the science of the nineteenth century contemptuously discarded the existence of elements of greater complexity just because of the mechanistic view on matter - to a certain extent, Hitler took the Darwinism, "the fight for survival" and "the survival of the fittest" too seriously - and as a result interpreted History in an absolute naive manner. It identified history with nature and insisted on ignoring the border opposing resistance to the blind force" (my translation) [65].

The Native Europe depicts a novel character Tiger, Milosz's friend who experienced numerous humiliations on the part of those who venerated the Country and posed as enemies against anyone who might have threatened it: "Following their example, he built his own theology of history that sometimes pointed their foot or finger - and cursed would be those turning a blind eye to this sign" (my translation) [66].

In Tiger's opinion, History lent its impressively gigantic Ear to the whole world: "[...] Tiger forbade me to speak evil of Russia for fear I might insult the Ear. To his mind, the majestic huge Ear of History, Providence or Fate (these notions formed a whole in his view) - could hear the whole world. Tiger was probably meant to be Hegel's disciple" (my translation) [67]. Milosz states that the man is one of the multiple instruments of the orchestra directed in a masterly manner by History goddess: "It is only then that the sound produced by its instrument becomes meaningful. Otherwise, even the sharpest reflections are just the entertainment of a light-minded person. It is not only the matter of how he could take up the courage to act against others. It is a question that troubles him even more: can he react fairly and write well if he does not go in a direction which is real, is a direction which includes a being's vitality in accordance with reality pace or with History laws?" (my translation) [68].

In his work The Captive Mind published in 1953, Czeslaw Milosz focuses on the history of some individual

destinies, one of which being that of Alfa, the writer's friend, a "tall spectacled" young man whose stories appear in a right-wing periodical. Alfa is mostly interested in the tragic moral conflicts as he is often obsessed with moral purity: "Having a tragic outlook, Alfa seeks for forms: words, notions, merely the texture; the tragic perception is similar to Wells' «invisible man>> who had to hang a papier mâché nose, bandage his face and put on gloves on his invisible hands" (my translation) [69]. Standing at the hotel window together with Alfa, Milosz sees the raid which is the first hunting for Auschwitz where people from different European regions are to get slaughtered: "I had no idea that the day would be recorded as a black day in the history of the town [...] Nobody seemed to have saved his life from that big transportation of people captured from the streets. Alfa and I had passed by down the street five minutes before the raid started; Alfa's umbrella and serenity saved us" (my translation) [70]. Varçovia is devastated and Alfa is furious as he walks along the ruins of the city accompanied by Milosz and sees the newly-dug graves covering the corpses of his closest friends: "Alfa din not blame the Russians. It would have been pointless. They acted as a driving force of History. The communism was fighting against fascism and Poland found itself between them due to their ethics based on nothing else but loyalty [...]. Yet in the twentieth century, as the example of that city showed, the imperative of national pride or honour was not worth if it lacked any purpose" (my translation) [71].

Beta embodies another individual destiny depicted in Czeslaw Milosz' work due to the fact that he writes "in the language of the conquered ones" [72] and once the thirst for revenge is triggered, he earns his money doing different activities. Fate carries Beta in the darkest fields of hell: "If life in Warsaw resembled with heaven very little, now Beta reached the lowest levels of hell, the gates of «concentration world>> being shut behind him. As usual he spent a few weeks in jail and then he was taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz. The chances of survival in that camp were very slow" (my translation) [73]. Beta and his fellows believe that Hitler's domination is the equivalent to that peak of capitalism in Europe, also resembling with the victory of Russian revolution worldwide: "Beta's and his fellows' books published in the first post war years dealt with man's inability to handle with the laws of History: even the best-intended people fall victim to the Nazi's terror machine which transformed them into terrified primitive creature preoccupied only with their own survival" (my translation) [74]. Beta is found dead in his flat and those who noticed his actions in the last months pointed out the existence of a conflict between his statements and his intellectual capacity: "Many newspapers published numerous articles written by his friends - writers from Poland and Eastern Germany. His coffin covered with a red standard was laid onto the grave on the musical background of The International. The party paid homage to their most prominent writer" (my translation) [75].

Gamma is one of the personalities Milosz meets during his studies in Vilnius and despite the fact that he appears to share certain literary preferences, their conversations do not reveal a friendly communication. Gamma is a staunch supporter of the anti-Semitism which is obvious in his political manifesto. Czeslaw Milosz meets the famous Gamma in one of the European capitals where the latter is a reliant supporter of the party, being appointed as Polish ambassador. Gamma also becomes member of writers' union, having a prolific literary activity as many of his works appear in different publications or get printed by various publishing houses: "It is hard to envy the option this man made and the knowledge he acquired from the tree of good and evil. Observing his country, he knew that the dose of sufferance its inhabitants were going to experience would be even greater. As for himself, he knew that each word he would utter would not belong to him. [...] Sometimes he is overwhelmed by the thought that the devil to whom he sold his soul was empowered exactly by such people and that History determinism is a by product of the human mind" [76].

Delta is one of those national bards whose verses express ideas of public interest: "It is true that in any period from History the poet's obligations were conceived differently. It seems that Delta would have favoured the period when the kings and princes ensured a place at their table in exchange of some touching songs or of some funny anecdotes" (my translation) [77]. Delta's biography is one of those writers who wants to serve a benevolent prince who is amused with his song but that prince who is permissive for a while changes his attitude and orders to the editorial staff to print only those texts which show an obvious improvement: "The puritans were frantic with joy: they finally broke Delta's neck. They could still wait but they knew - he could not change his style. His poems lacking the former exuberance resembled with the mediocrities written by tens of unworthy poets" (my translation) [78].

Czeslaw Milosz highlights the topicality of the biblical quote: "[...] the History of each person is nothing else but a reflex of class history and the class is embodied by Caesar, it obvious that the man who acts against Caesar, acts

against himself. The Christians who accept it prove they no longer hold the belief that their deeds will be judged by God: it is the fear of the judgement passed by History that makes them obedient" (my translation) [79]. The depiction of these individual destinies enables the writer to outline the fact that national history is fundamental for the personal history of each individual, the latter being the national history's replica at a microscopic level. The individual is often a mere turning piece in the Great Mechanism, "a clay pot" [80] for those moulding history.

5. Conclusions

History does not have an impact only on the national identity, but also on the individual identity, both of them suffering a metamorphosis in time, the historic vein being retrieved through the subjective memorial one which lends a greater or smaller significance to each moment according to its affective value. History with its events is the one which plays a decisive role in forming the concept of "multiple identity" [81], a concept that can also be associated with the exile phenomenon and as it can be easily noticed this transforms the identity into an intellectual construct, through this experience the individuals becoming familiar with different idioms and cultures which influence their self-actualisation profile. The exile is the one which provides a different portrait of the individual's identity as well as that of the historic phenomenon which memory can bring to life.


*The work of Georgiana Ciobotaru was supported by Project SOP HRD - EFICIENT, 61445/2009. References:

[1] Enzo Traverso, (2011). Europe and Its Memories. Resurgence and Conflicts (extract from History as a Battlefield, Editions of Discovery), in Vox Poetica, 17/11/2011, p.3, study available at URL :

[2] Ibidem, p.2.

[3] Ibidem, p. 2 : „Ces vecteurs de mémoire ne s'articulent pas dans une structure hiérarchique, mais coexistent et se transforment par leurs relations réciproques. Il s'agit tout d'abord des souvenirs personnels qui forment une mémoire subjective non pas figée mais souvent altérée par le temps et filtrée par les expériences cumulées. Les individus changent ; leurs souvenirs perdent ou acquièrent une importance nouvelle selon les contextes, les sensibilités et les expériences acquises."

[4] Doinita Milea, (2006). Cultural Realities and Literature in Central Europe in Cultural Frontiers and Literature, Europlus, Galati. (p. 200).

[5] Tzvetan Todorov, (2005). The Conquest of America. The Question of the Other, The European Institute, IaDi, 1999 apud Milea, Doinita, Diversity and Cultural Difference. Identity and Literature in The Cultural Space and Literary Forms in the Twentieth Century. Reconfigurations, EDP, Bucuresti, p. 47.

[6] Doinita Milea, Intellectuals and „the Captive Mind".„ The Hospitable Canon", op.cit., p.28.

[7] Ibidem, p. 47.

[8] Joseph Roth, (1998). Radetzky March. The Emperor's Tomb, Universe, p. 7.

[9] Ibidem, p.8.

[10] Marius Lazurca, (1998). The Story of Trotta Family, in the afterword to Radetzky March. The Emperor's Tomb, ed. cit., p. 392.

[11] Ibidem,p. 392.

[12] Joseph Roth, op.cit., p.17.

[13] Ibidem, p. 21.

[14] Ibidem, p. 36.

[15] Ibidem, p. 39.

[16] Ibidem, p. 46.

[17] Ibidem, p.64.

[18] Ibidem, p.65.

[19] Ibidem, p. 185-186.

[20] Ibidem, p. 186.

[21] Ibidem, p. 194.

[22] Marius Lazurca, The Story of Trotta Family, Preface to Radetzky March, The Emperor's Tomb, ed. cit., p. 393.

[23] Ibidem, p. 393.

[24] Joseph Roth, Epilogue to Radetzky March, The Emperor's Tomb ed. cit., p. 275.

[25] Ibidem, p. 275.

[26] Ibidem, p. 276.

[27] Claudio Magris, Joseph Roth and the Oriental-Jewish Tradition, Essay translated by Jean and Marie Noelle Pastureau, EDS, Paris, p. 17.

[28] Marius Lazurca, op.cit., p.393.

[29] Joseph Roth, op. cit., p. 286.

[30] Marius Lazurca, op.cit., p.393.

[31] Ibidem, p. 393.

[32] Joseph Roth, op.cit., p. 290.

[33] Eva Le Grand, Mémoire, rire et histoire chez Milan Kundera, in Le Roman Tchèque dans le contexte international. Mémoire et tradition dans la prose contemporaine, Actes du Colloque international, 18, 19, 20 janvier, 1990, Paris, Textes réunis par Hana Voisine-Jechova, PUF, p. 128.

[34] Corina Ciocârlie, (2010). Somewhere. Anywhere. In the Search for the Lost Center, Art, p. 106.

[35] Ibidem, p. 106.

[36] Milan Kundera, The Lost Letters in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Humanitas, Bucharest, p. 7.

[37] Ibidem, p. 13.

[38] Ibidem, p. 13.

[39] Ibidem, p. 13.

[40] Corina Ciocârlie, op.cit., p. 166-167.

[41] Milan Kundera, op.cit., p. 14.

[42] Ibidem, p. 14.

[43] Ibidem, p. 20.

[44] Ibidem, p. 21.

[45] Ibidem, p. 19.

[46] Ibidem, p. 13.

[47] Milan Kundera, (2008). Betrayed Testaments, Humanitas, Bucharest, p. 165-166.

[48]Milan Kundera, (2006). Ignorance, Humanitas, Bucharest, p.12.

[49] Ibidem, p. 13.

[50] Milan Kundera, (2008). Betrayed Testaments , Humanitas, Bucharest, p. 66.

[51] Ibidem, p.66.

[52] Milan Kundera, (2008). The Curtain, An Essay in Seven Parts, Humanitas, Bucharest, p. 22.

[53] Ibidem, p. 33.

[54] Ibidem, p. 33.

[55] Ibidem, p. 39.

[56] Geambaçu, Constantin, (1999). Czesiaw MHosz, In the Search of National Identity in Native Europe, Universe, Bucharest, p. 9.

[57] Ibidem, p. 10.

[58] Ibidem, p. 10.

[59] Czesiaw Milosz, (1999). Native Europe, Universe, Bucharest.

[60]Constantin, Geambaçu, op. cit., p. 10.

[61] Ibidem, p. 49.

[62] Ibidem, p. 118.

[63] Ibidem, p. 128.

[64] Ibidem, p. 129-130.

[65] Ibidem, p. 231-232.

[66] Ibidem, p. 244.

[67] Ibidem, p. 245.

[68] Czesiaw Milosz, (1999). The Captive Thought, Humanitas, Bucharest, p. 24-25.

[69] Ibidem, p. 93.

[70] Ibidem, p 98.

[71] Ibidem, p 104.

[72] Ibidem, p 167.

[73] Ibidem, p 119.

[74] Ibidem, p 133.

[75] Ibidem, p 136.

[76] Ibidem, p 172.

[77] Ibidem, p 173.

[78] Ibidem, p 186.

[79] Ibidem, p 205.

[80] Blaga, Lucian, (1990). Charon's Boat, Humanitas, Bucharest, p. 501.

[81] Donita Milea, op. cit., p. 49.