- Theorizing the European Periphery
These irksome little nations, thick as flies.—Wislawa Szymborska
A small nation’s memory is not smaller than the memory of a large one and so can digest the existing material more thoroughly.—Franz Kafka
The least territorially stable of continents, a mere Northwestern extension of the Euroasiatic land mass, Nietzsche’s “little peninsula of Asia” (1986, 365), “Europe” has for centuries both demanded and defied definition, be it in geographic, political or cultural terms, be it from a vantage point located at one of its self-perceived centers, unequivocally exterior to it, or—as has also often been the case—concerned precisely with its own spatial and conceptual positioning with regard to its imposing referent. The last decade, with its radical destabilization of whatever axiomatic propositions could be said to have become accepted, in the post-Second World War period, as integral defining traits of European reality, identity and destiny, has not so much reopened the debate as broadened and complicated it to an extraordinary degree.
The essays assembled in this special issue of symplok\o(e,̄) represent a collective attempt at coming to terms with the shifting and problematic functioning of the notions of center and periphery, major and minor, belonging and exclusion, in the historical development and contemporary mapping of the entity called “Europe,” whether it be considered as a cultural community, geopolitical aggregation of societies and nation-states, cartographic image, or the most transcendental of continental signifiers in the symbolic imagining of global reality. The authors’ shared perspective is that of the “European periphery,” as their respective contributions discuss literary and cultural aspects of those areas of the subcontinent whose claim to a representative “European” identity has [End Page 119] never been an undisputed given. Therefore, whereas it is not the purpose of this assemblage to claim the status of a collective voice defining and speaking for a phantasmatic community of the “European periphery” (although it might be viewed as a tentative, non-essentializing reaching out toward such a utopian telos), it can hardly come as a surprise that individual contributions appear linked to one another by a multitude of thematic and symbolic intersections and common cultural and political concerns. The present introduction will seek not merely to trace and qualify these multiple parallels (as well as divergences) between the “peripheral visions of Europe” represented here, but also to provide a tentative theoretical apparatus for their conceptualization within an interdisciplinary framework combining a number of different discourses that, in the broadly understood field of contemporary human and social sciences, have been employed towards a global analysis of intercultural and intersocietal relations concerned with the questions of identity, marginality and minority.
The World as System and the Concept of Semiperiphery
Although situated on the cartographic, geopolitical, and/or cultural margins of Europe, the “peripheral” regions of the subcontinent have nevertheless been able, in different ways and on historically differing occasions, to lay a claim to their rightful communion in the mystique of a global perspective drawn from a Eurocentric viewpoint (the issue of the legitimacy of such a claim being of course a wholly different, eminently disputable matter). It is for that principal reason that, “peripheral” though they may be with regard to the continental center, on a global scale they should more appropriately and productively be discussed under the rubric of “semiperiphery.” The concept of semiperipheral development has been proposed and theorized within the larger framework of economic and political analysis of the “world-system,” most fully and influentially fostered by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974, 1979). Affirming itself initially through criticism of the “developmentalist” perspective in social science, which adopted “society” in the abstract as the theoretical unit for the study of social change and conceived of the world at large as a loose conglomerate of related but basically autonomous “societies,” each following on its own terms an essentially similar path of internal development, the “world-system” perspective has developed on the basis of an oppositional premise: “that the arena within which social action takes place and social change occurs is not ‘society’ in the abstract, but a definite ‘world’, a spatio-temporal whole, whose spatial scope is coextensive with...