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  • The Biblical Subtext in Branimir Šćepanović’s Mouth Full of Earth
  • Boris Bulatović

The term intertexuality has been used since the 1960s, with the transition from structuralism to poststructuralism in literary theory. French theoretician Julia Kristeva, who introduced this term to the theory of literature, deserves the greatest credit for devising its terminological definition. The term “subtext” was first used by Kiril Taranovsky1 who defined it as an already existing text in a new text.

The Bible as a book of universal value, and thereby literary value, has been for many writers a source of themes, motifs, ideas, styles and typologies. Twentieth-century criticism is dominated by theories asserting that everything has already been said in literature; all that changes is how literary material created over the centuries is manipulated. New works create their value exclusively in intertextual relation to works that comprise the literary tradition. And the Bible is treated primarily as a literary text. In the 1980s, so-called “mythological criticism” appeared, a poststructural principle of literary analysis that discovers parallels between Biblical situations and specific literary works. Attitudes towards the Bible as a subtext vary: ranging from predisposition (where the author clearly intends for the problems and ideas to relate to the Bible and does not contest the aesthetic and stylistic principles it offers), to those that completely reexamine and parody Biblical themes and truths.

In Northrop Fry’s The Great Code in which he analyses the Bible’s impact on creative imagination, he considers the Bible to be simultaneously literature and more than literature, since it eludes literary standards.

This paper focuses on issues that the author feels have not been given special attention or detailed consideration and quite different views are advanced compared to those expressed to date. If this leads to new reflections or different solutions, if it helps to understand the work of Branimir Šćepanović [End Page 279] and stirs broader interest in his work, particularly the novel Mouth Full of Earth,2 the author feels it will be his greatest achievement.

The few who have studied Mouth Full of Earth3 concentrated primarily on the problem of the absurd, linking the novel to the philosophy of existentialism. In this sense they identify it as a distinctive model of disillusionistic prose in which the writer expounds the “tragedy of the individual’s life, the hero’s downfall in the realization of his own devastating insignificance, shattered illusions that cannot prevail in the fight against reality, the deep spiritual breakdown of dramatic characters, and reveals loneliness and hatred […] and dark existential truth.”4 Or else they see in him “the absurdity of acting”5 as one of the key ideas.

If we were to interpret the ideological plane of the work from the viewpoint of an advocate of existentialism—and Serbian modernism of the 1950s and 1960s was indeed closely linked to existentialism—Šćepanović’s novel would be considered in the context of the philosophy and literature of existentialism, in which writers focus their interest on the individual not as a social being but as a moral being. The central issue is the ethical problem of good and evil, and in particular the problem of choice. A complex borderline situation is modeled in which the hero’s internal potential is revealed. The author is primarily interested in the situation and the individual’s behavior in it. This is why writers consciously decline to concretize their descriptions, placing their characters in an abstract, conditional space and time. The hero is neither a character nor an archetype, rather a personality type: a loner without a past, without social and family ties, even without a name. [End Page 280]

Interest in borderline situations leads to a broadening of the conflict, such as the moral duel between the tormentor and victim, the pursuer and the pursued (the theme of persecution). The problem of choice raises the issue of freedom. The hero determines his own fate, demonstrates his spiritual strength and confirms himself as an individual. This is the embodiment of Sartre’s thesis about freedom and choosing death. Writers are interested in the internal, ultimate possibilities of individuals who have lost all points of support except their...


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pp. 279-291
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