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  • Allegory and the Critique of Sovereignty:Ismail Kadare's Political Theologies
  • Rebecca Gould

In a controversial attempt to integrate African, Chinese, and Spanish literatures into world literary canons, Fredric Jameson argued that postcolonial texts are necessarily and inevitably allegorical. Jameson proposed that all "third-world" texts, by virtue of their relations to communities embedded within the colonial matrix, were "national allegories." Whereas Western fiction enforces a "radical split between private and public, between the poetic and the political," in "third-world" literatures, Jameson specified, "the intellectual is always in one way or another a political intellectual": "private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society" (69, 74, 69). Jameson's theses have been contested subsequently, while the category "third-world" itself has come under substantial scrutiny (see Ahmad and Lazarus). Nonetheless, the general alignment between allegory and the role of the intellectual in societies undergoing postcolonial and socialist transformations bears uncannily on the literature of Eastern European as well as Middle Eastern nations, wherein the boundaries between so-called first, second, and third world literatures are as permeable as the experience of dictatorial power in the age of multinational capital.1

Jameson's categorizations did not encompass the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare (b. 1936) nor the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), although both authors crafted substantial political allegories from non-European histories. Mahfouz's first three novels, published in the 1930s, focused on Pharaonic Egypt. The Egyptian author used past archives "as vehicles to critique current social and political problems beneath a historical veneer" (Stock vii).2 Mahfouz returned to Pharaonic Egypt towards the end of his life, [End Page 208] authoring texts such as Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth (1985).3 Confronted by analogous paradoxes of power, the Albanian and Egyptian novelist treat the distant past less as a source of knowledge of the individual than as a means of making fiction speak, allegorically, to the present. For both writers, allegory at once neutralizes the political message inscribed into their fictions and makes the publication of their work possible. This essay considers Kadare's fictions as participants in what can broadly be defined as a postcolonial conversation, and as elucidations of the dynamic Jameson terms "third-world allegory," whereby the intellectual uses his fictions to comment on society and to pursue, through fictional means, its transformation.

Buildings and Bridges

During the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire's bewildered subjects observe the Višegrad bridge—constructed in their midst in 1577 and marketed as a gift of the Ottoman state—with dismay. "They now saw with their own eyes," Ivo Andric narrates in his classic The Bridge on the Drina (1945), "that these glorious buildings involved so much disorder and unrest, effort and expense" (Na drini cuprija 22). Observing the bridge arching over the Drina River, connecting East to West, the villagers wonder if the generous bridge bequest was the blessing they had assumed it to be. Half a century later, in what has been called an "Albanian response" (Elsie, Albanian Literature 173) to Andric's novel, Kadare echoed the ambivalence expressed by the Višegrad villagers in blunter terms. "All great building[s]," declared Kadare's storyteller in The Three-Arched Bridge (1978), "resemble crimes, and vice versa" (94).4 In gazing at columns, one can clearly see "blood spattering the marble." Given that violence is "one of several persistent themes that forge conceptual cohesion within Andric's seemingly fragmentary narrative" (Kokobobo, "To Grieve or Not to Grieve" 69), the task of the critic is to elucidate why Balkan narrations of the state's sovereignty so frequently coalesce around violence. The ambivalences expressed by Andric's and Kadare's protagonists crystallize the burden of twentieth-century Balkan narrative: to show how the state's violence compromises the foundations of its sovereignty.

If great buildings are crimes, then the state is an instrument through which crimes are perpetuated. Recapitulating the process through which cities become polities, this essay traces the narrative that begins in buildings and ends in human sacrifice as explicated by René Girard. According to Girard, the scapegoat mechanism shapes all mythological and religious beginnings by...


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