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Discourse 25.1&2 (2003) 272-293
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When Bombs Fall:
Becoming American During the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia (excerpts)1
The material presented here is adapted from a diary I wrote during the NATO bombing of my former home country, which was still calling itself Yugoslavia. At the time, I was living in South Florida, where I taught at a university. On 3/18/99, just before the NATO campaign began, I had submitted my application for naturalization and was anxiously awaiting a response from the INS, as I was to become stateless in a few months with the expiration of my red passport, issued in the former Yugoslavia.
Epigraph: The Telephor
Unwilling to pick up the receiver, yet intrigued by its power, my grandmother would use the phone only when she had to or when no one else was around to witness how she did it. Holding tightly onto the receiver, she'd shut her eyes in an attempt to amplify the speaker's voice, to make him present; him whom, for no reason obvious to her, she could not see. Through her tightly closed eyes, through her bent body which closed itself off from her immediate surroundings, the invisible interlocutor became visible. This was how she would get "in touch" with elsewhere, and make the absent one present. [End Page 272]
The way my grandmother made phone calls suggests that the telephone is not only an electronic device but also a figure of speech—a trope that connects distances but also disrupts the speaker's sense of place. This trope has something of a prosopopoeia in it. The speaker on this end does not, however, lend her voice to the absent other—the other has his own voice. The speaker rather lends her body, in as literal a way as it is possible to imagine, to the invisible caller. My grandmother's telephone also has some properties of metaphor, since it transfers the sense of her place (and her sense of place) elsewhere. This telephone, the voice-carrier, or better yet, this telephor, the elsewhere-transporter, is the main trope in When Bombs Fall.
On the one hand, the telephone is the actual device that brings together the community described in When Bombs Fall. On the other hand, the telephone is the trope that registers the last transformation of the former Yugoslavia, a country now existing only in a figurative sense between a specific here (the US or Serbia, in my case) and an elsewhere that is a place without precise spatial location. Here and "elsewhere" may share the same timeline, but they may also exist in two different temporal zones.
When, during the NATO bombing, I pick up the phone and hear the answer from the other side, I am not certain that the voice and I share the same now. Perhaps we do, perhaps we don't. The voice may be from my past or from my future. The voice may be from this side or from the other side, where time seems to drag on, as if its most important dimension, its coming to pass, had been seriously damaged.
I close my eyes in an attempt to understand what or who I am.
4/4/99, Boca Raton, Florida
There were Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Mostar, and Sarajevo. Vukovar was flattened. Dubrovnik's damage was more symbolic than physical. Mostar was divided—permanently, cruelly. Sarajevo, amidst death and destruction, became a town known for its high-spirited resistance. Now NATO has launched an air campaign against Serbia, which it has threatened to do since 1992 when the Serbian bombing of Sarajevo began. Now Serbia's cities are being bombarded.
To my surprise, the bombing of Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia, registers much more strongly in my emotional [End Page 273] geography than I could have anticipated, to the point that it cannot be compared to any previous disaster that happened in that country, despite the critical distance that I would like to maintain. I feel hurt and afraid and realize that I...