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  • Metaphor of (Lost) Reign:Policies of Paternity and Post-Yugoslav Cultural Space
  • Tatjana Rosić Illić

Paternity as Metaphor of Power

The male literary voice in the 20th century has been, as Silke-Maria Weineck notes at the very beginning of her book The Tragedy of Fatherhood, "the voice of a son speaking to and about the father in tones of anger and regret, rebellion and longing, contempt, condemnation, guilt, fear, and, at times, love."1 According to Weineck, literature is in the privileged position of enabling a particular reflection of the complex relationship between "concepts of paternity and concepts of political power […], a relationship depending on the dangerous logic of the metaphor oscillates between the claim that two terms are interchangeable and the claim that they are not."2 According to her, there is particular interest in the father-son relationship in the social process of rule due to the way in which the transfer of family and social power is traditionally carried out in Western culture. This transfer is always accomplished through the male family line, by handing over authority from father to son. The son's right or demand to succeed his father brings the former into a position in which he contemplates in advance the cost of any power, including his own potential political power, rejecting or disdaining it, in the eternal dialogue, in most cases with the absent and lost or dead father, whose symbolic power, as Freud remindes us in his Totem and Taboo, is all the greater the less alive he is.3 [End Page 93]

The story of the father and the son in 20th-century literature, in both world and (post)Yugoslav literature, is thus always the story of the community. The paternity metaphor is always also the metaphor of ruling and political power and of the compromises related to ruling practices, whether or not they are successful. The omnipresent voice of the son in 20th-century world literature tells a great deal about totalitarian and authoritarian regimes in that century, about the hypocrisy of civil society willing to make all the modifications for the sake of commodification, about the impotence of that society heading towards self-abolition, and about the absence of a genuine social rebellion.

What about 21st-century literature? Or, more specifically, what about the presentations of the father and son relationship in the literatures of the former Yugoslav lands in the 21st-century, still recovering from the civil wars of the 1990s, amidst a tumultuous transition on their partially successful path to EU membership?

This paper will focus on three novels that have appeared in post-Yugoslav cultural space almost a decade since the end of the civil wars. All three novels were published almost simuntaneously between 2010 and 2012: Ultramarine, by Serbian writer Mileta Prodanović (2010), Otac (Father), by Croatian writer Miljenko Jergović (2010), and Jugoslavija, moja dežela (Yugoslavia, My Country), by Slovene writer Goran Vojnović (2012).4 The appearance of these novels in the 2010–12 period marks the moment when the issue of paternity policies in the public arena of the post-Yugoslav culture of remembrance was raised in a radically new way. The fathers in all three novels are lost or dead—the only question is the way in which they are lost or dead to their sons, the narrators of these novels, which are written in the first-person singular. The authors play with the autobiographical, confessional form, sometimes leading us to wonder whether the novels belong to the non-fictional prose genres (such as autobiography, biography, or memoires) or to pure fiction. All three writers are well acquainted with the fiction/"faction" game in which fiction and fact are constantly changing places, skillfully manipulating the emotional reactions of their readers. But we will not discuss genre in this paper. The time when these novels appeared is actually more important.

Why does 2010 represent the moment at which the relevance of the paternity issue for understanding the social and political realities of the region re-emerged? To what extent does it confront us, on the one hand, with the [End Page 94] repatriarchalization processes, and on the other hand, with the processes...


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