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Miroslav Krleza 1893–1981
Croatian dramatist, novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, critic, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents criticism of Krleza's career through 1987. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 8.
Considered the most significant Croatian literary voice of the twentieth century, Krleza wrote more than five dozen books, but has been generally ignored by Western academics and readers. Only a small portion of his work has been published in English—two novels, a short story collection, and selected writings issued in periodicals. His commitment to radical humanism led the Yugoslav government to ban most of his work until 1940, but by the early 1950s Krleza had become a major proponent of the artistic integrity of indigenous Yugoslav cultures. A master stylist who is often compared to such Western literary luminaries as James Joyce and Marcel Proust, most of Krleza's writings concern the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian empire and its transformation into a modern socialist state, while giving expression to often ambiguous themes and politics. Ante Kadic has explained that Krleza's "materialist convictions—conveyed with strong emotional impetus, his Marxist and liberal philosophy, his socialism mingled with sincere defense of personal freedom, and his readiness to defend his point of view with his own life—made Krleza highly controversial."
Born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, Krleza was sent to Hungary after graduating from high school to attend an officers' school in Pécs and then a military academy in Budapest. Although trained as an Austro-Hungarian officer, Krleza nonetheless sympathized with the Serbian nationalist cause and volunteered his services to the Serbian army in their war against the Turks in 1913. Suspicious Serbian officials, however, expelled Krleza, who consequently was arrested by Austrians, deprived of his rank, and sent to the front lines as a private when Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia in 1914. This was the same year that Krleza made his literary debut with the publication of the anti-religious drama Legenda (1914). Krleza's experience on the fronts in Galicia and Austria during World War I brought him into contact with Croatian peasants and workers, with whom he shared the horrors and hardships of war, which became a principal theme in many of his writings. Inspired by the 1917 October revolution in Russia, Krleza and other leftist writers founded several short-lived, underground literary journals, including Plamen (1919), Knjizevna republika (1923–27), Danas (1934), and Pecat (1939–40). Despite official restrictions on his works in the period between the World Wars, Krleza proceeded to write not only plays but also novels, poetry, short stories, and essays. He continued to write during World War II, but he refrained from publishing his writings until later. Publicly disgraced after 1945 because he did not actively support the Partisan cause during the war, Krleza was rehabilitated by Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito during the early 1950s and went on to win numerous Yugoslavian literary prizes and several international awards, including the Heder Prize. In 1950 he was named director of the Yugoslav Lexicographic Institute—a position he held for the rest of his life—and from 1955 to 1971 he served as editor-in-chief of Enciklopedija Jugoslavije. In 1967 Krleza actively joined the cause of Croatians to publish in their own dialect, but when Tito issued an edict in 1971 against Croatian political leaders and intellectuals forbidding them to do so, Krleza retreated into silence. He died in Zagreb in 1981.
Krleza's early plays, often likened to the romantic, symbolist style of Oscar Wilde, depict historical personages as legendary individuals struggling with self-doubt about their visionary goals and about validation of their ideas by the masses. Legenda portrays the relationship between Jesus and Lazarus's sister, Mary, who suffers unrequited love for Jesus despite the presence of his "shadow," or alter ego, which insists that Jesus betrayed his own self and his true feelings for his high ideals. Mikelangelo Buonarti (1925) presents the artist as the sensitive soul who rejects all earthly delights in favor of solitary pursuit of creative endeavors, while Kristofor Kolombo (1918) represents the explorer as a dreamer aware that his discovery of a new world will certainly succumb to the evils of the old. Themes of the horrors of war, the nullification of the past by a brighter future, and the peace obtained amid native landscapes inform Krleza's poetry collections, most notably Lirika (1919), Knjiga lirike (1932), and Pjeseme u tmini (1937). Written in the dialect of northern Croatia and influenced by Croatian folk poetry, Balade Petrice Kremepuha (1936), regarded as Krleza's formal and stylistic poetic masterpiece, traces the history of Croatian peasants from the 1570s to the 1930s, protesting the consistently intolerable conditions of peasant life under the nobility, the clergy, and the modern bureaucracy. Krleza's short stories and novels contrast the hardships of Croatian peasants with the decadence of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Intended to represent the rise and fall of capitalistic society, a series of eleven stories and three plays describe the history of the Glembay family, whose rise out of peasantry to middle class prosperity is accompanied by moral degeneration. The plays in the so-called "Glembay cycle'" feature the psychological method of dramatist Henrik Ibsen and include Gospoda Glembajevi (1928), Leda (1930), and U agoniji (1931). The novel Povratak Filipa Latinovicza (1932; The Return of Philip Latinovicz) tells the story of a once-renowned painter, who returns to his childhood home after a twenty-year absence and confronts unhappy memories. Similarly, the first-person narrative of Na rubu pameti (1938; On the Edge of Reason) recounts the story of a Zagreb lawyer's alienation from his society, which gradually resolves in his descent into madness. Krleza's other novels, Banket u Blitvi (1938–9) and Zastave (1967), focus on the relationship between the individual and his government, particularly in dictatorships reminiscent of those that came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Krleza's numerous essays on subjects ranging from politics to literary criticism display his powers of persuasion and his vast, though sometimes inaccurate and biased, knowledge.
Critics have regarded Krleza as a highly controversial writer, whether on the basis of his literary style and themes or his politics and philosophy. According to Kadic, only a few Central and Southern European critics have emphasized that "Krleza is the real initiator of Yugoslav revisionism." Although most scholars of his native land have recognized Krleza as the most significant Croatian and Yugoslavian writer to emerge during the twentieth century, some have attempted to discredit or minimize his literary and cultural acheivements, particularly for his refusal to accept government interference in cultural and literary domains. Kadic has noted that "Krleza's skirmishes with the 'socialist' theoreticians were just as bitter and dangerous as were those with the bourgeois camp." In the English-speaking West, Krleza remains relatively unknown due to the paucity of his works published in translation. Some critics have maintained that this neglect stems in part from the narrow-mindedness of Western publishers and their public, while others have attributed his obscurity in the West to the ambiguous nature of Krleza's themes and politics. The link between his politics and writings has constituted the central debate among commentators, the majority of whom have remarked on the inherent duality of Krleza's vision, which simultaneously embraces socialist revolutionary ideals and the importance of moral and artistic integrity. Some have stressed the political activist perspective of Krleza's works, arguing that his Marxist leanings show the moral and political inefficacy of the middle class, but others have countered that the common thread throughout his literary corpus affirms an abiding belief in humanist ideals. Kadic has concluded that "Krleza was and shall remain a pivotal figure, and no one interested in twentieth-century Croatian and South Slavic literature can ignore him…. He fully deserves to be ranked among the luminaries of contemporary world literature."
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Pan (poetry) 1917
Tri simfonije (poetry) 1917
Kraljevo (drama) 1918; published in Hrvatska rapsodija
Kristofor Kolombo (drama) 1918; published in Hrvatska rapsodija as Christoval Colon
Lirika (poetry) 1919
Hrvatski bog Mars (short stories) 1922
Izlet u Rusiju (travel essays) 1926
Gospoda Glembajevi (drama) 1928
Leda (drama) 1930
†U agoniji (drama) 1931; expanded edition, 1962
Glembajevi (drama) 1932
Knjiga lirike (poetry) 1932
Moj obracun s njima (essay) 1932
Povratak Filipa Latinovicza [The Return of Philip Latinovicz] (novel) 1932
‡Legende (dramas) 1933
Michelangelo Buonarroti (drama) 1925
Balade Petrice Kerempuha (poetry) 1936
Pjesme u tmini (poetry) 1937
§Banket u Blitvi (novel) 1938
Na rubu pameti [On the Edge of Reason] (novel) 1938
Dijalekticki antibarbarus (criticism) 1939
Djetinjstvo u Agramu 1902–1903 (autobiography) 1952
Aretej; ili, Legenda o Svetoj Ancili (drama) 1959; published in periodical Mogucnosti
Saloma (drama) 1963; published in periodical Forum
#Zastave (novel) 1967
The Cricket beneath the Waterfall, and Other Stories [Cvrcak pod vodopadon] (short stories) 1972
Selected Correspondence (letters) 1988
∗Dates for dramas represent first publication, except for the drama Leda.
†This work was originally produced in two acts. A third act was produced in 1959.
‡This work contains the dramas Legenda, Michelangelo Buonarotti, Kristofor Kolumbo, Maskerata, Kraljevo, and Adam i Eva.
§The first volume of this work was published in 1938, the second in 1939, and the third in 1956.
#This work originally appeared in four volumes; a fifth volume was added in 1976.
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SOURCE: "Miroslav Krleza," in Books Abroad, Vol. 37, No. 4, Autumn, 1963, pp. 396-400.
[In the following essay, Kadic provides a thematic and generic overview of Krleza's writings.]
Miroslav Krleza should not be treated as a man of letters only: his significance lies in various fields. One can safely state that his role in the establishment of the Communist dictatorship in Yugoslavia was extremely significant. There is no one who did more than Krleza to discredit bourgeois society and to orient a great number of intellectuals toward socialism.
To understand and appreciate Krleza one must locate him in his milieu, in Zagreb, during and after the First World War, when the Austrian empire was rapidly disintegrating and royalist Yugoslavia was in the process of formation. Krleza was one of the first who revolted against the megalomania and mythomania of the military clique in Belgrade, which considered the non-Serbian lands a conquered territory.
Krleza was born in Zagreb on July 7, 1893. After completing high school, he was sent first to the officers' school in Pécs and then to the military academy in Budapest. At that time the Croatian intelligentsia hoped that Serbia would play the role of Yugoslav Piedmont in national liberation and unification. Although an Austro-Hungarian officer, Krleza espoused this ideal, crossed the border and volunteered in the Serbian war against the Turks (1913). The Serbian authorities became suspicious of him and expelled him; Krleza was thereafter arrested by the Austrians, deprived of his rank and, a year later, sent to the front as a private.
In Galicia and on other Austrian fronts, Krleza came into close contact with the Croatian peasants and workers who were being killed en masse for the "despised German Kaiser"; these simple and honest people had a deep yearning for decent family life, social justice, and the expulsion of all exploiters from their fields and villages.
Disillusioned over his "nationalistic" dreams and suffering now with the underprivileged who were slaughtered like sheep, Krleza greeted the October Revolution as a promising earthquake, as a starting point for a new and better world.
Alone or with other leftist writers Krleza edited literary journals (Plamen, 1919; Knjizevna republika, 1923–27; Danas, 1934; Pecat, 1939–40). Although most of them were short-lived, being banned by police authorities, these magazines played an important role in orienting several Yugoslav writers toward leftist goals. Already in Plamen Krleza expressed his conviction that the flame which was burning in the hearts of the oppressed would soon burst forth; he insisted that the working class would be able to govern itself and others.
During World War II Krleza was in constant danger; rumors were spread abroad that he was dead. He wrote much, but more of this work remains unpublished; only fragments have appeared here and there (as e.g., his exceptionally revealing Djetinjstvo u Agramu, 1902–03). A recently launched magazine Forum has published several of his essays and his long novel Zastave (Banners, first volume), dealing with World War I and its aftermath.
Krleza is the Director of the Lexicographic Institute in Zagreb; he is the editor-in-chief of Enciklopedija Jugoslavije, a unique enterprise of historic importance; unfortunately, it omits or slanders enemies of the regime and over-praises partisans.
Krleza's first published work was his anti-religious play Legenda (1914). In it he portrays Jesus and his relations with Mary, the sister of Lazarus; she is in love with him; he knows it, but he prefers to reject her advances, being afraid that they could impede him in his obstinate search for truth and eternity. His Shadow, which is his alter ego, tries to convince him he should not fly too high, because only terrestrial things have real substance and can procure worthy pleasure; the rest is smoke and purely cerebral invention. Jesus is presented as an illegitimate child, who later abandoned his weeping mother and numerous brothers. The resurrection of Lazarus was arranged; Judas's betrayal was his revenge for rejection by Mary, who preferred the misty eyes and soft skin of the Preacher. The play, full of historical allusions and premonitions, is hard to perform; its unity lies in the writer's conviction that Jesus was untrue to himself and his better feelings. In the same spirit and pattern—a mixture of history, materialist preaching and rejection of any religious belief—Krleza wrote other short plays (such as Kristofor Kolombo, 1917; Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1918).
In 1917 Krleza published his "expressionistic" poem Pan. Here again, through the fragmented sketches, he chants the beauty of nature and joys of life as opposed to the Christian self-abnegation; he is sure that the final triumph will be with man's natural inclinations. His boys and girls wonder why, instead of love and merriment, people are taught by clergymen to pray, and lament for uncommitted sins. Krleza's most significant "symphony" is one called "A Street in an Autumn Morning" ("Ulica u jesenje jutro"), in which he deplores the stupidity of his countrymen who boast about military success, forgetting that their dear ones are hungry and their roofs are already falling in. He sees the shining Star, but is alone, because the masses still find solace in wine and military songs.
The same or similar themes—war and its horror, the rejection of the past and belief in a bright future, peace of mind found in the midst of the native landscape—are to be found in his subsequent collections of poetry (the most important being: Lirika, 1919; Knjiga lirike—A Book of Lyrics, 1932; Pjesme u tmini—Poems in the Darkness, 1937). In his "Plameni vjetar" ("The Burning Wind") he foresees the final destruction of all lies, and in his famous "Noc u provinciji" ("Night in the Province") he compares the reactionaries to dogs barking at the moon.
Krleza's masterpiece in form and style is his Balade Petrice Kerempuha (The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh, 1936). Kerempuh is an equivalent of the German Till Eulenspiegel, a peasant clown who enjoys playing tricks on persons of higher rank. In his ballads Krleza describes the sufferings of the Croatian peasants, from the time of Matija Gubec and his comrades (1573) to the present. The Illyrian movement and abolition of serfdom (1848) did not change their intolerable situation. Kerempuh does not hope, as the poet Gundulic did, that the ruling classes will one day serve their former servants; he realizes that peasants, like himself, were always exploited by noblemen, clergymen, and bureaucrats. In Petrica's songs, very much under the influence of folk poetry, Krleza is bitter, but effective; his protest is conveyed in such a masterly way that even those who were mercilessly attacked were shaken by the truth and depth of his analysis.
The hardships of the Croatian peasants, particularly during the First World War, and the decadence of the middle class are main themes of Krleza's short stories and plays; in these he reaches his greatest achievement.
In his deeply moving collection of short stories, Hrvatski bog Mars (The Croatian God Mars, 1922), all dealing with the Croatian domobrani (home guards), there are three particular stories which are considered among the best works in world literature about war and its atrocities. The first story, "Bitka kod Bistrice Lesne," describes the tragic end of seven Croatian peasants in Galicia, while at home their children are starving, their wives drink out of desperation, their parents have nobody to take care of them, and their fields remain uncultivated. "Baraka pet be" ("Hut Five B") deals also with the bloody fighting in Galicia and points to its consequences: a hospital full of patients who are divided into three catagories—those with broken and protruding bones, those with amputated legs and arms, and those whose last moment is rapidly approaching. The student Vidovic belongs to the third group. When he hears the Austro-Hungarian doctors and nurses celebrating a small victory with champagne, he decides with the last drop of his energy to throw his excrement at their rich table. Hrvatska rapsodija is a vision of Croatia and its centuries-long suffering under the cruel Magyar domination: a train is carrying the entire nation toward the battlefield; sick, hungry, mad, desperate, and bigoted people are sketched in the same tableau. Krleza is convinced that such a train must fall into an abyss to make room for a more logical life.
As many other great writers have done, Krleza also depicts a particular family, Glembay, in an effort to portray the ascent and decline of capitalistic society. In eleven stories and three plays Krleza narrates how this Croatian family, whose peasant ancestor became rich in the eighteenth century by killing a Styrian goldsmith, gradually moved into higher circles; its descendants were bankers, businessmen, government officials, and generals. Their moral dissoluteness grew in proportion to their wealth. They could prosper only in the anti-national and anti-social Austro-Hungarian empire of which they were most obedient servants. When in 1918 Austria was officially proclaimed dead, all these Glembays were already nervous wrecks, ready to commit crimes or suicide. Krleza shows them in the moment of their downfall as degenerates and criminals; through them he castigates the capitalistic system of which they were representatives.
Whereas in his Legenda Krleza was romantic and symbolist (à la Wilde) and in his Hrvatska rapsodija concentrated on the external action, in his plays about the Glembays he tried a new method: a psychological dialogue, with few characters and extremely limited action.
Gospoda Glembajevi (The Glembays, 1928) centers on the conflict between Ignjat Glembay and his son Leone; whereas the old Glembay is an embodiment of the negative aspects of his class, Leone (his son by his first marriage) is an educated and refined gentleman, who would be relieved if he could free himself from the stains of his ancestral blood. In a violent quarrel with his father he shouts that his second wife is a prostitute; the old man is ready to kill him, but dies from a heart attack; after his death it becomes evident that his "fabulous" fortune is nonexistent. His wife is desperate; losing control of herself, she uses bad terms about Leone and the nun Angelica who shares Leone's views; he becomes furious and kills his stepmother. Leone, though a strange character, is an honest man. Krleza believes that the Glembay circle, as a social monster, was predestined for self-destruction; when hidden passions and hatred surge to the surface, all polished appearances give way and petty characters betray their real nature. Krleza is a master of words and action: in the first act, when very little is happening, we sense the oncoming storm in the innuendoes between father and son; the intensity of the dialogue keeps the reader in suspense.
U Agoniji (In Agony) was written in the same year (1928). In the first act Baron Lenbach, after a humiliating quarrel with his wife Laura, commits suicide; Laura, who for three years has loved a lawyer, Ivan Krizovec, and hoped to be his wife, discovers then that she was only his transient flirt. Lenbach is degenerate and a drunkard; Krizovec wants to succeed even in this new non-Magyar environment, while Laura vibrates with intelligence, passion, and sincerity. There are few pages in South Slavic literature where psychological perception and intensity are so superb. Laura's faint suspicion suddenly becomes certitude; she is at once able to draw conclusions from certain movements, from certain expressions; she had noticed these same details before but was unable to comprehend them because she was blindly in love. Now when it is too late, she grasps everything; "I remember in the semi-darkness of the auditorium, everything happened between you and me that could possibly have happened. The light was shining on you. To your right, two rows in front of us, sat an unknown woman. You were flirting with her. All that was like a flash, and then it went out. I forgot it, but now I see that what happened in that flash was everything. Your glance in the eyes of that strange woman, my movement toward you, that was everything! I wanted a child by you that night! Yes, I so wanted to feel your hand, but you…."
In the eighth edition of this play (1962) a third act has been added; Laura attempts suicide at the end of the third instead of the second act. It is true that we learn more about Krizovec, about this extremely evasive character and his capacity for presenting his selfish motives as the benevolent gestures of a gentleman, but the question nevertheless remains if this third act adds anything to our understanding of the protagonists.
There persists the same discussion about Krleza's third play Leda (1930) as about Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard: is it comedy or drama? The author calls it "a comedy of a carnival night" and certain stage-directors in presenting it put the accent on the word "comedy." Leda is a logical conclusion of the two previous plays from the Glembay cycle: a knight, Oliver Urban, knows well that his family's prosperous days are forever gone and now attempts to obtain from life whatever he can; as a former aristocrat he has great charm which he abundantly uses in seducing the wives of his friends; the fortune is gone, but moral depravity is in his bones. Besides Urban, there is a parvenu, a green Yugoslav capitalist and industrialist, Klanfar, whose mentality is no better than that of the Glembays. The old and new exploiters are symbolically rejected by an old cleaning woman, who feels only disgust while sweeping up the remnants of their debauchery.
Krleza's novel Povratak Filipa Latinovicza (The Return of Philip Latinovicz, 1932) describes almost the same society as do his Glembay plays. Philip does not know who his father is, he has no respect for his mother of easy morals, he is devoid of any national feelings, and becomes involved with a nymphomaniac, Bobocka, who is later killed by her neurotic husband. Philip has neither roots nor principles; he believes that only art could sublimate him and mankind. Sick and tired of cosmopolitan life, he returns to his native Zagorje to find peace of mind. When his dreams evaporate under the brutal analysis of a vagabond, Kyriales, Philip loses his last chance for salvation. This novel, broad in perspective, unmasking the moral nakedness of selfish individuals, and full of sophisticated digressions, contains several passages hard to read; its action in general moves slowly.
In 1938 two novels by Krleza appeared: Banket u Blitvi (Banquet in Blitva, first and second volumes, the third having been published only in 1962, in the magazine Forum) and Na rubu pameti (On the Brink of Reason).
Although in the first novel everything is presented as happening in some northern land and Krleza uses allegorical language, it is obvious that he is depicting the regime of royal Yugoslavia; the main character is Barutanski (King Alexander): a cretin who considers himself an emanation of divine will and rules the country in a most arbitrary fashion. "Banquet in Blitva," masterfully composed, is enjoyable reading for it has not lost its actuality: it is a solid historical work presented in attractive, imaginative form.
Na rubu pameti is about an individual who revolts against the higher society to which he belongs by his education and wealth; he is proclaimed mentally deranged. He is not a mouthpiece of the author; on the contrary, Krleza often ridicules him because of his ineffectiveness. On the Brink of Reason is a mixture of realistic snapshots given in monologue form. Some critics (e.g., Marakovic) have viewed this novel as evidence of Krleza's decline.
Another of Krleza's fascinating books is Izlet u Rusiju (A Trip to Russia, 1926; second somewhat shortened and modified edition, 1958). Although he went to the Soviet Union favorably disposed toward the new socialist system, he did not write as a propagandist; he saw there both positive and negative sides. Krleza was glad to observe the enthusiasm of a working man in rebuilding his country, but he also saw the bureaucrats who enjoyed many privileges and were a great obstacle to the normal development of socialism. This travelogue is a lyrical and human document; the author understands the tragedy even of those who were dethroned by the new order. Krleza proved to be an artist who looks with open eyes at those whom he loves; he is convinced that final victory is with the proletariat, and therefore he was not afraid to point to its weaknesses.
Krleza has written numerous essays on foreign and Croatian artists. He wrote interesting, though often controversial pages on many prominent Croats (such as Juraj Krizanic, Frano Supilo, Stjepan Radic, Ivan Mestrovic and others). In reading these studies one should not expect absolute correctness in his statements or an objective and balanced judgment about his opponents (e.g., about Mestrovic "who believed in God"), but appreciate Krleza's intuition, persuasion, expressive power, and melodiousness; one should accept the necessity for his repetitions, his similes, and antitheses. When he writes, he quarrels with himself and other imaginary or real antagonists. Right or wrong, all his essays bear the stamp of his extraordinary talent and not one should be disregarded.
There are few writers who are so deeply esteemed but were so bitterly opposed as Krleza; while the majority of critics (Marijan Matkovic, Marko Ristic, Milan Bogdanovic, Sime Vucetic and others) consider him the most outstanding Yugoslav writer between two wars, the others (e.g., Ivo Lendic, Stanislav Simic) did everything they could to discredit him. Krleza did not remain silent; being a man of strong convictions and temperament, he defended himself and his beliefs. In his famous Moj obracun s njima (My Squaring of Accounts with Them, 1932) there are precious autobiographical items (e.g., about his nationalistic enchantment and later disappointment).
From his appearance on the literary horizon until 1941, and again after 1948, Krleza was constantly in the forefront. His materialist convictions, conveyed with a tremendous emotional impetus, his sometimes hard to grasp but always powerful sentences, his Marxist and liberal philosophy, his socialism mixed with sincere defense of personal freedom and his readiness to defend his point of view with his own life—all this made Krleza highly controversial and unacceptable both to the nationalists and rigid Communists. Few critics stress the fact that Krleza is the real initiator of Yugoslav revisionism. He never accepted the political ukase in literature. The writer should have, according to him, progressive ideas and then write as he thinks best. Krleza's skirmishes with the "socialist" theoreticians were just as bitter and dangerous as were those with the bourgeois camp. His death sentence was pronounced both by Stalinists and by ustashis.
To stress the unusual power of Krleza's writing does not prevent the realization that, at times, he appears to be an author not easy to read. To appreciate his formal and thematic innovations does not hinder one from seeing the light of other stars. To recognize Krleza's importance does not imply acceptance of his ideology. To respect his courage does not mean approval of his recent silence.
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SOURCE: "Krleza's Tormented Visionaries," in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. XLV, No. 4, January, 1967, pp. 46-64.
[In the essay below, Kadic establishes a biographical context for an examination of Krleza's early works, tracing his preoccupation with "tormented" protagonists.]
Since Miroslav Krleza (born in 1893) is the leading Yugoslav Communist writer and as such believes in the progress of mankind and the ultimate victory of the proletariat, Yugoslav critics have been understandably reluctant to analyse his early output, especially the plays written at a time when he was a nihilist and sceptic. A thorough examination of the early work of Krleza, in which his doubts remain unsolved, is worth-while.
For an appreciation of Krleza's early plays in which, at the beginning of his literary career, he portrayed certain well-known historical figures as idealists who gradually became disillusioned both with their own visions and with their followers, some biographical details are relevant. This distinguished Croatian writer is generally considered to be at least as good as, if not superior to, Ivo Andric. Whereas Andric (born in 1892) excels in form, Krleza's strong individuality, his early revolutionary and subsequently revisionist ideas are real cornerstones of contemporary Yugoslav leftist literature.
Krleza's solid catholic and biblical education, and his constant attachment to catholic liturgy, empty cathedrals and even village chapels should not be overlooked; it should also be stressed that he did not become an atheist and materialist through Marx, but rather by reading Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, Darwin's evolutionary theory, and Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra. Like another Croatian poet, Silvije Kranjcevic (1865–1908), whose influence on his early writing is obvious, Krleza shouts about the great nonsense that reigns in this world; he rejects the supernatural origin of Christ and his teaching, but he believes in his sincerity and goodness. He is never indifferent toward Christ: sometimes he writes that he is a 'bastard' and seducer of the weaker sex (in the poem "Jeruzalemski dijalog") and sometimes he would like to save him from himself and his illusions, as if he were his brother or friend.
In 1913 Krleza attempted to enlist in the Serbian army but was expelled from Serbia as a spy and then tried by a Hungarian military court as a deserter. Though an officer by profession, he was sent in 1915 to the Galician battlefield as a private. He became ill and feared that his last moments were approaching. His countrymen were being slaughtered en masse on various fronts for the interests of the Austrian and Hungarian militarists and imperialists.
If it is remembered that Krleza began to write in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, it will not be found surprising that the absurdity of human life and death were his favourite themes. In his first published poem, characteristically entitled "Pietà," there is the following refrain: 'We were slaughtering each other, my dear mother … Oh, why were we slaughtering each other, my dear mother?' ('Mi smo se klali, mati moja draga … O zasto smo se klali, mati moja draga?"). In his famous essay "Moja ratna lirika" ("My War Poetry," 1933), he frankly states that his early poetry was predominantly funereal. There were so many freshly-dug graves—how could he see anything else but death? In an entry in his 'Diary' for 1914 he depicts an abysmal collective cataclysm, because he saw trains incessantly bringing thousands of wounded and mutilated victims who were admitted to the hospitals for a short while and then inevitably carried to the cemeteries. On the city's streets only funeral processions were seen. It is no surprise then that Jesus, the innocent victim of Golgotha, and the laments from the Good Friday services and Dies irae ('confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis …') became Krleza's frequent leitmotiv and cherished image.
Krleza saw dark forces on every side surrounding him and those whom he loved. He knew that God was dead for him, but he saw Satan and his abominable assistants taking God's place everywhere. Having rejected the Christian faith and reached a pessimistic view of the human condition, Krleza looked in vain for a solution. He was desperate, for he envisioned his beloved Croatia, with the rest of the world, as a runaway train moving rapidly toward an unavoidable abyss (Hrvatska rapsodija, 1917).
Then suddenly, in October 1917, he heard about the Russian Revolution and Lenin. Lenin came as Krleza's salvation. Subsequently he was to devote many hymns to him which did not portray the real Lenin but Krleza's 'fantasy' about him. Lenin had replaced the Christian God: when Krleza utters the name of his idol, he is on his knees, his imagination runs free and the litany of eulogies becomes endless.
When the Yugoslav Communist Party was organised in 1919, Krleza became one of its most zealous and influential members. Between the wars he launched four literary periodicals (Plamen, Knjizevna republika, Danas and Pecat), all of them extremely important for students of Yugoslav political, ideological and cultural life.
In December 1939, Krleza published in Pecat a vitriolic diatribe against the 'orthodox' socialist realists (e.g. Ognjen Prica, Radovan Zogovic, Jovan Popovic and Milovan Djilas.) Panic, disarray and turmoil grew in leftist circles. Krleza was attacked as a renegade and revisionist; he had several faithful supporters (such as Milan Bogdanovic, Marko Ristic and Vaso Bogdanov) but the majority of the 'progressive' writers sided with those who viewed literature as a 'tendentious' instrument of propaganda. The Party hierarchy was thankful to Krleza for his undeniable contribution to the Communist cause but henceforth considered him a stubborn and incorrigible individualist and heretic.
These pre-war skirmishes perhaps explain why in 1941, when the Communists started to organise 'the war of liberation' against the foreign occupying forces, Krleza did not join the Partisan movement: his bitter enemies (such as the two Montenegrins, Djilas and Zogovic) were by then in the high command. It can thus be understood why, during the entire war period (1941–45), though in constant danger, Krleza remained in Zagreb, on the territory of the 'Independent State of Croatia'. It is almost unbelievable that 'the father of the Yugoslav leftist intellectuals' remained at home, while Vladimir Nazor (1876–1949), a leading Croatian nationalist poet, far from any leftist tendency, left his comfortable residence, though old and sick, for a precarious existence in the Bosnian mountains.
In post-war Yugoslavia Tito, after leaving Krleza for a short period in disgrace, made him one of his most intimate associates and thus placed him in a position of great power. The fanatics, such as Zogovic and Djilas, who had been courageous fighters on the battlefields, became a disturbing element during the reconstruction process: Zogovic openly supported the Cominform in 1948 and Djilas, in 1953–4, became impatient because of the slow democratisation within the new class. Krleza, on the contrary, a rationalist moderate, supported the regime; at the same time he devoted his remarkable intelligence and energy to the raising of Yugoslav cultural standards (he has various encyclopedias and precious bibliographies to his credit) and continued, with erudite and thundering eloquence, to defend creative freedom against all Party encroachments. In his numerous essays and speeches, particularly in his speech delivered during the Writers' Congress in Ljubljana, 1952, Krleza has brilliantly condemned any kind of Zhdanovism or bureaucratic intervention in the cultural domain. The present writer believes that he accepted Marxism in the economic and political fields but has remained an indomitable individualist in literature, and that he knows well—from experience—that he has created good literature when writing in accordance with his own 'sinful and fallible inspiration'.
Krleza is very popular in Yugoslavia, and enjoys the benefits of his privileged position, but he continues to live and dream in an ivory tower. The playwright Marijan Matkovic, one of the best connoisseurs of Krleza's drama, writes that Krleza is 'tragically a lonely man, lonely when he judges, when he suffers, when he doubts, when he fights'; his numerous admirers have accepted his leadership, but few have risen to the level of this giant whose 'feet are deeply immersed in the mud of Yugoslav historical reality while his head is touching the stars'.
Krleza is not different from his heroes, from his Christ, Christopher Columbus and Michelangelo, all of them surrounded by a small élite which remained passive just when their masters were sweating blood in mental agony. Regarding the masses, Krleza is firmly convinced that the head stands above and guides the movements of the lower parts of the body.
In his autobiographical essay Djetinjstvo u Agramu 1902–1903 (Childhood in Agram 1902–1903) Krleza shows such exceptional knowledge of patristic and scholastic theology, Latin hymnology and catholic liturgy that one readily believes his statement that the main interest of his childhood was his daily attendance at divine service. He was so involved in religious mysticism that he constructed a small altar at home. Later he decided to transform it into a stage for his plays.
In whatever he has written, from his first to his latest work, and in spite of his various changes in other domains, Krleza has remained adamant in his attempts to destroy those beliefs which were dear to him in his 'teens. As if he were ashamed of how stupid he was when accepting catholic dogmas blindly, as if he were suspicious that his personal enemies would accuse him of religious relapse (as they did many times), Krleza regularly raises his voice whenever he touches upon the subject of the catholic church and its hierarchy. There is such a dose of hatred in his vocabulary that one suspects it was caused by something more than mere ideological discrepancies; it seems as if something of a personal nature happened.
Krleza insists in Childhood in Agram [Djetinjstvo u Agramu] that it was Charles Darwin who opened his eyes and freed him from religious hallucinations. Having discovered that clergymen 'hide an ape's tail under their cassocks', the young Krleza became a different person. He had previously believed in original sin. Now he was glad to discover that the former ape was able to stand erect and, thanks to his own effort and creative power, constantly move upward and finally take the place of the imaginary god. When man was still superstitious, he needed the divinities, but now he knows that they were a simple product of his imagination. God, his saints, and whatever they represent, are dead forever; even man is unable to resurrect them any more.
Nietzsche's Zarathustra was translated into Croatian in 1912, and Krleza published his poem in prose "Zaratustra imladic" ("Zarathustra and the Youth") in 1914. In this paradoxical sketch Krleza's concluding sentence is most revealing: 'Doubt is in my thoughts' ('Sumnja je u mislima mojim'). Krleza also assiduously read his favourite Croatian poet Kranjcevic, whose best known poem Mojsije ('Moses', 1893), with its insistence upon the destructiveness of doubt, made a deep impact upon him.
Krleza has often written about historical figures; he is attracted by those who have played a significant role in human history; he feels an inner urge to formulate and express his own opinion about all of them; he is neither objective nor fair when he does not agree with them. But even when we disagree with Krleza's judgment we are forced to recognise that he is usually knowledgeable and never dull.
Krleza's early 'expressionistic' short plays are interesting for their consistent existentialist philosophy but are uneven in literary value and offer difficulties for theatrical presentation. In the manner of a French existentialist writer, Krleza first tests his philosophical concepts in his literary works, and then proceeds to formulate them as theses. All his books are a kind of artistic laboratory testing the anxiety, absurdity and paradox of human existence. His philosophical outlook does not fit into any definite doctrine, but is personal and original.
Krleza wrote his play Legenda in 1913 at the age of twenty, and published it the following year in Marjanovic's Knjizevne novosti. It contains the well-known triangle of Christ, Lazarus's sister Mary and Judas. Judas is mad with jealousy; he loves Mary but she is attached to Christ. Christ is aware of Mary's love; they meet in the garden lit by the moonlight, Mary caresses his feet, timid but ready to surrender; instead, Jesus asks her lovingly to leave him alone. Judas has decided to buy a piece of property with the thirty pieces of silver he will receive for the betrayal of Jesus, and thus he hopes to convince Mary to marry him.
This plot lacks originality and often approaches cheap erotic literature. All the prerequisites for a passionate encounter are there: two young lovers are left alone, surrounded by the moonlight, singing birds and floating stars. As Krleza later recognised in his speech at Osijek in 1928, his early plays suffered from 'too much lyricism and moonlight' ('puna lirske mjesecine').
The interesting aspect of Legenda is the fact that Krleza has adroitly introduced into an otherwise trite framework the Tempter, whom he labels 'the Shadow' ('Sjena'). The Shadow is in fact none other than Christ himself, his alter ego, his earthly side, which would prefer Mary's charming presence and embraces to the snoring of the three rude and boastful fishermen. The Tempter has convincing arguments: he shows to Christ, in a panorama of historical events, that his church, in due time, will not differ a bit in financial undertakings from the Jewish temple. Christ is shaken, and he appears to be ready to concede that he was wrong, but he also realises that he has gone too far and consequently there can be no honourable face-saving for him. He is aware that if he should show the slightest hesitation, he would be immediately laughed at, and would soon become either a forgotten imposter or a small carpenter in provincial Nazareth. There he would constantly meet the accusing eyes of his mother and numerous brothers, whom he has previously abandoned in utter poverty. Only if he appears firm will he be respected, become a martyr and a saint. People will then build sumptuous cathedrals in his honour, and a throng of women will weep at his tomb. Rather than an abject existence, Christ chooses posthumous fame: his spiritual pride is greater than his instinct of self-preservation.
There is a basic difference between Krleza's Shadow and the Devil who tempts Christ in the desert (Matthew 4:I-II). The biblical Tempter offers Christ terrestrial things, for which he shows no interest. He is tempted, as any other Jew would have been, by material benefits which the Jewish people expected their Messiah to bring them. In the temptations as reported in the Bible the divinity of Christ remains intact; he comes out as an incontestable victor; his inner being remains undisturbed. As soon as doubt is put into Christ's mind, and Krleza does this persistently, he is deprived of his divine aureole and placed in the category of the captain who is ready to abandon the ship because it is apparently sinking. Furthermore, Krleza's Christ is unwilling to sacrifice his own life for the sake of those who would leave him at the first disappointment.
Krleza's Christ does not belong to the category of visionaries such as T. S. Eliot's Thomas Becket. In his magnificent play Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot introduces four tempters; the first three remain in line with Christ's three temptations: they are 'temporal tempters with pleasure and power at palpable price'. These tempters encourage Becket to return to his early life, when he enjoyed merriment and women, to take supreme power in England and to become the national hero by restoring Norman political independence. Such temptations were going through Becket's mind, he knows them well and therefore is able to reject them, giving preference to penitence, spiritual power and friendship for Henry. The real danger, which Becket did not expect, arises when the fourth tempter puts into his mind the suspicion that he is relinquishing all these transient pleasures for spiritual vanity, in order to become a martyr and saint, and thus to be remembered much longer than if he had held political power in England. Kings are forgotten, but saints become powerful after their death, they 'rule from the tomb'. Thomas counters by putting his confidence in the 'good angel whom God has appointed to be his guardian'. Becket is concerned only with God's glory and therefore remains calm and confident; his faith overcomes all his human imperfections.
Whereas Eliot suggests that his hero will die for his ideals, Krleza deprives his 'dreamer' even of this honourable exit: his Christ suspects that he is mistaken, but his vanity does not allow him to retreat. Eliot accepts spiritual forces, while Krleza judges everything from the materialist point of view. Krleza's visionaries all succumb, in despair or futile bravado, because there is nothing worth dying for.
Oscar Wilde's Salomé was performed in Zagreb in 1905 and published as a book in 1912. It had a direct impact on a number of Croatian poets and dramatists, particularly on Fran Galovic (1887–1914). It likewise influenced Krleza, who drafted three variants of the play Saloma between 1913 and 1918. For instance, the name of John the Baptist in Croatian is Ivan, but because Wilde called him Jokanaan, Krleza made his name Johanaan.
Krleza's idea that Salome was madly in love with John and passionately kissed his dead lips (at the end of the first scene in Legenda) does not come from the Bible at all (Mark 6:14-28; Matthew 14:1-12), but from Oscar Wilde. Krleza writes that there was a happy expression on John's dead face when Salome kissed him, and a blissful tear fell from his eye-socket onto a silver plate. John had realised that certain things which he had ignored or despised in life could have brought him greater pleasure than eating locusts and wild honey and wearing a garment of camel's hair. In Oscar Wilde's Salomé, Salome bites John's mouth 'with her teeth as one bites a ripe fruit'; she senses 'a bitter taste of love' on John's lips. Wilde does not go further; he stops after having hinted that perhaps John would have loved Salome if only he had known her better, because 'the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death'.
Although Wilde's play created a famous scandal in Britain, it is moderate compared to Krleza's Saloma. Whereas Wilde pictures Salome in her perverted pleasure, Krleza in his play describes John the Baptist as an illiterate and stupid fanatic who succumbs easily to his first real temptation. In order to deprive John of any dignity, Krleza makes Salome an intellectual, an honest person, searching for truth and ready to accept John's ideals if only he could convince her 'of the existence of immaterial values'. But John fails miserably.
In Saloma John is an energumen who raves against Herod, Herodias and her daughter Salome. Salome plans to accept a renewed proposal of marriage from Herod, her step-father; Herodias claims that Herod is Salome's real father, but she does not believe her mother, who killed her former husband to marry his brother. Salome fears that Herodias intends to kill her too.
Salome has saved John in the past, because he aroused her sympathy by his readiness to lose his own life, wishing to put some moral decency into the royal court. She orders that John be brought to her and then tells him how much she is impressed by him. Her flattery and intimacy, particularly her perfumed body, easily turn John's head; he instantly forgets what he has been preaching and behaves as an 'uncontrollable Jew' who cannot resist the power of female proximity. Salome spends a night with him but afterwards becomes disgusted and personally asks for his head.
Here again Krleza is closer to Wilde than to the Bible: the Evangelists say that Salome requested John's head at her mother's suggestion, while Wilde writes that John became the victim of Salome's revenge. According to Wilde, she wanted him dead because he had refused her advances. Krleza implies that John was pointing an accusing finger at the sins of his countrymen because he was afraid of recognising his own weakness: only those who have experienced and accepted their human condition can be understanding and merciful toward others.
An obvious comparison comes to mind between Krleza's Saloma and Somerset Maugham's Rain (1921): Davidson too has taught his parishioners 'to make sins out of what they thought were natural actions,' while Sadie Thompson takes pleasure where she finds it. John and Davidson are severe because they are basically weak; they have about them 'a look of suppressed fire'. Both Salome and Sadie are ready to accept truth and undergo radical changes in their lives, but finally discover that both missionaries are 'filthy, dirty and hateful pigs'. Both women, previously looked upon with scorn, feel triumphant in the end.
There is, nevertheless, a great difference between Maugham's Davidson and Krleza's John: Davidson is so disillusioned with himself that he cuts his own throat; John is such a weakling that he is denied even the dignity of despair. John does not judge himself; he is instead repudiated by one whom he once called 'a harlot and a wanton'. Salome emerges as a heroine and he as a moral tramp.
In June 1914 Krleza submitted Saloma to the director of the Croatian theatre, Josip Bach, who found it impossible to produce on the stage; he remarked that it belonged to the category of such 'dramas' (!) as the Song of Solomon, the Psalms of David and Nietzsche's Zarathustra. Krleza needed both the stage experience and money, but Bach remained uncooperative.
In the autumn of 1915 Krleza tried his luck again by offering to Bach a new short play U predvecerje ('On the Eve'), but he rejected it as 'obscene' and an imitation of Stanislaw Przybyszewski. This Polish dramatist was then popular in Croatia; Krleza's introduction of Satan ('Necastivi') into his plays was probably due to the influence of this Polish 'Satanist'.
The sketch 'On the Eve' is a parody of the relationship between man and woman. Satan encourages man in his egoistic pursuit and he consequently strangles his sweetheart. Man is obsessed by high ambitions: he would like to become a famous writer and escape to Paris, but he lacks everything, particularly the intellectual and moral strength. He is typical of those good-for-nothings who spend their time playing cards and hope to achieve great things by pure wishing.
Krleza feverishly wrote further plays, which were refused either by Bach or by publishing houses. He became an 'angry young man'. Military call-up did not improve his already nihilistic attitude toward the established order. Upon his release from service in the spring of 1917 he wrote other plays which were considered equally 'unacceptable'. He then entered into bitter polemics against all authority.
Nevertheless, Krleza proved to be too powerful a writer to be neglected. As early as 1917 his poems and prose began to be published (Tri simfonije, Hrvatska rapsodija). He was no longer considered a megalomaniac, bohemian, and writer without taste. Josip Bach then showed a willingness to produce Krleza's most interesting plays, such as Christopher Columbus and Michelangelo; but in spite of their unusual plots, lyrical passages and undeniable originality, they were incompatible with the customary laws of stage production. Krleza is a much greater playwright than such men as Josip Kosor, Milan Begovic or Ivo Vojnovic, particularly during the latter's deplorable 'nationalist' period; but these three knew stage technique, which for Krleza was at this time still terra incognita.
Although Cristoval Colon (the title was later changed to Christopher Columbus) was written in 1917 and Michelangelo [Mikelandjelo] in 1918, it will be appropriate first to examine Michelangelo, which is much closer in content, ideology and structure to Legenda than is Columbus.
Krleza seems to have been fascinated since his youth by Michelangelo. He identifies himself with the great sculptor and painter and uses him as a mouthpiece for his own views on art, artistic freedom and creative experience. In his 'Diary' Krleza writes (1917) that only Moses carrying the Ten Commandments can be compared with Michelangelo working on the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel. Both were fighting, Moses with Jehovah for the sake of his people, and Michelangelo with the Unknown ('Nepoznati'), who tried to convince him how heavenly it is to lead a normal existence. Krleza confesses his attachment to those who dare to face and defy the Prince of Darkness. The golden calf and all worldly pleasures cannot procure any satisfaction comparable to that experienced by those who conceive and create their own universe.
Although Legenda is filled with lyrical elements (moonlight, stars, birds, and two lovers who speak in the language of the Song of Solomon), the present writer finds Michelangelo the more poetic. Krleza does not here indulge in lyrical phraseology; rather is his Michelangelo a sensitive soul who loves roses, caresses a spider within its web, feeds mice, sings to the rays of the sun, and is enchanted by the magic power of colours. Krleza's Michelangelo reminds one of Francis of Assisi, and at certain moments we are aware that the author recalls the Cantico del Sole and has given his hero many of the Franciscan traits.
Michelangelo was willing to renounce legitimate pleasures, such as wine and women, for the solitary path of artistic creation; he had to say goodbye to his beloved Vittoria Colonna. To paraphrase Chekhov's statement, an artist may have a legitimate wife (his daily job) but his mistress (art) is dearer to him than his wife. Michelangelo and Krleza were each happy in the exclusive company of his mistress.
Krleza insists that men who accomplish indestructible things are victorious even in death. Michelangelo lives through his work in mankind's grateful memory.
In Legenda Krleza had already demonstrated his pungent sarcasm against the catholic church: he had written of bloody crusades, the Inquisition, the destruction of forbidden books and the burning of free-minded individuals at the stake; depicted temples, cold and dark like wine cellars, full of statues honouring the 'madmen' who flagellated themselves and denied life; ridiculed the pope and his claim of infallibility. Michelangelo ends with a scene that stresses how the catholic church has enchained the great artist. In order to earn a piece of bread and pay the bills for himself and his two apprentices, Michelangelo is expected to kiss the pope's slipper and to keep silent while the 'fat and asthmatic dignitary' talks nonsense and meddles in delicate problems beyond his comprehension. The supreme pontiff departs babbling sanctimonious platitudes, his retinue eagerly and piously swallowing his passing remarks, while the artist holds in his hands thirty gold coins (like Judas) which were given to him because he had betrayed himself. He feels miserable and defeated, but he will continue to create and find meaning and satisfaction in his work.
In his novel Na rubu pameti (On the Brink of Reason, 1938), Krleza writes an inspired chapter about Michelangelo. The main character, who reminds us somewhat of the author himself, comes to Rome and visits the Sistine Chapel. In general rebellious and neurotic, he here becomes genuinely infuriated because people behave as if they were promenading on the public square; they walk in armed with guides, cameras and binoculars, look for a while at this or that painting without discrimination, exchange a few remarks, are delighted if they are found witty, and then rush out. For Krleza this place is sacred, not because it is a chapel, but because it contains Michelangelo's Dies irae, and therefore should be respected as a shrine. Everyone who has eyes to see and a brain to comprehend has an opportunity here to see and appreciate a unique work of art.
Krleza is often very sceptical about man's progress: civilisation goes forward, he says, the world is changing, but man is not. In his play Aretej he writes: 'The fact that we telephone is less important than the fact that the gorilla still speaks through us. But here, in the Sistine Chapel, Krleza points out that the theory could be accepted that human life has a deeper meaning ('nas zivot ipak ima neki dublji smisao'). Michelangelo was able to create such a masterpiece because he did not follow any formulas or dogmas, but was guided solely by his own inspiration; such a giant did not need any command—he was able to see by himself. The real artists do not accept this or that doctrine, they obey an inner voice and not external dictates; such artists create works which bear witness to man's extraordinary creative power.
The chapter 'Intermezzo in the Sistine' in the novel On the Brink of Reason, in large part reproduced in the polemic Dijalekticki antibarbarus, is of cardinal importance in Krleza's work for two reasons. First, he was fighting, at the time of writing, against those socialist realists who were trying to prescribe to the leftist writers what and how they should write in order to fulfil their duty as Party members. Krleza emphatically declares that an artist should form his own ideas and then 'create from a surplus of his energy through an inspirational process,' as he thinks fits him best. Secondly, although the leading Communist writer, Krleza never had any patience with the masses and their stupidity, and above all he is sarcastic about their lack of sensitivity to beauty. He is appalled by crowds that behave, when looking at the Last Judgment, as if they were examining a piece of cloth or a pair of shoes. Not only the candles, which damage the picture, but also all 'cloven-footed ruminants' should be removed from the Sistine Chapel, which has no parallel in the world; only those should be admitted who are able and ready to realise, in silence and contemplation, that art alone differentiates man from the rest of the animal world.
Christopher Columbus is the most consistent among Krleza's visionaries: he does not succumb to doubt like Christ and does not humiliate himself like Michelangelo; he continues to believe in the accessibility of the astral world and accepts no compromise. Christ dies so that others shall cherish his memory, while he himself is aware that his cause is forever lost; Michelangelo degrades himself in order to create beauty for which mankind would gladly forgive him his weakness; Columbus discovers the New World, but he immediately senses that his great discovery will serve purposes totally alien to his goals—in the new continent, as in the old, there will be interest and profit, banking enterprise, greediness, slaves, rulers and ruled, rich and poor. Columbus undertakes his perilous adventure in the hope that the New World will be really new in every respect, will be a striking denial of the poverty, stupidity, tyranny and bigotry prevailing in the Spanish realm.
Columbus lets 'the pygmies' enjoy the fruits of his labours. He sails on because he cannot stop for a second; he is much in advance of his contemporaries. He is one of those predestined to dream because no reality can satisfy their yearning. Even stars become muddy for them in contact with the earth and its inhabitants. Columbus is never motivated by hope of personal triumph, posthumous glory. When he is assailed by the Tempter ('Nepoznati') he does not vacillate, because he is made of an indestructible spiritual substance. He derives his strength from a faith that the stars can be reached, not for his own benefit but for that of others, so that their lives may become bearable through change and constant improvement.
Columbus dies crucified by his own crew, repudiated because he will not accept the New World as a second edition of the old one. He is another Prometheus, but his destiny is much worse than that which was suffered by Aeschylus' legendary hero; Prometheus was chained to a Caucasian mountain by the envious Zeus, but here human beings crucify and spit at their benefactor. Whereas the biblical Christ dies on his cross praying: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34), Krleza's Columbus expires shouting to the sailors that the approaching land is a great fraud and all their leaders are impostors.
In 1955 the Belgrade theatre finally succeeded in producing Christopher Columbus. Krleza then wrote an epilogue in which the dying admiral expresses his faith in the victory of man, in the possibility that man will be able to bring his life into accord with the high ideals of humanism and beauty.
Krleza indicated, first in his speech at Osijek (1928) and then in Moj Obracun s njima (My Squaring of Accounts with Them, 1932), that as a student and apprentice dramatist he had read many writers (such as Petöfi, Tolstoy, Wedekind, Strindberg), but he paid special tribute to Ibsen, saying that his own dramatic trilogy Glembajevi (The Glembays) was 'qualitative, psychological, and concrete in the Ibsen manner'. Ibsen is already present in the early plays of Krleza, in which exceptional individuals stand isolated and apart from the masses.
Two of Ibsen's dramas in particular come to mind here: An Enemy of the People and The Master Builder. Public opinion is unstable, Dr Stockman realises, for the same man one day is considered a savior, only to be rejected the following day as 'the enemy of the people'. Dr Stockman therefore despises the masses and believes solely in individual action. The master builder Solness hangs a wreath around the vane on his house-top and then falls to his death. Hilda hears a song in the air, because she alone believes in the master builder and encourages him to mount to the top. Solness is hated by his assistants because, by his extraordinary personality and achievements, he has kept them subordinate for so long; they would like to see him stay quietly below. But the old master cannot become one of them; his greatness and his tragedy consist in being different from them.
Ibsen's characters stand above the crowd; there is no contact between the two. Even physically they are not on the ground, not to be found among common people, on the market place; they stand high, close to the stars, as if the proximity of terra ferma were incompatible with their being. Krleza's protagonists are also unusual characters; they fight their battles and are despised by ordinary people. They too stand above the ground: Michelangelo works high on the scaffolding and Columbus, like Christ, is crucified on the mast.
In all his early plays Krleza emphasises the lack of understanding and communication between leaders and followers. In Legenda, during Christ's agony in Gethsemane his three favourite apostles are sleeping; not only is he betrayed by one of his disciples, but Peter, to whom he gave the keys of his kingdom, becomes frightened by a simple maidservant and swears that he does not know him. Michelangelo is equally alone: he has said goodbye to Vittoria Colonna, because he feels that she would be an impediment to his creation; he who loves all God's creatures has no friends among human beings. Churchmen do not trust Michelangelo's art, and artists are jealous of him; his two assistants, who help in his work and eat with him, do not understand their master. There is no one with whom to speak, no one to whom he can express his doubts or confide why his work is not progressing. When he attempts to mix with people, they immediately recognise that he is not one of them and chase him away. In Columbus, as in Legenda, there is a small élite around the leader: they interpret the admiral's plans to the rebellious crowd; they are intermediaries between this solitary figure and those who do not understand his language. But even this élite, 'the salt of the earth, the light of the world', abandons the admiral, turns the tired and greedy sailors against him, and crucifies him when it becomes evident that they do not share the same ideas.
Neither in these early plays nor in his later work, written when he was well indoctrinated and accepted as a foremost Communist writer and ideologist, does Krleza assign a leading role to the proletariat. It is true that he has written with great understanding and sympathy about peasants and workers—particularly in Hrvatski bog Mars (Croatian God Mars, 1922) and Balade Petrice Kerempuha (The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh, 1936), and that he has done his best to see their miserable condition improved; but whenever he conveys his ideas on how the world should be destroyed or reformed, he chooses his mouthpieces from among the intellectuals, who are incapable of and uninterested in establishing meaningful contact with their fellow-men—for example in his novels Povratak Filipa Latinovicza (The Return of Philip Latinovicz, 1932), Na rubu pameti, 1938, and Banket u Blitvi (Banquet in Blitvia, 1938–9).
Christopher Columbus, in which the admiral is rejected and crucified not only by the rank and file but also by his intimate collaborators, Krleza dedicated in the autumn of 1917 to none other than Lenin! The author soon realised the incongruity of this dedication and a year later, when he published the play, he omitted any mention of him. Krleza's detractors (particularly Josip Bach) noticed this change and claimed that he was hiding his leftist leanings.
Five years later, in 1924, Krleza gave an interesting explanation. Thinking about Lenin, he confesses, he imagined him as a circle revolving around itself, a solipsist, a disciple of Stirner and Schopenhauer. 'Since at that time I did not look at things clearly, but through misty symbolism, I did not think of Lenin as Lenin, but as a desperado, who like Bakunin would like to ram through the wall with his own head.' Lenin was for him another solitary Columbus who torments himself and sails toward nirvana. In this mood he wrote Columbus 'which with Lenin as such had no connection. The events of the spring and summer of 1918 convinced me that this dedication of mine was a random shot, and having realised this, I decided to remove it.' Lenin afterwards became for him a symbol of 'humanism, willpower, self-confidence, and sailing under a full wind'.
This passage shows not only how Krleza had conceived of Lenin during the October Revolution, but also helps us to understand the spirit in which he wrote the play about the admiral who, obsessed by doubts as to whether it is worthwhile to discover the new continent, decides to sail toward nothingness.
We have seen Krleza's predilection for depicting important historical figures as legendary heroes, visionaries, individuals tormented by anxiety over the validity of their own goals or the capacity of the masses to follow them. Lenin too, in Krleza's subsequent writing, has much in common with all those who have suffered for their ideals. Lenin is not a real man, such as we know him from history; he is a myth, an idol whom Krleza has adorned with super-natural qualities; he is the saint whose shrine is in the middle of Moscow, and Krleza is happy to worship there; very few of the faithful in Mecca or Jerusalem could compete with Krleza when he starts to enumerate the Herculean deeds of this new divinity.
Krleza's obituary of Lenin is written in his usual half-biblical, half-mythical jargon. This new Archimedes who dared to uplift the globe, this second Prometheus, is the hero of the final Palm Sunday whom thankful mankind welcomes by 'cutting branches from the trees, by spreading cloaks upon the road and shouting jubilant Hosannas'. He who was lonely, like Bakunin, and treated like a madman when he predicted events which nobody would believe, is now a gigantic lighthouse on the other side of the shore; he is the only guide to the harbour of salvation.
The May 1924 issue of the periodical Knjizevna republika was devoted entirely to the memory of Lenin. Therein appeared Krleza's story presenting Lenin through the eyes of the home-guards Gebes and Bencina. This story is interesting both because it reveals the home-guard Gebes' enthusiasm for Lenin on account of his anti-militarist slogans, and because it shows that Krleza had heard about Lenin from the Croatian soldiers who were prisoners in Russia. In this sketchy story Lenin is compared to the Croatian peasant leader Matija Gubec, who in 1573 led a rebellion against the feudal lords with the slogan 'for the old rights' ('za stare pravice').
A year later Krleza visited the Soviet Union and wrote Izlet u Rusiju (A Trip to Russia, 1926) which has recently enjoyed two new editions, enlarged and partly changed. Its most revealing chapter is entitled 'Leninism on the Moscow Streets' ('Lenjinizam na moskovskim ulicama'). Here again Krleza uses biblical phraseology: he calls Lenin master and rabbi, the Word at the beginning and the Light in the darkness. According to Krleza, Lenin said to his disciples: 'And I say unto you, the gates of hell shall not prevail against me!' Lenin is compared with Christ and Mohammed, who became more powerful after their deaths than they had been during their lifetime. The guard around Lenin's mausoleum reminds Krleza of the holy sepulchre on Good Friday. Lenin is already deeply rooted in the soul of the Russian people; his name sounds soft, warm, quiet and peaceful. He is slowly captivating Moscow as a strange and 'unbelievable legend'.
Krleza's Lenin is closer to Mayakovsky's portrayal in his poem on Lenin (1924) than to Gor'ky's (1924). Whereas Mayakovsky identifies Lenin with the Party (for him the two are the same), Gor'ky's warm tribute to Lenin, one of the best pieces written about the Soviet leader, shows the vast contradictions between the man and the politician. Krleza lacks Gor'ky's knowledge of the facts and Mayakovsky's emotional involvement with the goals of the deceased 'prophet' and his anguish for the future of the Russian proletariat.
Krleza has continued to write periodically about Lenin. His articles and occasional writings were collected in 1963, in the Belgrade newspaper Borba, under the title 'Themes on Lenin' ['Lenjinske teme']. Lenin is called the Lighthouse, Ideologue, Constructor, Hope of the Slaves, Standard-Bearer, and so on. But Krleza himself recognises that he has not yet depicted Lenin artistically.
This is perhaps understandable when Lenin's significance for Krleza is recalled. Lenin delivered him from his terrible depression in 1917, caused by personal disillusions and by war and its atrocities. Lenin came at the right moment for Krleza, who welcomed his anti-militarist slogans like manna from heaven; he captivated Krleza, gave him courage to live and made dialectical materialism his professed creed. Krleza is unable to look at such a man objectively. His heart is guided by principles which are alien to human logic; without Lenin the chaotic world would have been complete darkness for him.
Krleza has never ceased questioning, doubting, and being disappointed by almost everyone and everything. It seems that he is a successful writer when depicting protagonists who struggle with their tempters but not when placing someone on an altar in place of the Christian God. Such a posture of worship does not correspond to his nihilistic mentality. He is more convincing when destroying old temples than when erecting new.
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SOURCE: A review of The Return of Philip Latinovicz, in Saturday Review, Vol. 52, No. 46, November 15, 1969, p. 48.
[In the following review, Mihailovich discusses the themes in The Return of Philip Latinovicz, lamenting Krleza's lack of recognition by readers in the West.]
Paris had its Balzac and Zola, Dublin its Joyce, and Croatia has its Miroslav Krleza. Many of his works deal with the tribulations of the Croats under the ungainly Austro-Hungarian Empire. He is one of the two leading Yugoslav writers today (the other is Ivo Andric), a distinction he won almost half a century ago with the short-story collection Croatian God Mars [Hrvatski bog mars]. His other major works include the plays In Agony [U agoniji] and Aretheus [Aretej] and the novels On the Edge of Reason, Banquet in Blitvia [Banket u Blitvi] and The Banners [Zastave].
The Return of Philip Latinovicz, Krleza's first novel, was published in 1932, during the modernistic, almost expressionistic phase in his development. The novel's main dialectic—art vs. life—is also a variation on the Return of the Native theme.
After spending twenty-three years in West European capitals, where he was imbued with savoir-faire, dilettantism, and world-weariness, Philip, a young painter, returns to his home town in a Godforsaken Croatian plain. The time is the late 1920s. Though the trappings of Austrian rule have become things of the past, life in the small town has hardly changed; on the contrary, everything seems to be as usual—the powers-that-be, the thin crust of intelligentsia alienated from the people, the squalor and hopelessness of a "stuffy backwater." Philip, "a godless, westernized, restless bird of passage, nervy and decadent," soon realizes that even here "somebody is always being hunted" and that "devouring goes on everywhere."
Yet these philosophical conclusions seem to bother Philip less than his inability to cope with two women, each in her own way diametrically opposed to his artistic nature: his primitive, sensual mother, concerned with her unbridled lust and with the perpetuation of her privileged status as a woman of pleasure for the provincial establishment; and a youngish widow, the femme fatale of the novel, who is just as sensual and morally loose but who wields a much greater destructive power because of the illusion of happiness she offers her men. In addition, Philip has been plagued since childhood with the question of his father's identity. All these trials make his homecoming a tortured experience and his future increasingly doubtful. He tries to find refuge in his art, only to realize that "art is a fine thing but life is a serious matter."
The love story and the dilemma of the artist in a prosaic world are only two aspects of this short but significant work. They serve Krleza as a framework for his commentaries upon life, Kulturphilosophie, social order, and human foibles. As a far-left revolutionary, he is bitter, blunt, and pessimistic about the future of bourgeois society. The world he presents is filled with mud, slime, rot, perfidy, bleakness:
People move like wax dolls, scratch the napes of their necks, chew tobacco, and leave behind them a cloud of cigar smoke, the reek of their bodies and of misery. Every individual drags around with him the enormous circles of his own existence, his own warm entrails and other persons' warm entrails, from which he has issued like a worm, to crawl and twist, to bite and prick with his poisonous sting, to eat and devour; and others devour him, and have harnessed him, and beat him about the head with a whip. Everything moves in circles of resistance and starvation and horror, and amid all this painting is a largely unknown and superfluous matter.
This pessimistic stance does not derive from Krleza's obvious fondness for philosophizing but rather from his indictment of an industrialized capitalist society and its by-product—a neglected provincial town.
The author walks the tightrope of social criticism without slipping over into preaching. Moreover, due to his artistry this traditional, almost old-fashioned novel is still charming and refreshing. A certain long-windedness and seemingly endless descriptions are compensated by a wealth of detail, exquisite character sketches, fine nuances, and a sharp eye for color and shape. Krleza is a master of hint and allusion, and he knows how to keep his distance. His pessimism—even at times nihilism—and his irony, often turning to sarcasm, are tempered with humor and compassion. Though somewhat contrived and methodical, his novel still packs a terrific punch. The final scene resembles that of Dostoevsky's Idiot, when Rogozhin and Prince Myshkin sit numbly and disconsolately beside Nastasya's corpse.
Many Yugoslav writers are indebted to Krleza, more than they realize or admit. One of the most political of Yugoslav authors, he is at the same time one of the most accomplished, profound, and meaningful, not only in Yugoslav but in European literature. That he has been bypassed for the Nobel Prize bespeaks the sad fate of many excellent but little-known writers from "peripheral" countries. The Return of Philip Latinovicz is Krleza's first major work to be published here. In this excellent translation it should convince the reader of the author's power.
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SOURCE: A review of The Return of Philip Latinovicz, in The New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1970, pp. 4, 26.
[In the following review, Pawel praises Krleza's "demythification" of evil and commitment to moral and artistic integrity in The Return of Philip Latinovicz.]
Miroslav Krleza (Kirlezha), the formidable Croat who has dominated Yugoslavia's literary landscape for nearly half a century, remains virtually unknown in the West. His is not the only such case and again reflects at least in part the parochialism of Western publishers and their public; but the ambiguities of Krleza's themes and politics have no doubt contributed to the neglect of a writer who, ironically, happens to be quintessentially Western—or more precisely Central European—in the scope and sources of his work.
Born in 1893 in the then Austrian city of Zagreb, raised in a Budapest military academy, Krleza came of age in the twilight gloom of the Hapsburg empire and shares unmistakable affinities with his German-language contemporaries of the Prague-Vienna literary renaissance, from Kafka to Kraus and from Schnitzler to Musil. What set him apart from the very beginning was an unfashionably undespairing commitment to radical humanism, that is, faith in radical politics tempered by a clear-eyed awareness of its limits in the affairs of men. Most of his lifelong troubles as a citizen and author stem from a stubborn refusal on his part to betray these principles or modify them in accordance with political expediency.
His first major work was a play born of his World War I experiences, a powerful protest in the manner of the early O'Casey whose timely relevance—a Croat officer going against his conscience and following orders by executing a peasant woman for some trivial offence—probably points up nothing more profound than the essential timelessness of inhumanity. The play was banned an hour before its scheduled opening, the rulers of newly independent Yugoslavia having quite accurately read its message as anti-murder rather than anti-Austrian and considered it subversive.
This dramatic debut in 1920 set a pattern. Krleza, with a versatility probably unique in contemporary letters, has since then created an immense body of work consisting of over fifty volumes of plays, novels, poetry, essays, political and literary journalism, all of it impressive and much of it outstanding. But up to 1948, through the successive eras of monarchy, military dictatorship, Nazi occupation, liberation and until Tito's break with Stalin, most of his output remained officially proscribed.
The ban, largely ineffectual at first, given the well-organized Communist-led underground of the twenties and thirties, served to project Krleza into the role of revolutionary idol. He accepted it gracefully enough, but when it came to the inevitable test, he proved quite unwilling to barter away his artistic integrity in the interest of party loyalty. His slashing attack on what he characterized as the nonsensical notion of Socialist realism not only cost him the adulation of the student rebels of his day but also, by depriving him of underground support, effectively condemned him to silence until Yugoslav communism itself deviated sufficiently to forgive one of its prodigal old men. By 1950 all his books were in print for the first time in his life; he himself has since than been heading the Yugoslav Lexicoggraphic Institute, but a panoramic four-volume novel published over the past five years bears witness to the fact that neither age nor a full eight-hour day in a major executive position can seriously interfere with his creative drive.
Such prolific vitality has its drawbacks, especially since none of Krleza's books represents more than a fragment of his genius. But The Return of Philip Latinovicz, the only one thus far available in English, is not a bad choice by way of introduction. This uncommonly sensitive translation by Zora G. Depolo, originally published in 1960 and now reissued, captures the echo of Krleza's own voice in a novel written nearly 40 years ago but vibrant with a kind of lyrical cynicism oddly contemporary and at the same time characteristic of its author.
The protagonist is a has-been painter come home to the small town of his childhood after a 20-year absence. Languidly he probes a past composed of bright visions and dark secrets, trying to retrieve some inspiration for his canvasses. His painter's eye records the profiles of land and people; but beyond the surface features lies the desert of the soul, and Philip's quest, as he himself well knows, is doomed right from the start. His mother, now smugly settled into near-respectability, had once been a high-class whore, the favorite of counts and bishops, and could not possibly reveal to him the true identity of his father even if she wanted to. Philip in turn proceeds to re-enact the fatal myth by drifting into a sado-masochistic liaison-à-trois with a nymphomaniac ex-countess fallen on bad days and the ex-lover who tripped her. The obsessive affair yields a brief burst of creative inspiration before exploding in the sterility of violence and leaving Philip face to face with his own death in life.
The indissoluble unity of moral and artistic integrity is one of Krleza's recurrent themes; so is his demythification of evil, an almost serene acceptance of decadence, decay and death as sources of life rather than of either guilt or redemption. Both are aspects of his abiding commitment to the concepts that have inspired all his work.
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SOURCE: "A Critical Literary Approach to Miroslav Krleza's The Return of Filip Latinovicz," in Journal of Croatian Studies, Vol. XIV-XV, 1973–74, pp. 134-44.
[In the essay below, Ferguson assesses the meaning of The Return of Filip Latinovicz, distinguishing between Krleza's viewpoint and Filip's to suggest the novel's tragic intent.]
The most noticeable feature of criticism of Miroslav Krleza's novel The Return of Filip Latinovicz is the divergence of opinion as to "what the novel is about." Potential difference of opinion appears all the more remarkable when it is considered how little surrounds other Croatian novels regarding "what they are about." Should this novel be read as a treatment of man's search for identity in society or his attempt to flee from society and himself; as a political statement by Krleza about the shallowness of bourgeois society; as a dramatic presentation of a discussion upon the importance of beauty and art; as an assertion of man's fundamental need of love for life to be meaningful; as a revelation of the psychological problems created by an acute sensitivity towards life; or even as a sort of comic-fantasy? To suggest that the novel is a mélange of these interpretations may in fact be nearer the truth. This would imply, however, that The Return of Filip Latinovicz is characterised by thematic inconsistency and contradiction. Yet Filip as a character is highly consistent in his psychological make-up: no episodes strike the reader as being out of place or in any way unnatural to Filip's behaviour. Similarly, the structure of the novel exhibits a cohesion which can be broken only by artificial distinctions. A distinction might be drawn between Filip's actual return from Kaptol railway station to Kostanjevec (parts 1-8) and his residence at Kostanjevec (parts 8-end), yet this distinction does not comply with any thematic change in the novel. Furthermore, the introduction of other characters as the novel develops does not result in any thematic changes, despite the fact that several parts of the novel are used for the purpose of the narrator's extensive probing into their backgrounds. Filip remains central to the novel, for it is he who is the psychological recipient of the existence and actions of the other characters. This stems from the fact that the reader enters the novel with Filip and perceives its action from his point of view. It is from this last statement that most of the problems as to "what the novel is about" arise. Formally, it is the difficulty for the reader to distinguish between the narrator's voice and the voice of Filip. Informally, it is the difficulty to distinguish which is the author's point of view and which his character's. The problem is evident throughout the novel, but a single example will clarify the point:
- He was dreaming of his new composition, a bare, female
- belly, darkly illumined by a boy's sad and morbid
- The only creative reality is what initially shocks
- our senses: man really sees only what he notices for
- the first time. Painting is and should be nothing else
- but a visionary experience of the space before us, for,
- if not that, it has no justification. Otherwise it is
- only the sticking together and patching up of familiar
- and already painted pictures, a mere multiplying of
- what has already been seen. It is like that boring
- children's pastime in winter of sticking transfers on
- to paper, wetting them with their fingers. Sticking
- together and rearranging, that is all artistic styles
- and trends and schools are, but all this had
- nothing to do with Filip since he refused to follow
- any artistic trend, style or school.
How does the reader distinguish between Krleza's and Filip's "point of view" in this passage? Lines 1-3 are purely narrative, the words "he was dreaming" possibly preparing the reader for an insight into Filip's thoughts in the following lines. Yet the lines 4-13 might come from either the voice of the narrator or the thoughts of Filip. Lines 13-17 are also problematic since although the indication is that the narrator is speaking (Filip/he), there is a continuation of the train of thought of lines 4-13, and there has been no change of paragraph. There is a further potential ambiguity in that if Filip is thinking in lines 4-13 then he may be addressing himself in lines 13-17. It is difficult to illustrate the full extent of this stylistic weakness in the novel as a whole without much broader reference. It is, however, easy to see the consequences of the reader's inability to distinguish the points of view of narrator and character in this particular context. The reader can not be sure whether the passage is introspection on the part of Filip or a statement from the narrator. Thus, there is an implicit accompanying problem as to what the relationship is between the narrator and his central character Filip. The reader may wish to sympathise with true introspection on the part of Filip, but objectively criticise any statement inserted by the narrator. According to how he "reads" this context, the reader can state that it is either about an individual searching his mind, or an intrusion by Krleza so that he can expose his views about the true nature of artistic creation.
If one conceives of this problem on a general scale throughout the novel where it is not purely descriptive, it becomes immensely difficult to find a workable answer to the overriding question—"what is the novel about?" Even if one were to suppose that Krleza and Filip have identical points of view, the difficulty is still not resolved. In sympathising with Filip, the reader must necessarily be sympathising with the author's own point of view and thus he is denied any objective view-point towards the novel and events in it. But should the reader fail to sympathise with Filip, the novel will then appear as a bias from the author and the whole purpose of writing the novel from Filip's point of view will be of an entirely negative effect.
It is, therefore, of axial importance that the reader should have an understanding of both Krleza's and Filip's point of view disassociated one from the other. It is essential also that the reader should have some knowledge of the author's attitudes independent of his novel. Only in this way can the reader explain the incongruity of an author who is inseparable from his hero. Furthermore, an understanding of the author's point of view will resolve much of the trouble confronting the reader considering the question "what is the novel about?" for it will inform the reader of the author's attitude towards Filip. The crucial question in this respect is to what extent does Krleza see art as being realistic.
In the same year as the publication of The Return of Filip Latinovicz, in 1932, the concept of socialist realism was developed and adopted by the Association of Soviet Writers. In essence it required the artist "to represent reality in its revolutionary course of development, in a true and historically concrete manner." Krleza's attitude towards his novel was fundamentally different from the socialist realist outlook. He supported the idea of "art for art's sake," since for him it was a protest against the reality of the time, on which the artist turned his back in disgust. Since the debate on socialist realism did not reach any profound level until after 1948 in Yugoslavia, one may safely assume that the attitude which Krleza expressed in a search in this debate in 1952 is representative of his earlier attitude:
Artistic creation is linked to the temperament of the artist … to write down does not mean to describe the realities of life, for if writing in the literary sense meant simple everyday description, then every clerk would be a writer.
For Krleza, art was not obliged either to serve society or directly to reflect reality. In other words, it all depended upon "the temperament of the artist." He is thus, undoubtedly sympathetic towards Filip when he writes: "he refused to follow any artistic trend, style or school." It is interesting here to notice the main argument leveled against Filip's artistic attitude. This argument dominates at least three parts of the novel and it comes not surprisingly from the cold, intellectual philosopher Kyriales. It is not merely coincidental that the Greek is also a suicidal.
A self-respecting cosmopolitan civilisation should have its windows open on reality, it should have parks and fountains, but real parks and real fountains: for the civilised people of tomorrow there will be no need of baroque-scene-painting! From the beginning painting has only been a sort of substitute for reality! What do I want today with your picures of people with bad teeth and debts? What is the purpose of such paintings? They are absolutely useless.
Kyriales opinion is essentially two-fold. First, that art is a substitute reality. Secondly, that as such it is devoid of any sense of purpose and is utterly useless. Krleza shows this attitude to be hopeless in that Filip has a burning desire to paint a "street scene" but the artist can not reflect the reality of that scene in totum, as he can not capture the smells, sounds and movements of the scene in reality, in his painting. That Kyriales should have a hopeless attitude toward art is a clear indication of his suicidal attitude towards reality. Art is useless for the Greek simply because it can not fulfil an impossible task. Whilst Kyriales is a decadent bourgeois, his argument is similar to that of the later concept of socialist realism, in which it was argued that art did not need to falsify reality.
The increasing awareness of Filip as an artist that he can not reflect reality becomes a dynamic force in the novel. It leads him into the psychological state in which he can perceive of his situation as being "comic." More profoundly it leads to the tragedy of the novel—the tragedy that Filip's conditioning by one social reality can not be acted against within that same social reality, even though as an artist he may perceive something outside his conditioning by the bourgeois social reality. This point will be returned to since it is the key to the overriding question "what is the novel about?" Before it can be analysed in detail, two other aspects of the novel must be considered: one in relation to Krleza, the other in relation to Filip.
Krleza's attitude towards art tells the reader something fundamental about the attitude of the author towards The Return of Filip Latinovicz: that the novel is not an attempt to reflect social reality, in some way to re-create in literature bourgeois society in totum. "To write down does not mean to describe the realities of life." Thus, a criticism of this novel on the grounds that bourgeois society is "not like that in reality" is a misplaced criticism, although as has been shown it is to some extent pardonable due to the difficulty of distinguishing between the "points of view." But since the novel is written from Filip's point of view in the broadest sense of that term, the criticism is misplaced in that it necessitates an objective view of "what bourgeois society is really like" whilst the novel for the greater part presents bourgeois society as Filip perceives it, a subjective viewpoint. Filip is characterised quite deliberately by Krleza as being ultra-sensitive, so that the environment of Kostanjevec naturally appears all the more hostile in his eyes. To criticise the novel on the grounds that it is based on an inaccurate description of the "reality" is thus unjust, unless it is applied purely to the areas in which Krleza is writing objective narrative. More important, however, is the fact that a criticism which is based upon how true a picture of reality the novel presents, will miss much of the psychological depth of the work and the profound symbolism which is contained in the sub-consciousness of the artist, Filip.
Only rarely is symbolism a direct representation of objective realism. Symbolism must be associated with a particular perception, that of a character, of reality, and as such may be quite different from what is the objective reality. In The Return of Filip Latinovicz there are two angles from which symbolism enters the novel: Krleza's and Filip's. Most frequently their two views are intricately associated. Above, it was suggested that criticism based upon what was "reality," as the reader perceived it, was unjust unless applied to the areas in which Krleza has an "objective narrative" viewpoint. The discovery though, that Krleza uses symbolism, and that extensively, throughout the novel, undermines any assertion that there is any attempt by the author to make "objective narration." The whole novel is in a sense symbolic; it is "a return," not only to Kostanjevec but to the problems of Filip's childhood, a search for home, for a father, for the childhood ego of the adult being. To understand the animal symbolism of the novel, the reader must appreciate the lack of "objective narrative," and the psychological vein of Krleza's interests must come to the forefront of the reader's attention. To suppose an "objective narrative" from Krleza makes recurrence of the characters symbolised as animals quite ridiculous, as people are not in objective terms "animals" although bestial sides to their character might exist. The direct influence of Darwin on Krleza can be detected in this symbolism. For Krleza "it is art that differentiates man from the rest of the animal world." Thus, since both the author and Filip are artists, they will both symbolise characters in the form of animal imagery. Similarly, the colour imagery of the novel comes both from the narrator's descriptions ("the grey Pannonian mists") and from the perception of Filip ("for Filip everything was grey"). Colours interact throughout the novel, just as the characters do—greys predominate, symbolising the gloom of Filip's mood; reds appear in association with blood and sexuality; greens are symbolic of degeneration frequently generating reds. Black and white, darkness and light, in both mental and physical contexts, are often quite crudely juxtaposed within descriptions of incidents and scenes. Colour symbolism is an important feature of the novel, a feature which substantiates the suggestion that Krleza's attitude towards the novel is far more complex than an attempt "merely to describe reality." When Balocanski questions Filip on the latter's relationship with Bobocka, it is the candle and the light which it creates, stunning Balocanski's eye-sight, that forces him out into the open, into the light.
"The fact is: there are times in life when one …" Balocanski fell silent again. He was not looking at Filip, but at the orange halo round the candle, the light green ring which radiated red light, like some strange rocket. This circle of light had attracted his attention and he was aware that he had to talk about certain decisive matters here, but the light was something completely apart from everything else, as if placed above everything and it spluttered loudly and flickered in a drop of molten tallow as if alive. This lasted for some time and then as if awakened from sleep and stepping into a newly revealed space, he said in a very low voice, almost intimately: "I know everything that is going on between you and Boba!"
As in the above context, psychological reality and objective actuality constantly relate. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the mood of Filip. It is the result of his situation in bourgeois society, his past, his ultra-sensitivity, his artistic perception and his febrile introspection. The decay of bourgeois society is paralleled by the decay in the mentality of Filip:
Life began to split up in Filip into its component parts; within him the incessant, analytical disintegration of everything grew increasingly active, becoming an end in itself, a process which, for quite some time now, had automatically tended towards disintegration. This mental destruction of everything that came to his hand, or appeared before his eyes, was slowly giving rise to an idea which began to haunt him more and more obstinately, from one day to the next: according to his own conception of his subjective life, all meaning, even the slightest, was disappearing. His own life had somewhere broken away from its foundations and had begun to turn into a phantom that had no reason whatsoever for existence; and this had been going on for some time and was growing more and more burdensome and exhausting.
It is this mental breakdown of Filip which provides the essential link between the bourgeois society depicted in the novel and the tragedy of the novel; that one social reality, perceived as hostile by Filip's mind, can not be acted against within that same social reality. A criticism of the novel on the grounds that Filip does not break out of this society, that his awareness of its corruption does not lead to any action on his part against that society, can not appreciate the psychology of Filip. He can neither react against nor break out of his society precisely because his mind is disintegrating as a parallel to the disintegration which he sees all around him.
Wretched and helpless in his present frame of mind, Filip looked on with the nervous impatience of someone powerless, yet desperate, ceaselessly digging in his own darkness with a lamp in his hand…. It was simple: he had just to take a cab and drive over to the Kaptol railway station and there get on the first train. It became ever increasingly clear to Filip that this hesitation was fatal in every sense: if any one of the persons involved in it had felt the fatality of every insignificant event from the very beginning of this passionately-dangerous game, it had been himself.
More than any other factor, it is Filip's hostile environment which determines his mental disintegration and consequent lack of action. All the characters which surround him and work upon his psyche are representations of decline, decay, corruption and superficiality. Masks, changes of name, sexual deviance and the conversation of polite society are features of each of the bourgeois characters. In such surroundings life becomes meaningless and unreal for Filip. The "gloomy morass of present-day reality" overpowers the ultra-sensitivity of Filip. He finds himself engulfed in unreal events, or rather in events which a common-sensical outlook on reality can not explain. Stomachs are slashed open, woods burn for three days, houses burn as the result of curses cast upon them, cows die mysteriously, wolves come back from extinction, princely coachmen are seen driving in the night, a man is found hanging from a tree with a wallet still in his pocket. Moreover, Filip finds himself taking risks, risking his life even to rescue Hitrec's bull, yet he can not explain to himself what made him do it.
Even the continuity of his "self" becomes somehow unreal as a result of Filip's return to Kostanjevec.
Weary daydreams seemed to float round him—thoughts of the ephemerality of human existence in space and time, of the incomprehensible extent of life's reality compared with that flickering phenomenon called the subjective self and with the trifling, quite insignificant, unreal details—outside the subject which constituted the sphere of perception of that subject, which in itself was nothing but a detail in a series of details…. Strange … to be the thinking subject and to be conscious of the identity of one's own subjective self.
The strangeness, the unreality of life become the dynamic forces of Filip's perception, not the social acts, the rejection of the hostile environment. How is he to act against a social reality which he cannot help perceiving as unreal? The tragedy of the novel is explicit: Filip cannot react against social reality since idealisation of it brings with it a derealisation. Filip's situation is tragic since he has no choice but to suffer the infernalisation of reality. It is a condition into which he has been born.
Intensely troubled by the uncertainty of his own origin, all beginnings were inscrutable mysteries to Filip, and for him all contacts with reality had from the first remained enigmatic … The dead, the unknown hypothetical dead, in Filip, were all made up of endless complexes of the most impossible hypotheses and obsessions … Man is nothing but a vessel full of other people's tastes and experiences! There were times in his life when he was convinced that it was not he, personally, subjectively, who was seeing the things he saw, but some distant and unknown being within him who had been looking at things of his own, in his own way … Thinking about himself and his own existence in time, about his beginnings and about the limits of his own personality, Filip lost himself in vague pictures and could not find his bearings.
Clearly, the awareness of social reality as Filip perceives it leads to the psychological state of madness rather than rational reaction against that reality. Filip is not a caricature in the novel, he is not created to provide the reader with a reassurance of man's ability to overcome all: he is an individual rather than a pawn of socialist realism. He is isolated "in the circle of his own emotions;" the insanity which develops as a consequence makes the idea of any action impossible.
Filip was seized with a restlessness which grew more and more intense. He had always felt isolated in the circle of his own emotions and he knew very well from long experience how difficult it is to rouse people around one to the intensity of one's own feelings. Man lives in his closed world, has his own beauties, his own nervous excitements, intense and often rapturous and genuinely beautiful—but to inspire others with this beauty, with the genuineness of one's own rapture, is hard and very often impossible of achievement. Impossible indeed!
Despite the "trap" of Filip's psychology, the novel possesses considerable development within the limits imposed by a need for general consistency in the work. For instance, the sexual images are developed in Filip's mind until a point is reached where they saturate all other "motifs." Boba becomes the object of Filip's affections. It becomes irrelevant to him that his emotion stems from sensuous sources. So that unconsciously he falls more and more under her influence. His obsession with sexual deviance leads him into animal behaviour and jealousy of the decrepit Balocanski. "Filip was overcome by an unreasonable repugnance full of animal hatred." Filip loves Boba precisely because, like himself, "most of her life was in the past." His love is typical of the bourgeois love reality, being motivated primarily by sexuality, indifferent to an understanding of the partner, leading to destruction.
Filip had no idea who she really was and what was going on in her and around her … Filip had known that nothing worthwhile or concrete could or would come of it.
Filip is incapable of having a meaningful relationship and it is precisely this that attracts Boba to him. Sexuality with Filip, as with all the other bourgeois characters, becomes a refuge from reality. It relieves his awareness and leads to his abortive return to painting.
Just lately, he had turned everything around him into pictures and with his every breath he had a vivid feeling of how much progress he had made, of how he had broken through his inertia of the last years.
The search for a direct contact with life has eluded Filip from the very start of the novel:
It was there (Kostanjevec) long ago, at the very beginning, that he had rejected the direct contact of life and for thirty years he had run after that contact, but he had never caught up.
However, there is one static theme that runs the whole course of the novel: Filip's isolation, due to his psychological makeup, from society. No matter how much Filip falls into the errors of the bourgeois life style he will always remain essentially isolated. "Man lives in his closed world." His greater awareness and perception of life, the consequence of his artistic ability, lead to the person (Filip) who can best offer an understanding of the shortcomings of society in the novel, into isolation and a sense of unreality. His sense of beauty is suffocated by awareness, the tragedy becoming all the more real for the reader since those moments when Filip does have a visionary experience of life are vividly described by Krleza:
In a glade of newly-cleared land in the forest, he sat down on a felled tree and remained for a long while absorbed in his thoughts … In the valley below the glade the Blatnja wound between the vineyards and the meadows in its deep-cut bed, and in the distance, in the ash-grey mist of the summer dusk, one could discern the contours of the hills increasingly clear, blue and transparent as in a Japanese drawing. In the changing shades of evening color, a line of willows stood out in the distant plain, each one distinct, plastic as if put in with charcoal, while the colors merged into a monochrome horizontal bar above the haystacks and distant dark-green cornfields. The glade was filled with the bitter evening beauty of solitude…. To breathe.
To suffocate the bitter evening beauty of Filip's solitude is left to the social reality in which he lives. Particularly it is left to the arguments of Kyriales. He provides the antithesis of the visionary experience of man in nature. Once again, the animal image is not merely coincidental:
Man is an animal who, in individual isolation, is a melancholy object and, it might be said, quite out of place in nature.
His notion of man is that he is the lowest kind of animal. The tragedy of Filip's inability to answer Kyriales is implicit: how can a person explain the visionary experience of art and of life to an animal? What is artistic intuition to an animal? Filip is aware that "the Greek talked about art, but he really had no conception of it," so he is utterly unable to convey the importance of art in society.
Thus far, little mention has been made of the actual nature of the society in which Filip is the victim, other than it is bourgeois, decadent, corrupt and is superficial—for Krleza simply "animal-like." In the novel the nature of society is carefully portrayed by the author in all its morbid detail. Its participants, with the possible exception of Boba and Kyriales, are not of a particular significance. What is important is that drawn together and viewed en masse by the reader, they form a collage and foil against which Filip is isolated. Some of the details with which each character is described are perhaps indulgences by the author. Where the details have little importance to the psychological state of Filip and merely repeat previous details, they tend to detract from the tragedy of the novel. If Krleza's political stance, if it can be so called, is indulged in at all in the novel it is not in respect to Filip, but rather to the numerous lesser characters who constitute the social collage. Filip is isolated from it because, although it has an effect upon his psyche, there is no counter-effect. Filip then, and not the bourgeois society itself, is the central point of the novel. Society is the indispensable back-cloth to the tragedy. If the back-cloth is decadent, this does not mean that Krleza as an artist is decadent. We cannot assume that because Filip does not possess all the potentials of the positive man, Krleza is incapable of possessing an adequate sense of human possibilities. Filip's attitude to sexuality is not necessarily Krleza's—"an unpleasant memory of wretched perspiring bodies, as irrelevant as the noise of pots and pans behind a closed door."
It is thus possible to say with confidence precisely what the novel is about. Most profoundly, it is tragedy, not comic-fantasy induced by the recurrence of "animals," of character descriptions, of comic situations, for this interpretation fails to conceive of the depth of significance which all the apparently comic aspects have for both Filip and Krleza. Neither is it a novel about "love," for such a relationship is meaningless in the society depicted in the novel. The interpretations enumerated at the outset fall down similarly. The response which the novel provokes in the reader is essentially the tragic. Given a dynamic approach, the novel is frighteningly convincing. Given an inadequate approach, failing above all to distinguish between the views of Filip and Krleza, the novel is a weak example of political exposition. The mood of Filip when considering his art should be a clue to the reader's attitude towards the novel: "one should feel how underneath it a child's soul had been violated and murdered."
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347
SOURCE: A review of The Cricket beneath the Waterfall and Other Stories, in The Antioch Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, Fall, 1975, pp. 234-35.
[In the following review of The Cricket beneath the Waterfall, the critic comments on Krleza's narrative style.]
The Croatian Miroslav Krleza is among the most neglected of the world's great writers. European critics have long paired him with Bosnian novelist Ivo Andríc, as deserving contenders for the Nobel Prize (Andríc won the Prize, in 1961).
Krleza's stories display the same panoramic density that enlivens Andríc's magisterial chronicles of sturdy Balkan subkingdoms emerging from centuries of oppression into the modern age. But Krleza is the more overtly "political" writer—and his pungent, unsparing studies of human isolation paradoxically resonate with a swooping sense of cultures struggling, strangely formed powers laboring to surface. A satirically observed complex of military-political careerists reveals "the immeasurable wretchedness of Croatian military glory." A village boy dreams, romantically, of Paris—and a harsh sardonic vision descends, to shake him from his "sick illusion." (A favorite focus of Krleza's wit is the intellectual fop who rejects his own nationality and culture.)
A desperate young man, whose stubbornly narrow imagination betrays him into drunken nihilism, writhes suspended in mutual revulsion with his stolid peasant father: the son flaunts a truth intended to kill; the old man only shrugs it off. Their worlds never touch. The title-story's hero claims communication with the dead; this continuity, once established, withers into an acknowledgement of existential despair. These stories [in The Cricket beneath the Waterfall] derive their universal significance from Krleza's grave Olympian perspective. Sometimes mocking, sometimes gently probing, he views vulnerable, isolated lives within a context of expansive history that is itself a speck upon a swelling cosmos of constant dissolution and mutability. The force that drives each story is Tolstoyan, but Krleza's laconic complexity seems utterly distinctive.
Krleza's novel The Return of Philip Latinovicz was published in 1969 by Vanguard, which has announced for future publication another Krleza novel, On the Edge of Reason. If these are equal to his short stories, they are important reading.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3499
SOURCE: "Krleza's Culinary Flemishness," in Text and Context, edited by Peter Alverg Jensen, et al., Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1987, pp. 185-92.
[In the following essay, Flaker examines the role and various function of food in some of Krleza's works, particularly Balade Petrice Kerempuha and Zastave.]
In his comparison of Krleza's Balade Petrice Kerempuha (The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh) to the poetry of Eduard Bagrickij, Russian poet from Odessa, Zdravko Malic calls one of the chapters of his study I Consume, Therefore I Am, and, consequently, dubs the "point of view from which the world starts to assume the shape of an object of culinary interest" "pantagruelism", after Rabelais, of course, but without reference to Bachtin's chapter Pirsestvennye obrazy u Rable (The Feasting Scenes of Rabelais). "Pantagruelism" is seen as a "caricature of every spiritual interpretation of the world, its materialization in the most drastic form, and thus highly characteristic of the Ulenspigelian tradition". Malic gives numerous examples of the "pantagruelism" of Balade on the level of style: comparisons and metaphors in which the first member is a man and his action while the second is an "object of culinary interest", but—we might add—from socially varied menus.
As for "objects of culinary interest" in the Ballads, the most representative is certainly the Keglovichiana, in which we find an entire catalogue of edibles and scenes of feasting prepared in heaven for the late Count Kegloic. It is observed from the wings like a "heavenly paradise" by "Imbro Skunkac, chicken filcher and thief" who, on earth, "pecked at corn with the turkeys and the chickens", but who is then taken from the heavenly feast and thrown into hell. The point of view in this "Ballad" is that of the people, a Kerempuh-Ulenspigel point of view, and the popular source of the main motif is confirmed by a Russian, somewhat earlier example. In 1923, the Soviet "proletarian" and folk poet Demjan Bednyj, relegated today to the margins of literature, published his sacrilegious text Kak 14 divizija v raj sla (How the 14th Division Went to Paradise), in which the "Lord's virgin" Malanja must wait at the gates to heaven while the entire 14th division, after having stumbled on a mine field (in the World War), enters—with the generals and priests at its head, of course. The cook, in the very rear, takes pity on God-fearing Malanja. Bednyj's "folk buffonade" was performed on the Moscow music hall stage in 1932. In both works, Krleza's as well as Bednyj's, those who ruled, and (in Krleza) gorged themselves on earth, are the ones who enter heaven, while simple people are outsiders there. In Krleza's work there is an emphasis on the "particular connection of food to death and hell", significant also in the folk rituals of "karmine" (among the Catholics) and "daca" (among the Orthodox)—in South-Slavic areas post-funeral feasts equivalent to a wake—treated by Mickiewicz as well in the beginning of his dramatic text Dziady (Forefathers' Eve): a "feast with many dishes, beverages and fruit, to which the spirits of the deceased are invited". In the imagination of Mickiewicz's folk "fiddler" heaven is also filled with edibles ("doughnuts, pasta, milk and fruit and strawberries") which goes together with the basic refrain of this part of the text where the chorus points out that "he who has never tasted bitterness" on earth "will never taste sweetness in heaven" (to be stressed here are the concepts of 'bitterness' and 'sweetness', belonging to the sense of taste!). In Krleza's text the reverse applies, for with a glance from "below", Krleza claims that whoever has tasted of pleasure on earth will taste of it in heaven as well; heaven becomes an extension of earthly space, undergoing a "drastic materialization".
Krleza's text (the Balade in general) is based on a duality in the folk picturesque, dedicated to feasts and food: the representatives of the ruling classes eat differently from ordinary people, who within the categories of their own diet dream more of food than eat: the rulers of life, in distinction from the oral tradition (Kraljevic Marko in the poetry of the Serbian or Croatian language), "are not feasting in the name of the people, but at the expense of the people and to the people's detriment", but—with Bachtin—it is important to add that "the bread stolen from the people does not cease to be bread, wine is always good, even when the Pope is drinking it. Wine and bread have their logic, their truth, their irresistible urge for an abundance that spilleth over …"
It is important to stress, when discussing the "Flemishness" of Krleza's Balade and in particular Bruegel as their artistic model (or more correctly one of the artistic models), that the abundance and variety of edibles enumerated by Krleza is not paralleled in Bruegel's work. In the painting The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559), a picture Krleza had seen at the Viennese Kunsthistorisches Museum, the prince of the carnival rides on a barrel, his weapon is a skewer with a pig's head on it, and his shield—a ham impaled on the barrel; and in another painting from the Viennese museum, Peasant Wedding (1568) wine is poured in the foreground and dishes are carried, but the edibles on the table are hidden by human figures, Bruegel is indeed modest in his portrayal of feasts in comparison to Krleza. Only Schlaraffenland (1567, Alte Pinakothek, Munich) has that "irresistible urge for abundance" that Bachtin speaks of, although its heaps of porridge, roasted suckling pig and fences made out of sausages are principally disputed as sinful. Sometimes Krleza is closer to Bosch than to Bruegel, as in the phantasmagorical folk grotesque Scherzo with its search for the "god of Bacchus" and a "Pauline friar with a tuft like 'mlinci'" (mlinci—a popular pasta dish), a friar who concludes that "of all literary chines, the most healthy are the sweet pheasant chines!", in Sanoborska (Samobor Ballad) with its series of grotesque "images" in which pigs lay "eggs" and little "suckling pigs" crow, or in Komendrijasi (The Buffoons) with its popular-grotesque parallels drawn between people and edibles (a "baron" is compared to "strukli" (cheese filled dumplings), "beans", "marinade", "goat", "ox", "tomato" and "lemon").
However, Krleza's culinary Flemishness can be seen not only in Balade, where it is based on the cultural models of the 16th century, it also comes forth in the novels. Although we will be dealing here with examples from the last of his novels—Zastave (Banners), it should not be forgotten that the opening scene of the novel Na rubu pameti (On the Edge of Reason) is the chapter Dinner Party in Domacinski's Vineyard, and that the act of the "domestic" capitalist who produces chamber pots for Persia, namely his murder of a peasant—an act that brings forth the indignnation of the narrator and thus furthers the plot—is committed in the "defense of his own Riesling". The novel in which Krleza attempts to generalize the question of the mechanism of power in the states of Central Europe bears the characteristic title of Banket u Blitvi (Banquet in Blithuania), stressing in the title itself that it is a text in which there will be conversations between representatives of governments and those strata that attend "banquets". Although the "banquet" here is not a chronotope of the novel, it is important to note that the title indicates a "feast as the essential framework of wise words, speeches, merry truth" for "between words and feasts there is an underlying bond" rooted in the "antique symposion". The banquet is not, of course, a symposion, but a place where statesmen and politicians on the highest level meet with representatives of (official) culture and art, and such a gathering, with its inevitable disputes and mutual setting of accounts, is the fundamental principle of the novel's organization with its dialogue and soliloquy sections. In this connection one of the basic chronotopes of The Brothers Karamazov deserves mention, a tavern in which Ivan and Alyosha meet to converse on God "with fish soup, tea and jam", a situation Krleza clearly used as a model in the novel In extremis. The "tavern", as Sklovskij established, is a locus of "geometric intersection of individual lines of the novel", it was "patented with purely literary goals" by Cervantes, and, early on, this "literary tavern" became one of the frequent chronotopes of the novel, as for instance in Stendhal's and Balzac's novels, where the characters meet in the parlor-salon; the importance of the salon is signalled by the fact that "there dialogues develop which acquire a special meaning in the novel, they disclose the characters, their 'ideas' and 'passions'". Krleza is relying on this tradition in the compositional pattern of Zastave, even if the novel is "dispersive" in many aspects, making plot and composition less important. Organized formally and compositionally around the basic chronotope "path", as a projection of the metaphor "path of life" that "permits (the novel) to witness everyday life [byt] broadly", Zastave underlines already in the headings of its chapters the meaning of the chronotope of "tavern", or, in Krleza's work, restaurant or "parlor"; in any case the table, around which the characters of the novel gather to lead dialogues, is where Krleza's Flemishness comes to the foreground. In the following chapter headings the "table" is emphasized: Dinner in Honor of Mr. Stevan Mihailovic Gruic, Dinner at Old Kamráth's, A Silver Anniversary at the Jurjaveski Home, Dinner at the Grand Hotel. Furthermore we encounter within the novel restaurants, inns, bodegas or (Hungarian) esárdas as loci facilitating dialogic interaction, lovers' trysts or as places of social characterization. Some of these loci can be identified. The Budapest "restaurant, reserved for the select of the presidential cream" is called "At King Matthias's" in the first editions, but even under the name "Hungarian Crown" it is recognizable as the Mátyás Pince; a comparison of newspapers with "Gerbaud's Profiterollen" invokes the famous Budapest Konditorei, and Kamilo meets with Kamráth at an "evening at Gundel's", a restaurant renowned even today in Budapest, where they "serve Balaton fish, bedewed with a yellow mist of butter from steaming, silver casseroles". There Kamilo looks at the "dark blue, tempestuous landscape on his platter: slender, chivalric towers, dark ominous Scottish fortresses on a misty shore", clearly an allusion to the famous Wedgewood china!
The vision of the first of the loci is marked iconic:
Under age-old attics and with rustic, crudely hewn tables, with a floor of red, varnished brick, in the dim glow of orange lampshades, everything was patriarchal, everything was an imitation of a Renaissance tavern from the old days of Corvinus, with servants in tails, silver casseroles, crayfish, Balaton fogas in jelly, Martell, Courvoisier, "Szürkebarát" from Tokai, Transdanubian "Bikaver", rabbit, venison, game in general, pheasants, mayonnaise, English meat, grilled Danubian sturgeon, pineapple bowl, and of all these Kamilo chose the stuffed pepper.
This is certainly not Grosz's satiric vision of a scene from the opulent Berlin restaurants of the 1920s, so esteemed by Krleza, but a catalogue of edibles, situated in the framework of an architectural "imitation" of the European Renaissance, and disputed within Kamilo's opposition to his "illustrious" father by his choice of a popular dish, and thus transferred into a culture to which the main character of the novel belongs, by genealogy alone. A similar catalogue of "rich" food will appear later in Kamilo's "half-dream" in which the locus of a meeting will become the "store window of a delicatessen bodega" on the corner of Váci street "with mixed pickles, Italian mortadella and salsas, with salmon and pickled herrings, with French cheeses and Cointreau", and then the intérieur with "pink pastries in marzipan, the pink glaze of punch and cream, with a large, massive cake in the middle of the dining room, as massive as a mill wheel", while in Dinner at Old Kamráth's the iconic model of these enumerations discloses the Budapest culinary opulence, with game, fish and cheeses in the focus of attention. In fact, we learn little of the menu of this "dinner" which actually serves only as a framework motivating the dialogue. All that we know is that "black coffee with Chartreuse was served" at the end, while at the beginning of the chapter, attention is focused on the iconography of the chronotope, i.e. on
the still gloomy and funereal mood that reigned in the dark, heavy oak-panelled Dutch dining room, decorated with equally dark still-lifes, on which the oily, pink fish on silver platters stood out from brown molasses, and with slaughtered corpses of furry rabbits, on which veinal blood had clotted in the open wounds.
This classic Dutch still-life, familiar from the paintings of Snyder or Weenix, exhales death, as an accompaniment to food, and in this same vein of painting bloody corpses we furthermore find the "Quartered Ox" by Krleza's friend Petar Dobrovic (1936, Dobrovic Gallery, Belgrade) painted at the same Mlini, near Dubrovnik, where the Portrait of Miroslav Krleza (1938, same gallery) was made. "Dutch Settecento Stilleben" appears in an intérieur still later, but with the correction that these "still-lifes are not Dutch, but Dalmatian, probably by a provincial Venetian master—in the countryside, in our cities, there are many such things".
In the chapter The Call of the Emperor's Trumpet in which Kamilo becomes "an Austrian recruit" in the World War, a locus of farewell is the Hungarian csárda which appears as a popular inn on the outskirts of Budapest, on the Danube, with "sterlets on the grill and fisherman's soup, and fresh Sombor cheese, and wine thick and dark as ox blood" ("Bikaver" wine, in which the comparison with ox blood is included in the name). However, amid the "oily mass of fish meat" Kamilo recalls the "lordly" Budapest drinks of "cherries in rum of Mistress de Szemera, and cognac in a café, and Tokai and Kirsch and Armagnac". "In the maelstrom of images" which passes through his mind culinary motifs from other cultural regions appear, arosen by the memory of his already dead Serbian friend: faith in life, as faith in the "innocent joys of life, in Smederevo wine, grilled bulls' balls, good coffee. Turkish demi-tasse, Turkish coffee pot, decasyllable, gypsy violin"—and it should be pointed out that in this inner monologue the culinary motifs are placed in one and the same category as the decasyllable, the "heroic" verse meter of the oral epics mythologized in this culture.
In the chapter Dinner in honor of Mr. Stevan Mihailovic Gruic, dedicated to the Serbian-Croatian dispute on the eve of the World War, the "dinner" in the Zagreb "salon" is only a framework for the conversation, but this framework explains why the "retired Serbian minister" is characterized with the aid of elements of popular culinary culture. Stevca returns from his military service "with a huge Uzice smoked ham, two kilos of caviar from Kladovo, and a 5-liter jug of juniper brandy". He recalls in culinary concepts the Serbian army in the Balkan war: "heaps of amorphous masses of mutton wallow in the mud, skewers with pilfered rolls are turned here and there, juniper brandy is downed". Here contrast is also made to food from official banquets in the Kingdom of Serbia—"surprise with cognac and crêpes flambée", on the other hand, and popular dishes, "kaimak cheese from Uzice or cevapcici" on the other. The opposition between two cultural regions is designated sarcastically in culinary terms: "bloody liver" stands for the Serbian and "a silver casserole" for the Croatian side.
At the above-mentioned dinner with father and son in a Budapest restaurant, within the exposition of the novel, Emericki senior, representative of the traditional values, complains of the Croatian cuisine:
We don't even know, brother, how to cook, no, not even how to cook, and all we can think about are some ideas, we've been ruined by Viennese cuisine, the devil knows why we've forgotten how to cook, a little of the old Croatian cuisine has held on in Varazdin, but that is disappearing by and by, I remember when I was there in secondary school, those turkeys, those sausages, those roast sirloins, buckwheat patties and mlinci pasta, those were dishes, and it is all disappearing, the good traditions are melting like snow, and that is our modern time….
In accordance with such a description, the chapters that bring the characters of the novel to the table in Croatian loci do not abound in information on "Croatian cuisine". The chapter A Silver Anniversary at the Jurjaveski Home is a real "banquet" chapter which collects the social elite around the table, and where the exposition of the chapter is dedicated to the culinary content of the "jubilee" table—a description of a dinner that
began with richly served caviar, on ice slabs, and progressed from turtle soup and chilled crayfish in their shells with mayonnaise to turkey with mlinci, only to continue with hunting-style venison and end with hot carnival doughnuts….
However, there is later mention of "a roast bearing the famous name of Archduchess Stephanie, served at Glavacki's with a spicy mushroom sauce", "a burgundy of the Cazma prevost", comparable to (Hungarian) Tokai wine, and at the end of the chapter, there appears even a "sizeable gilthead fish" and a "suckling pig", half of which is devoured by one of the guests "with head and brains"; but this table is no longer presented as a tableau. The menu is composed of elements of representative European dining, but also of the "national" dishes of northern (turkey with mlinci) and maritime (gilthead fish) Croatia.
Dinner at the Grand Hotel, conveying the nervous mood of the three characters in an "agonizing, crepuscular and deadly game", gathered around the table, introduces titbits from the hotel menu ("vol-au-vent of chicken livers with a mushroom sauce", "asparagus soup", "perch", "Odeschalchi's burgundy") in an argument with the waiter; "huge silver platters full of fish" appear on the table once more, with associations to "various tasty specialties" of the domestic cuisine, but this is only a "dinner of friends, where all pretend to dine, though no one feels like eating", and where the tension among the three persons grows when they are to select the "salon wine"; coffee is finally served, and Kamilo Emericki, by now Mirkovic, remains with Ana Borongay, and a "bottle of Armagnac". It is worth remarking, however, how at the culmination of this tragic situation of the two loners, Ana, a poetess of Hungarian modernism, who has already embraced fashionable Cocteau and Picasso, drinks a "mysterious mixture of pale green absinthe" only to turn, a moment later, to the "coloristic perfection of her already slightly wilted self-portrait" (my italitics A. F.). These emphatically ironic details point to Picasso's painting La buveuse d'absinthe (1902. The Hermitage, Leningrad), all the more so since Ana, with the pathetic, tragic exclamation of "ah, my dear mask", intended for herself, turns to the waiter to continue the rounds of Armagnac.
And it is only at the end of the novel, in the chapter Finale, when Ana and Kamilo descend to the "abyss" of their love affair, in the brutal atmosphere of a tavern on the outskirts of the town, on the banks of the Sava (recall the csárda on the Danube!) where the waiter offers "gypsy-like concoctions", that a local, more plebeian menu appears—"Presswurst or fine, home-made head cheese with warm corn bread", and "for dinner: strukli, blood sausage, devenica sausage, garlic sausage, pecenica sausage", and then "à la carte: crambambuli, Glühwein, pancakes with rum, barley, chicken soup, hot brandy, Eier-Cognac, Butellenwein, as you wish, and if you would have a French liqueur as well, then 'Heidsieck' and 'Veuve Cliquot'".
This is no longer the Dutch Settecento-Stilleben, nor is it Picasso's melancholic woman with absinthe and a siphon; this brothel-like atmosphere is thick with the "sweetly sickening smells" of spices, and dishes are not served in "silver casseroles", but instead "clay jugs" with "peasant grog" are put on the table. This opposition of popular dishes to the predominantly high class "banquet" meals in Zastave, Krleza's last novel, is strictly functional and related to the pivotal events of the novel.
In Zastave the bearers of the textual structure are not ordinary people, and hence there is no "pantagruelism"; it has been replaced by a "Flemishness", shaped iconically only in the Budapest scenes. It appears, however, in the novel in which the grotesquely caricatured Grosz-like "noble" world is confronted with a peasant and a poacher, to whom "man is a gut with nine windows", a peasant who farts in pantagruelian style, dreaming of a mother who baked strukli (cheese pie) and cooked "tripe" that peasants "can't afford, God bless 'em", or of "slabs of bacon", and where someone steals the officers' chocolate rations, someone who is named after the most filling Zagorje dish—Valent Zganec (zganci—corn mush), a name that reminds us of the important place that food occupies in Krleza's texts, and of its very varied functions.
Last Updated on February 5, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 194
Fried, István. "Miroslav Krleza's Anti-Utopia." Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungariace 29, Nos. 1-2 (1987): 163-78.
Discusses the relationship between Krleza's distinctly Croatian-Hungarian anti-utopian vision in his works and the development of Western European anti-utopian literature.
Miletich, John S. "Toward a Stylistic Description of Expressionist Lyric: The German Phenomenon and Its Croatian Analogs." International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics XXV/XXVI (1982): 281-89.
Explores "stylistic tendencies" of German expressionism as used by Antun Branko Simic and Krleza in their lyrics, showing that "Krleza's lyrics are organized around the use of imagery involving violent movement and sound as well as the extended use of personification."
Suvin, Darko. "On Dramaturgic Agents and Krleza's Agential Structure: The Types as a Key Level." Modern Drama XXVII, No. 1 (March 1984): 80-97.
Dramaturgical analysis of Krleza's use and meaning of "stock characters" primarily in his plays of his expressionistic phase, particularly the Woman, the untranslatable Nervchik, and the subsidiary types of the Patriarchal Tyrant, the Parasite, and the Knower.
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