School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

'Central European Chalk Circle: Swing Agents In/Between Habsburg and South Slav Literature' - Seminar

Trent B38a
Wednesday 13th November 2019 (16:00-17:00)

Our next MLC research seminar takes place this Wednesday, 13th November, 4-5pm, in Trent B38a. Vladimir Zoric (Russian and Slavonic Studies, UoN) will be delivering a talk entitled, ‘Central European Chalk Circle: Swing Agents In/Between Habsburg and South Slav Literature’. All are welcome!


Taking cue from Bertolt Brecht's famous play The Caucasian Chalk Circle, this paper aims to explore the trope of the swing agency in the Central Europe and the Balkans. Poised between the traitor (renegade) and the newcomer (neophyte), the swing character is the one who betrays the old master (the nation-state, the lover, the language) only to return to them in a bout of remorse. The paper will outline the theoretical framework for understanding swing characters: by making such critical choices at crucial moments of the agon, they are neither cultural helots (Casanova) nor subversive mimic men (Bhabbha), nor for that matter strategic mediators (Damrosch); in the language of narrative analysis, they are akin to magical helpers (Propp) who, paradoxically, withhold their help from the hero and still help him to his unassailable status. The religious wars and feudal legacy in the Habsburg Monarchy as well as the swift alternation of clashing empires in the Balkan territories created favourable historical conditions for the swing model. The paper will explore the analogies between the swing character in the canonical genres of the Austrian and Serbian literature, namely in the Habsburg Heimatliteratur, represented by the novellas of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, and the epic poetry, represented by the Serbian oral poem ‘Banović Strahinja.’ In the last section, the argument will move from the level of the narrative plot to that of the linguistic identities and simultaneously from national analogies to the transnational realm: it will explore the bilingual oscillations between Serbian and Hungarian in the work of Yugoslav writer Danilo Kiš, a writer who effectively fused the Habsburg myth and the Balkan smalltown.

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