/, Literature, Blesok no. 152/THE DOUBLE VISION OF THE LETTER


(To Literary Binoculars by Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser, Skopje, Institute of Macedonian Literature, 2022, recipient of Dimitar Mitrev Award for criticism by the Macedonian Writers’ Association)

In the beginning was the title. Wikipedia is clear: binocular , it is a microscope with two objectives, and two eyepieces or lenses, in order to allow a different angle of view with the left and the right eye. In this way, unlike an ordinary eyepiece or a telescope, binoculars allows for a three-dimensional representation of what is seen, i.e. it gives you a sense of much greater depth of vision.

Why did the author Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser give exactly this title to her latest, seventh book of literary criticism and essays? Because, apart from being a literary critic and theorist, she is also a comparativist, who does not believe in a one-dimensional approach to literature and always utilizes is at least a double, if not multiple perspective, while not acknowledging that closed borders exist for languages, nations, cultures. Thus binoculars, because Stojmenska-Elzeser, like every genuinely curious researcher and reader of beautiful literature, knows very well that literary phenomena do not have only one side, just as there are no eternal, forever established truths in the views about literature, but that every position is subject to doubt, to questioning, to a multiple, or at least to double vision. The thrill of it comes from the counterpointal juxtaposition, the exchange of opinions, the change of optics and the openness to the unknown and the different.

Binoculars are also present in a structural sense. The reviewers immediately recognized its diptych structure, which persists as a staunch duality in its content: the book consists of twenty-two articles arranged in eleven chapters, so that each title is conceived through two texts, no more no less, thus creating a diptych. Subsequently, on offer we have articles on two Projects, two Orations, two Parallels, two Reminiscences, two Contexts or two Dilemmas.

The critical interests of Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser move on several levels, acting cautiously in relation to overly exploited topics, but treating them all in an emphatically comparativist key or method. Let’s list only some of them: the challenges of literary comparatistics as a science, the comparative critical analyses of individual literary figures and phenomena, the means of renewing this discipline and its contacts or intersection with cultural studies, translation studies, geocriticism, gender or postcolonial studies, intermediality, etc. Consequently, we can see the critic’s interest in burning social issues and dilemmas such as: the national canon versus cosmopolitanism, the literary-aesthetic value versus commercialization and consumerism, the controversial but important role of small nations in the construction of the world literary process, the transformations and the future of humanities as a discipline, etc. More specifically, the author shines her expertise in certain articles on the genre of biofiction and the different ways it is conceived, flâneurism and literary geography, archiving and digitization of the national literary memory, a critical look at the term Eurocentrism in the context of thinking about topics such as the European cultural space, European literary history, European cultural policies, etc.

Among the issues that she raises and debates through the always double optics of her critical view are those related to returning to the pillars of the Macedonian literary tradition, but she also carefully follows some of the newest and freshest poetical voices. Thus, the plethora of names that are the subject of her analysis starts from Kosta Racin, Blaže Koneski, Slavko Janevski, Mateja Matevski, through Goce Smilevski, Vladimir Jankovski, all the way to Jovica Ivanovski and Iva Damjanovski, who are either analyzed individually or are juxtaposed or paralleled with numerous international writers, mostly from Serbian, Turkish or Czech literature.

Unlike her previous books of criticism or essays, this one shows a marked evolution, as seen in Sonja Stojmenska Elzeser’s ability for generalizations, contextualizations, bold presentation of views on a range of current issues and increasingly frequent syntheses. The maturity of her critical expression, her maturation as an author, the institutional positions which she holds, above all being the former President of the Writers’ Association of Macedonia, but also her academic, scientific and educational work and exchange of knowledge with colleagues and students, all of this has contributed to constantly refreshing, but also re-examining her critical writing, presenting her insights through the previously mentioned comparativist vision, both double and multiple.

At times, we get the impression that Stojmenska-Elzeser repeats some old truths, though they always bear repeating, at least as far as our cultural sphere is concerned. Thus, she is able to speak out bravely against that irrational lustration of Slavko Janevski, while not failing to remind us of the need for inviolable respect and nurturing of the pivotal national literary values by the new generations. Value itself is quite a frequent topic in her texts, because there is no criticism without valuation, she says, thus pleading for the model of the so-called axiological criticism, building on the views of some of her teachers and predecessors. Constructing the hierarchy is a difficult task for the critic, the author adds, but inevitable, just like restoring the luster of the literary awards themselves, which so often seem to be unrealistic, unmerited, and even unrecognized by the general public. All of the above finds a natural and appropriate place in this her critical writing, because some things, right, seem to have been said before, but still bear repeating.

The articles in the book Literary Binoculars also hide other provocations for the reader/s, such as those dedicated to the secrets of literary translation, Macedonian folk eroticism, pandemic diary entries and many, many others. At this point, we can only wish that the author returns to similar provocative topics in the future, to elaborate and re-examine them in new books of criticism and essays, illuminating them again from various angles and of course in the spirit of the double or multiple vision of her signature critical writing.

Translated from the Macedonian by Milan Damjanoski

AuthorAnastasija Gjurčinova
2024-01-28T13:03:02+00:00 January 20th, 2024|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 152|Comments Off on THE DOUBLE VISION OF THE LETTER