A few notes on identity issues and dilemmas in the essays of Goran Stefanovski
After several decades of discussions on identity narratives, it is expected that the dilemma will arise before the literary science whether something new can still be said in literary texts in the context of identity as a topic. And thus, whether after the numerous literary and cultural, including imagological readings, the literary science should still focus on the literary texts where identity issues and dilemmas are discussed.
But… “Lately, we are witnessing a deep, for us even more frustrating, painful division (polarization) of the world of Us and Them. In the context of recent processes, which characterize the so-called new world order and the rise of neoliberalism, it is already becoming clear that the very split, decomposition, or opposition, becomes one of the protection and defense mechanisms, because of which, based on labeling, rejection, exclusion of the Other, on the one hand, the mentioned antagonism is established or essentialized, while, on the other hand, the hegemonic inviolability and role of the category ‘West’ versus the category ‘East’ are rooted and maintained.” (Шелева 2011: 57)
The relevance of this statement, more than two decades after its first publication, to the extent that it seems to us to have been written nowadays (perhaps only the words “lately” would be replaced with “in recent decades”), points to the need (perhaps the necessity) of a re-analytical commitment to identity narratives – questions and dilemmas, present (also) in the literature, whereby we could primarily focus on those texts that do not insist on one-sidedness, nor refer to spatial or temporal isolation. It’s because only by focusing on such a category of texts something new can be achieved, which will not be based on the already stereotyped polarization of Us and Them.
In this category of texts belong the essays of Goran Stefanovski, which although dating from a decade ago, and some of them from two decades ago and more, are still a remaining reference to our cultural context and, in general, to the context that can be recognized as (post) Yugoslav, South Slavic or Balkans (more popular especially compared to the middle of the previous century: the context of Southeast Europe), but no less so in the context of the West / Europe. Perhaps more importantly, they are at the same time a reference both to the relations and reactions of the codes of these contexts to each other (to the code of the Other) and beyond the rough imagery dichotomy Us and Them, and by its core they refer on hyper-contextuality in the context of identity questions and dilemmas, overcoming the scanty limitations (meaning: boundaries) of these contexts.
It is not a revelation that boundaries are crossed by interpretations when one culture becomes the subject of conversation or the object of interpretation of another culture. “Boundaries are confronted as interpretive actions in their rhetoric share figures and persuasions within the context of the interpreting culture; and boundaries shift as interpretation changes the form – trivial or dramatic – of the culture in which interpretation is performed and received. To understand the actions of a foreign culture, differences must be found in our own margins. Complete otherness would be unintelligible. But as the marginal comes into focus or even approaches the center, the boundaries of our horizons may shift or even expand from the other one who is inside. Another way to express this is: while we are in relation to other societies, traditions, cultures, we can untangle our webs of beliefs and take others beliefs into account, and we do this more or less successfully by taking different viewpoints from the members of our groups, as well as outside them.” (Мају 2003: 227)
In his essays, Stefanovski, in relation to other societies, untangles the webs by taking different points of view, from his position as commuting exile (Klaić 2009: 508), from which he simultaneously worked and observed in two cultures (and by the way, also in other cultures between his place of residence and place of work, accordingly to his creative format that transcended boundaries). Goran’s worldview thru the essays simultaneously included different perspectives from the cultural backgrounds of Us and Them, which always included the perspective of the Other and not just that of/for the Other. And thus, like himself, and the generic We, the essayist Stefanovski observed from the perspective of the Other, which is a key determinant of his essay to which the one-sided perspective is not familiar, although he acts from the position of an individual-intellectual with a built awareness of the identity of his Self. That’s because, “we live, as one author put it, in an ‘information interspace.’ Between what the body tells us and what we must know in order to function, there is a vacuum that we need to fill by ourselves and to fill it with information (or disinformation) given by our culture.” (Гирц 2007: 55) And Stefanovski filled his information interspace, based on the thoughts embodied in his essays, with the information provided by different cultures, polarized within the big imagological picture.
In this context, seen through the basic communication link of the text, the specificity of Goran’s essayism is both the identity of the addressee and the identity of the addresser. The addressee from the position of commuting exile, after recognizing the different perspectives, insists on being an observer and critic who in his thoughts, judgments and conclusions tend to escape from subjectivity even though he is in an essayistic field. And that means criticism towards Us, in the style in which Stefanovski also beyond his essayism would say: “Our Eastern Orthodoxy is a collectivist vertical, a male axis, in which all ancestors, great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers, and sons live at the same time. In the dark chambers of our consciousness, as well as in our literature, only intergenerational battles take place between the generations, and every time you open a closet, the shadows of the forgotten ancestors kneel between the molded yambolias. There is no space, nor need for women’s rights, tolerance, and democracy in such world” (Форум, March 13, 1999).
 The text “Ah, those Balkanians” was published for the first time in the magazine Kulturen zivot”, no. 3-4, 1999.